By Gergely Szakacs
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian prosecutors on Wednesday detained a 97-year-old man accused of whipping Jewish prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp during World War Two and helping to deport them to Auschwitz.
Nazi-hunters from the Simon Wiesenthal Center had named Laszlo Csatary, a Hungarian national, as their most wanted war crimes suspect.
Prosecutors in Budapest said he had hit Jewish prisoners with a dogs' whip when he was a police commander in the Nazi-occupied town of Kosice, which was then part of Hungary and is now in Slovakia. He has denied the accusations.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center says it provided Hungary with evidence that in 1944 Csatary helped to organize the deportation of around 16,000 Jews to the Auschwitz death camp from Kosice.
"Today the Budapest Prosecution Office has taken Laszlo Csatary into custody and has questioned him on suspicion of war crimes," prosecutor Tibor Ibolya told a news conference.
Ibolya said Csatary, who was in a good physical and mental condition for his age, was co-operating with investigators.
Prosecutors accuse Csatary of "war crime committed by unlawful torture of human beings", which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
In a statement, they said Csatary was in charge of a camp based in a brick factory where close to 12,000 Jews were deported from the town's surroundings.
It was not immediately clear why the Hungarian figures differed from those provided by the Wiesenthal Centre earlier.
Prosecutors also say Csatary was involved in the deportation of the nearly 12,000 Jews in Kosice to death camps, most of them to Auschwitz. The English-language statement said Csatary was present and involved.
In one specific incident in June 1944, the prosecutors said Csatary has refused the request of a Jewish prisoner, crammed in a wagon with nearly 80 other people, to let air in.
At a hearing in Budapest, Csatary was put under house arrest for 30 days, his lawyer, Gabor Horvath, told reporters.
"We have appealed this decision and a higher court will decide whether this stands or not," Horvath said about the house arrest.
Csatary did not speak to reporters when he left the prosecutors' building, surrounded by relatives who ushered him into a car.
The case is expected to last several months.
Another suspect, former Hungarian gendarme officer Sandor Kepiro, died aged 97 in September in Budapest after a court cleared him of involvement in killing more than 1,000 civilians in the Serb city of Novi Sad in 1942.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than/Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)