War crimes suspect freed

A 97-year-old man was cleared today of war crimes charges stemming from a raid by Hungarian forces that killed 35 people in Serbia during the Second World War.

Campaigners who considered the case "one of the last major trials" of alleged Holocaust-era war criminal suspects were shocked by the verdict.



"It's an absolutely outrageous decision," Efraim Zuroff, the chief 'Nazi hunter' with the Wiesenthal Centre's Jerusalem office said.



Sandor Kepiro was charged with involvement in the killing of the 35 - mostly Jews and Serbs - during an anti-partisan raid in the Serbian city of Novi Sad, then under Hungarian control, on January 23, 1942. He returned to Hungary in 1996 after decades in Argentina.



Zuroff, who brought Kepiro's case to light in 2006, said: "It flies in the face of all the evidence, everything we know about this dark event and the mass murder that took place in Novi Sad."



In Serbia, deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric said he expected Hungarian prosecutors to appeal against the verdict. Lawyers have until late on Friday to lodge an appeal.



"Of course, we are not pleased," Vekaric said.



Hungary was a member of the Axis powers - allied with Germany, Italy and Japan - from 1940, participating in the 1941 invasion of Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was then part.



Prosecutors had stated in the trial, which began on May 5, that unidentified members of a patrol under Kepiro's command killed four people during the raid.



Kepiro, at the time a gendarmerie captain, was also suspected of being involved in the deaths of around 30 others who were executed on the banks of the River Danube.



Many of the dozens of people attending the court session cheered and clapped after Judge Bela Varga read out the verdict of the three-judge tribunal



Before giving the verdict, Varga said Kepiro had been brought to the tribunal by ambulance and had spent the past week in hospital. The judge said he had apparently been given the wrong medication.



Kepiro rejected all the charges in a statement read out at the start of the court session.



"I am innocent. I never killed, never stole. I served my country," said the statement read out by Kepiro's psychologist. He added that Kepiro said he returned to Hungary from Argentina in 1996 "because for him without Hungary there is no life".



In an unusual procedure, the verdict is being given over two days, today and tomorrow, because doctors have said Kapiro's frail health can only cope with two court sessions of 45 minutes a day.



After Varga cleared him of the charges, Kepiro - who sat in a wheelchair during the session, had a drip in his arm and did not speak - was taken out of the courtroom by paramedics upon the request of his lawyer, Zsolt Zetenyi.



After a brief recess, Varga continued reading out the full ruling, with only Zetenyi representing the defence.



Serbia's war crime prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, and representatives of the Wiesenthal Centre attended the session, leaving the courtroom after the verdict was announced.



In 1941, in the wake of the Nazi occupation and break-up of Yugoslavia, Hungarian forces entered northern Serbia - which had been part of Hungary until the First World War.



In early 1942, those Hungarian forces carried out raids to counter the growing number of alleged partisan attacks.



Kepiro said earlier that his task was to supervise the identification of people being rounded up, but he said he was unaware of the killings until after they had been carried out. About 800 Serbs and 400 Jews are thought to have been killed in the raids.



In January 1944, Kepiro and several other officers were convicted of disloyalty by a military court for their role in the Novi Sad raids. The 10-year prison sentence, of which Kepiro served a few weeks, was later annulled and his rank reinstated.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Call Handler

£14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a Sales Ca...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers unique pers...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor