Hungary war crimes trial halted for medical exams

AP News
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Posted: May 10, 2011 6:33 AM
Hungary war crimes trial halted for medical exams

The war crimes trial of a Hungarian former gendarmerie officer was temporarily suspended on Tuesday while doctors determine if he is healthy enough to continue.

Sandor Kepiro, 97, is on trial on charges of involvement in the deaths of about 35 people in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad during an anti-partisan raid by Hungarian forces in January 1942 in which thousands were killed.

Kepiro, who says he is innocent, appeared in court for the third session of the trial looking frail and in a wheelchair. He had trouble understanding what was being said despite his using of hearing aids.

Judge Bela Varga and prosecutor Zsolt Falvai both said they had doubts about Kepiro's health and concerns about whether he was fully aware of what was happening in the courtroom.

Varga said doctors at a Budapest military hospital would be asked to examine Kepiro next week.

"Doubts have arisen about whether you can comprehend or not what is going on around you," Varga told Kepiro.

Zsolt Zetenyi, Kepiro's lawyer, asked that since "time was pressing" the defendant also should undergo hearing exams.

"My opinion is that the defendant's problems are related to his hearing, not his mental health," Zetenyi said.

Before the session was halted, a court-appointed historian said he had serious concerns about the credibility and authenticity of part of the evidence against Kepiro presented by prosecutors.

The case against Kepiro is based partly on a January 1944 conviction for disloyalty handed down by a military court for his role in the Novi Sad raids. The trial and the resulting 10-year prison sentence, of which Kepiro served a few weeks, were later annulled and his rank reinstated.

Historian and archivist Tibor Zinner said no original court papers of the 1944 trial or verdict had been found in Hungary, only partial and distorted translations received from sources in Serbia and Israel which had been translated back into Hungarian.

Kepiro claims the 1944 proceedings were a show trial to appease the Allied forces with whom Hungary was hoping to reach a peace agreement.

Kepiro, who earned a law degree in Hungary in the 1930s, went to Austria after World War II and later emigrated to Argentina, where he worked in the textile industry. He returned to Hungary in 1996.

According to court papers, unidentified members of a patrol under Kepiro's command killed four people during a raid on Jan. 23, 1942. Kepiro is also suspected of being involved in the deaths of around 30 others who were executed on the banks of the Danube River.