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German arms dealer arrested in Austria

A German man wanted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for supplying chemical weapons to Iran has been arrested in Austria, criminal police said on Wednesday.

German arms dealer arrested in Austria
Photo: DPA

The man, named only as Peter W., 67, had been on the run for 21 years after being charged in the United States with supplying Iran with 115 tons of chemicals used to produce lethal mustard gas in the late 1980s, the Austrian daily Kronen Zeitung reported.

“The arrest took place in Hall, in Tirol on December 28th,” criminal police spokesman Alexander Marakovits told news agency AFP, confirming the newspaper report.

“Peter W. travelled to Austria with a false Irish passport and was here under a false name, but investigators were still able to find him,” he added.

“He appears to have felt safe in Austria and it took him by surprise when he was arrested.” The arrest resulted from a joint operation by Austrian criminal police, local Tirol police and US authorities, Marakovits said.

W., who had travelled to Austria with his family, is currently being held in Innsbruck until the court rules whether to extradite him. It is unclear when the decision will be made.

According to Marakovits, US investigators had been tracking W. for years. He was arrested in Croatia in 1994 but the court decided there was not enough evidence to keep him and he fled to Germany.

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CRIME

Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person so far to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.

Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

Josef S. was found guilty of being an accessory to murder while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945, presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and was not aware of the gruesome crimes being carried out at the camp.

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial on Monday.

But prosecutors said he “knowingly and willingly” participated in the murders of 3,518 prisoners at the camp and called for him to be punished with five years behind bars.

READ ALSO: Trials of aging Nazis a ‘reminder for the present’, says German prosecutor

More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, regime opponents and gay people, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1936 and 1945.

Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labour, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.

Prosecutors said the man had aided and abetted the “execution by firing squad of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942” and the murder of prisoners “using the poisonous gas Zyklon B”.

He was 21 years old at the time.

Contradictory statements

During the trial, S. made several inconsistent statements about his past, complaining that his head was getting “mixed up”.

At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as an agricultural labourer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth.

After the war, the man was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith.

He remained at liberty during the trial, which began in 2021 but has been delayed several times because of his health.

Despite his conviction, he is highly unlikely to be put behind bars, given his age.

His lawyer Stefan Waterkamp told AFP ahead of the verdict that if found guilty, he would appeal.

More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.

The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several of these twilight justice cases.

Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.

By David COURBET

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