BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia's justice minister has asked a court to seek the extradition of a 97-year-old Hungarian man found guilty in absentia in 1948 of whipping or torturing Jews and helping to deport them to the Auschwitz death camp during World War Two.
Laszlo Csatary, named by Nazi hunters from the Simon Wiesenthal Center as their most wanted war crimes suspect, was a police commander in the eastern Slovak city of Kosice during the war. He has denied any guilt.
Hungarian authorities arrested Csatary and put him under house arrest in Budapest earlier this month after he had spent decades on the run.
"We have one of the last chances to punish World War Two crimes," Slovak Justice Minister Tomas Borec told reporters on Monday. "I have a personal interest that Laszlo Csatary, after a detailed and swift study of all factors by a relevant Slovak court, is extradited to Slovakia and goes to jail," he said.
Borec said a court in Kosice had been asked to handle Csatary's case.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center said it had provided Hungary with evidence that Csatary helped to organize the deportation of around 16,000 Jews to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland from Kosice, which became part of Hungary in 1938 and was returned to Czechoslovakia after the end of the war.
According to a Czechoslovak court ruling from June 8, 1948, posted on the internet by the Slovak justice ministry, Csatary was found guilty of deportations to Nazi death camps, and unlawfully whipping, torturing or killing people in 1944, and was sentenced to death in absentia.
Czechoslovakia abolished the death penalty in 1990, three years before its division into Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and Slovak Justice Ministry State Secretary Monika Jankovska said Csatary's sentence would presumably be changed to life imprisonment if he were extradited from Hungary.
Slovakia's Central Union of Jewish Communities called on Slovak officials last week to seek Csatary's extradition.
(Reporting by Martin Santa, editing by Tim Pearce)