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Friday, 27 July, 2001, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Gecas arrest warrant issued
Antonas Gecas
Mr Gecas has denied the allegations against him
A warrant has been issued for the arrest of a suspected war criminal living in Edinburgh.

Scottish Justice Minister Jim Wallace has sanctioned the start of proceedings against Antonas Gecas which could see him extradited to Lithuania.

The 85-year-old, who recently suffered a stroke, is alleged to have killed civilians, mostly Jews, while working in a Second World War police battalion in Lithuania.

But the Lithuanian denies the charges and has previously indicated he would fight any move by the country's authorities to extradite him.

The arrest warrant signed by Mr Wallace has now been passed to Lothian and Borders Police so that proceedings can begin.

The process will involve:

  • After Mr Gecas has been arrested there will be a hearing before a sheriff inline with the Extradition Act 1989.

  • At that hearing the extradition request will be considered and the identity of the suspect verified.

  • The sheriff can hear representations in support of the extradition or on behalf of the accused.

  • The sheriff, if he or she is satisfied with the proceedings, will then be required to commit the suspect to custody or release him on bail.

  • A decision will then be made by Scottish ministers on whether to order the accused's return.

  • Both the sheriff's and the ministers' decision can be appealed by the accused and by the requesting state.

A district court in Vilnius, Lithuania, granted a warrant for the arrest of Mr Gecas in February this year.

Mr Gecas, who moved to Scotland in 1947, served as a platoon commander in a police battalion which fought with the Germans after they invaded Lithuania.

War time picture
Mr Gecas was a police platoon commander
In 1992 he lost a defamation case against Scottish Television, which claimed he led atrocities against Jews in his native country and Belarus as the head of a special police battalion during the war.

Mr Gecas, a former National Coal Board engineer who now runs a guest house in Edinburgh, has protested his innocence.

In May he suffered a stroke and a spokesman confirmed he is being treated at the Liberton Hospital in the south of Edinburgh.

Staff would not give details of his condition, at the request of his family.

And Nigel Duncan, Mr Gecas' lawyer, said: "No further action will be taken until Mr Gecas' condition is assessed.

"The medical authorities have yet to comment on his current medical condition.

"He is in hospital at the moment, so obviously the case cannot be heard in court within the next week or so.

Nigel Duncan
Nigel Duncan is waiting for medical reports
"We are unsure as yet what the time scales involved will be."

Officials at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish human rights organisation which has continually campaigned for the extradition, welcomed news the proceedings had begun.

The organisation's Israel director, Dr Efraim Zuroff, said: "This is the best day in my life for over 16 years, that's how long myself and others have been fighting for this news.

"This is a very important day for Scottish justice and the victims of the holocaust.

"The most important thing now is that proceedings are pursued as quickly as possible."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Reevel Alderson reports
"It is claimed Mr Gecas was responsible for war crimes"
See also:

01 Aug 01 | Scotland
War crimes suspect suffers stroke
02 May 01 | Scotland
Row over Gecas extradition delay
10 Apr 01 | Scotland
War crimes suspect was 'protected'
29 Mar 01 | Scotland
Lithuania pursues war crimes suspect
04 Mar 01 | Scotland
Gecas protests his innocence
19 Feb 01 | Scotland
Legal battle looms in Gecas case
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