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War Crimes Suspect Spared Extradition by Australian Court

An Australian accused of war crimes during the Second World War has won an appeal against a decision to extradite him to Hungary. Australia's Federal Court has ruled that Charles Zentai, 88, should not be sent to Hungary to face allegations of war crimes because of his age and ill health.

Charles Zentai is accused of murdering a Jewish teenager in November 1944 in Budapest while serving as a warrant officer in the army of his native Hungary.

The 88-year-old migrant, who moved to Australia after the war, has always denied the allegations, insisting that he had left the Hungarian capital the day before the young man was killed.

Zentai has been fighting extradition from Australia for five years.

His lawyer, Malcolm McCusker, says the court ruled in his favor for a number of reasons.

"One was that he was not an eligible person as defined by the Act. So that's a very serious finding; it means that it's not just a matter of sending it back to the Minister; it's unlawful," he aid. "A ground of oppressiveness, which covers a wide range of things, including Mr. Zentai's age, health, physical infirmity and the length of time since the alleged offense occurred."

The allegations against Zentai were initially brought by the Jewish human rights group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is dedicated to hunting down Nazi war criminals.

It listed Zentai as one of its 10 most-wanted suspects, alleging that the elderly man had previously taken part in the "persecution and murder" of Jews in Budapest in 1944.

The center has called on the Australian government to appeal the court's ruling that the suspect should not be extradited.

It is unclear if the authorities in Canberra will challenge the judge's decision. Outside the court in Perth, Charles Zentai said it was an "amazing feeling" to finally have the threat of extradition lifted. His family said he was the victim of a "huge injustice" and indicted they would consider applying for compensation.