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Monday, 19 February, 2001, 21:04 GMT
Legal battle looms in Gecas case
Home Affairs Correspondent, Reevel Alderson
Home Affairs Correspondent, Reevel Alderson
By BBC Scotland Home Affairs Correspondent Reevel Alderson

The decision by Lithuanian prosecutors to issue an arrest warrant for an 84-year-old man living in Edinburgh has reopened the debate about the difficulties of pursuing elderly people accused of war crimes.

Despite the passage of the War Crimes Act in 1991, allowing alleged war criminals to be prosecuted in Britain for crimes committed abroad, charges were only brought against two men.

The case against one was dropped because he suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. The case against Anthony Savoniuk resulted in a conviction and imprisonment for life.

Anton Gecas
Anton Gecas
But Mr Savoniuk is fit and, at 77, relatively young for someone to be charged with offences committed six decades ago.

Of the many legal examinations to be undertaken before Mr Gecas could be sent to face trial in his native country will be that of his health.

The British judicial authorities will be acutely aware of the difficulties in assessing that.

They need only look at the case of the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet who escaped an extradition request from Spain on the grounds of his ill health.

There is also the danger that while an extradition request is pending, the man sought may legally leave Britain.

Scottish ministers

This happened in January last year when an alleged Latvian war criminal, Konrad Kalejs, flew to Australia despite attempts by his home country to bring him to trial for organising and giving orders in a Latvian unit which killed thousands of Jews.

Antonas Gecas will be 85 in May. The legal process surrounding an extradition request is likely to be lengthy.

First, it must be considered by Ministers of the Scottish Executive. They must decide whether to grant authority to proceed with the application.

Mr Gecas' s lawyer, Nigel Duncan, says his client continues vigorously to deny the allegations against him, and that any extradition request will be strongly resisted

Reevel Alderson
It would then go to a Sheriff, sitting in Chambers, who would hold a committal hearing.

Ministers again have the final say if the Sheriff decides the extradition should go ahead.

Their political decision would be based on a consideration of any statutory bars to extradition; Ministers must be happy that all of the requirements of the legislation have been met.

One of the criteria would be the fitness of Mr Gecas to undergo a journey to Vilnius and any subsequent trial.

The legal considerations will include the evidence put forward by the Lithuanian authorities against Mr Gecas.

He was investigated by the British War Crimes Commission, but due to a lack of evidence, was not prosecuted.

Lithuanian authorities

However a Scottish judge, Lord Milligan concluded in a civil case that Mr Gecas had taken part in a number of killings, committing war crimes against innocent civilians.

The burden of proof in a civil case is, however, less rigorous than that to obtain a criminal conviction.

For their part the Lithuanian authorities have shown a willingness to pursue war criminals whatever their age.

Nigel Duncan
Mr Gecas's lawyer, Nigel Duncan
More than 90% of Lithuania's pre-war Jewish community of 220,000 were murdered during the Holocaust, including nearly 55,000 of the 60,000 Jews in Vilnius.

Last week a Lithuanian court found former U.S. citizen Kazys Gimzauskas, 93, guilty of collaborating with the Nazis in genocide during World War Two. His was the first Holocaust conviction in the former Soviet Union.

The charges against Mr Gecas date back to the Second World War when he served as a member of a Lithuanian Police Battalion under the Nazis who had occupied Lithuania and the other Baltic states.

In a statement to the Vilnius District Court today, the state prosecutor said Mr Gecas had been involved "in the physical extinction of peaceful civil citizens belonging to the ethnic Jewish group."

Mr Gecas' s lawyer, Nigel Duncan, says his client continues vigorously to deny the allegations against him, and that any extradition request will be strongly resisted.

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See also:

09 Jan 01 | Scotland
Backing for 'war crimes' extradition
10 Jan 00 | Scotland
Call to reopen Gecas case
09 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Nazi suspect denies murders
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