A prosecutor on Tuesday called the acquittal of a 97-year-old man "unfounded" and said he would appeal the ruling that cleared the Hungarian of war crimes charges in connection with a World War II-era raid in which hundreds of civilians were killed.
Prosecutor Zsolt Falvai said he considered problematic the Budapest Court's decision Monday that it lacked enough evidence to convict Sandor Kepiro, a former gendarmerie captain, of involvement in the deaths of 36 mostly Jews and Serbs during a 1942 raid in the Serbian city of Novi Sad, then under Hungarian control.
"There are problems with the verdict, which I consider to be unfounded," Falvai said Tuesday, after Judge Bela Varga had finished reading out his explanation, which lasted some nine hours over two days. The three-judge panel headed by Varga said it considered at least two key parts of the evidence against Kepiro inadmissible.
"My opinion is that in several instances the reasons for the judgment are inconsistent and contradictory," Falvai said. He has until late Friday to file an appeal.
In his explanation, Varga said that a January 1944 conviction of Kepiro and other Hungarian officers who took part in the Novi Sad raids was inadmissible, because it had been annulled. Varga also dismissed the testimony of Janos Nagy, a Hungarian army lieutenant who was convicted in 1948 for his actions in Novi Sad, saying the testimony that was taken from 1940s court documents was likely given under duress.
Varga further questioned Nagy's credibility, saying it was clear from the available documents that the lieutenant had lied on several occasions in attempts to lessen his responsibility.
At the same time, Varga highlighted in the ruling Kepiro's successful efforts to save the lives of the Tanurdzic family, who owned the Novi Sad hotel where he was staying and probably would have been shot by Hungarian soldiers if not for Kepiro's intervention.
Serbian authorities and Israel's Simon Wiesenthal Center, which alerted Hungarian authorities to the case, also protested the ruling. Efraim Zuroff, head of the Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office, said Kepiro would remain on his organization's list of most wanted Nazi criminals.
Jewish groups in Novi Sad called the acquittal "shameful" and pledged to do everything in their power to reverse it.
Boris Kopilovic, the deputy head of the Novi Sad Jewish community, said a global campaign would be launched by Jewish groups to inform the public about the "shocking and shameful" verdict, while a local association for honoring Holocaust victims said it was planning to hold a protest gathering in Novi Sad on Sunday.
"We may have lost a battle, but we have not lost the war," Ana Frenkel, a Wiesenthal Center representative in Serbia, said at a news conference in Novi Sad. "Justice will be served in the end, we will not forget the victims."
Kepiro has been hospitalized for more than a week and was brought to the courtroom on Monday by ambulance. He was present only for the first few minutes of the session _ until Varga announced his acquittal _ and was then taken back to hospital by paramedics. He was not in court on Tuesday.
Kepiro, who earned a law degree in Hungary in 1937, 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.
Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.