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Tuesday, 4 January, 2000, 19:07 GMT
Britain's chequered war crimes history

Konrad Kalejs: Accused of being a Nazi war criminal

By home affairs correspondent Jon Silverman

The case of Konrad Kalejs, allegedly a senior officer in the pro-Nazi Arajs Commando, neatly sums up one of the ironies of post-Holocaust history.

While many of those who lost money or property because of Nazi tyranny are belatedly about to get compensation, the vast majority of those who lost their lives will forever be denied justice.

It is doubly ironic for those who have followed Britain's chequered efforts to deal with war crimes. In 1948 Britain had an opportunity to put on trial Victor Arajs, the leader of the eponymous commando unit which helped the Nazis liquidate the Jews of Latvia and Belarus.

He had been captured in the British zone of occupied Germany after the war but was allowed to go free. He remained at large until 1979 when West Germany put him on trial.

One of Arajs's deputies, Harijs Svikeris, settled in Britain after the war and in the 1990s was thought to be a strong candidate to be prosecuted under the War Crimes Act.

But he too escaped justice and died in his own bed. Now it looks very much as though Mr Kalejs - despite being an international pariah - will live out his last years free from arrest.

Eyewitnesses needed

Anton Sawoniuk: Convicted last year at the Old Bailey
The key problem is the evidential hurdles any successful criminal prosecution has to jump.

In both the British and Australian jurisdictions, it has been accepted that more than one credible eyewitness would have to appear in court to support charges.

At the Old Bailey last year, sufficient eyewitnesses from Belarus gave evidence against the police auxiliary, Anthony Sawoniuk, to convince a jury of his guilt.

But it is by no means certain that there are enough living eyewitnesses to the crimes allegedly committed by Mr Kalejs to give a realistic prospect of conviction.

Moreover, Australia faced the problem of persuading elderly survivors from Europe, America or Israel to make the arduous trip Down Under to appear in court. Not surprisingly, many declined - thus weakening any potential prosecution.

Time rescues the guilty

It is also true that in both countries, the cost of investigating and prosecuting suspected war criminals has been an important factor in bringing the process to, what some would say is, a premature halt.

The Australians wound up their war crimes unit more than five years ago amid media and parliamentary criticism of the cost and after failing to win a single conviction.

Britain did get a conviction - only one, out of 400 cases investigated - but after spending more than 6m. Scotland Yard would not relish having to carry out further expensive inquiries in distant parts of eastern Europe.

The plain truth is that time has come to the rescue of those few war criminals to survive into the 21st century - and shortly they will all be dead anyway.

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See also:
04 Jan 00 |  UK
Nazi suspect may face trial
03 Jan 00 |  UK
Konrad Kalejs: Target for Nazi hunters
03 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Straw 'muddled' on deportation order
28 Dec 99 |  UK
Simon Wiesenthal: Nazi-hunter
01 Apr 99 |  UK
Life for war criminal

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