Charles Zentai: accused of a brutal murder
(Photo by AP)
The Australian High Court’s decision not to extradite Charles Zentai to Hungary allows the accused to avoid facing trial for alleged brutal murder. With all due respect to the learned judges, the decision is a damning indictment of the Australian legal system.
The Hungarian application to extradite Zentai sought to bring him to face charges for a "war crime". The High Court upheld an appeal against the extradition on the basis that the alleged behaviour (beating a Jewish boy, Péter Balázs, to death for failing to wear a yellow star) was not a "war crime" in Hungary in 1944, when it allegedly occurred.
By the same logic, if Adolf Eichmann, or any of the high-ranking Nazis convicted in Nuremberg after World War 2, or Adolf Hitler himself, were living in Australia today, an application to extradite them to face war-crimes charges would be defeated. Under German law at the time, genocide was legal.
But Zentai has not been exonerated by this perverse decision. Until the indictment against him is tried in a court of law, he remains accused.
Overwhelming evidence against him was presented at 1946-7 trials for the murder of Péter Balázs in which Zentai’s commanding officer, Bela Máder, and his fellow officer Lajos Nagy were found guilty.
According to the evidence presented at Nagy's trial:
- Between the hours of 3 pm and 8 pm, on 8 November 1944, Zentai and Nagy beat Balázs so badly that by 8 pm he lay dying.
- Zentai, Máder and Nagy saw that the boy was dying, and then went to an adjoining room and began drinking.
- A number of other prisoners detained that night at the same police station, testified that Captain Máder decided to show them the dying man, warning each of them ‘That's the way you will go too’; and that, according to his photograph, the victim was Péter Balázs.
This evidence is in the public domain. The failure of the extradition application in no way discredits that evidence, which has not been tested. Until Zentai faces proper legal proceedings, he continues to stand accused.
On a personal note:
My father died when I was almost 50 years old. For the entire 50 years he often awoke at night crying out in anguish in the midst of a nightmare... remnants of the memories he bore to the grave.
Before Zentai or his children begin publicly crowing about the inconvenience of facing an extradition application, I hope they reflect on the fate of Péter Balázs and the anguish of his surviving family.