Hungary questions Nazi-era war crimes suspect

Prosecutors said Tuesday that they have questioned a former Hungarian gendarmerie officer about the slaying of civilians in Serbia during World War II.

Gabriella Skoda of the Budapest Chief Prosecutor’s Office said 95-year-old Sandor Kepiro was questioned Monday about allegedly relaying orders to militia members under his command who killed four civilians in Novi Sad, Serbia, in 1942.

Some 1,200 Serb and Jewish civilians were killed by Hungarian forces who raided the region in the wake of the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia.

In 1944, Kepiro was sentenced to 10 years in prison for disloyalty to Hungary in relation to his role in those atrocities, but the conviction was later annulled.

If convicted of war crimes, Kepiro could face life in prison

Zsolt Zetenyi, Kepiro’s lawyer, said Hungarian authorities had confiscated Kepiro’s passport but he was convinced his client was innocent and would be cleared.

“These events were investigated in detail in 1943 … and Kepiro’s actions were not war crimes,” Zetenyi said.

Kepiro has acknowledged that he was in Novi Sad during the 1942 atrocities, but said his task was to supervise the identification of those being rounded up. He denied knowing about the killings until after they were committed.

After World War II, Kepiro lived for decades in Argentina before returning to Hungary in 1996. He currently lives in Budapest, across the street from a synagogue.

Efraim Zuroff, who as head of the Israeli office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has been calling for the reopening of the Kepiro case since 2006, said Kepiro’s role in the 1942 murders was “indisputable” and he welcomed the prosecutor’s office’s efforts.

Without providing details, Skoda said the new developments in the case stemmed in part from information contained in archival documents the prosecutor’s office requested last year from Serbia.

“We were able to reconstruct the events based on those documents,” Skoda said.