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  1. Feb. 21, 2003
    Belgium refused to investigate suspected Nazi war criminals

    Belgium, whose Supreme Court ruled that after he leaves office Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can be tried for war crimes stemming from the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in 1982, turned down requests to investigate alleged Nazi criminals in 1990 because of a statute of limitations.

    Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel office, said that in 1990 he submitted a list of 14 suspected Nazi war criminals who emigrated to Belgium after World War II, most of them from the Baltic states, to the Belgian Justice Ministry.

    "The Belgians said that they cannot be prosecuted because of a 20-year statute of limitations," Zuroff said. "They told us it would be an exercise in futility."

    According to Zuroff, "You could find [SS chief Heinrich] Himmler in Belgium tomorrow, and they would not prosecute because of the statute of limitations. This is exactly the opposite of what they have done with their universal jurisdiction."

    Belgium's controversial "universal jurisdiction," legislated in 1993, gives its courts the right to try anybody for alleged war crimes, regardless of where they happened and whether or not Belgian citizens were involved.

    Veronique Petit, an official at the Belgian Embassy in Tel Aviv, passed an inquiry about the matter on to Brussels, but said it would take time to get a response.

    "I talked to my colleagues in Belgium," Petit said. "It is an old affair, and they have to look into the case. I have sent all the information and they will check, but it will take some time. At this stage I can't comment."

    The list of suspected Nazi war criminals Zuroff gave the Belgian authorities included Petras Kazlauskas, Jonas Vosylius, and Antanas Laurinavicius, who according to the Wiesenthal Center served in the 12th Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion which murdered thousands of Jews in Byelorussia. They left for Belgium in 1947.

    In addition, the list included Jurgis Deksnis, who "played an active role in the murder of the Jews of Vilkaviskis [Lithuania]"; Jonas Kuzmickas, who "played an active role in the murder of the Jews of Alytus [Lithuania]"; Vaclovas Meskauskas, who "participated in the murder of the Jews of Kelme [Lithuania]"; Bronius Sprindys, who was a "participant in the murder of the Jews of Ukmerge [Lithuania]"; and Antanas Taujauskis, who "participated in persecution and murder of civilians in the Kaunas district [Lithuania]."

    The source for these charges is testimony of survivors in Jerusalem's Yad Vashem archives, and in some cases a list of Lithuanian war criminals compiled by the Lithuanian Interior Ministry when it was still part of the USSR, and the roster for the 12th Lithuanian Auxiliary.

    According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, when the Germans invaded Belgium on May 10, 1940, between 90,000 and 110,000 Jews lived there, of whom some 20,000 were German Jewish refugees; 25,631 of them were deported to extermination camps during the war, and only 1,244 returned.

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