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97-year-old Hungarian Sandor Kepiro on trial for Nazi war crimes

97-year-old Hungarian Sandor Kepiro charged with Nazi war crimes
Sandor Kepiro AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky

(CBS/AP) BUDAPEST, Hungary - Sandor Kepiro, a 97-year-old former Hungarian police captain charged with taking part in January 1942 raids in the Northern Serbian town of Novi Sad, proclaimed his innocence Thursday as his war crimes trial began.

Kepiro had been called the world's most wanted Nazi by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, reports the BBC.

According to court papers, unidentified members of a patrol under Kepiro's command killed four people during a raid in 1942. Kepiro is also suspected of being involved in the deaths of around 20 others who were executed on the banks of the Danube River.

In 1941, in the wake of Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia, Hungarian forces entered Serbia. In early 1942, those Hungarian forces carried out raids to counter the growing number of partisan attacks. Around 1,200 civilians - primarily Serbs, Jews and Gypsies - were killed in these revenge raids, reports the Sydney Morning Herald

Kepiro, who returned to Budapest in 1996 after living for years in Argentina, acknowledged that he participated in the raids, but denied any responsibility in the killings.

"There is no basis to this, everything is based on lies." Kepiro said in court. He claimed he was being put on trial "because I am the last survivor. Everyone else who was there is dead."

The trial is based on a 1944 conviction Kepiro received for his participation in the raids. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but he only served a couple of weeks before being released by the fascist Hungarian government of the time. The trial, Kepiro claimed, was all for show to appease the Allied forces.

A verdict in Kepiro's trial is expected on May 19. If convicted Kepiro could face life in prison.

"This is a clear example that even after 70 years of a crime being committed...a perpetrator can be brought to justice," prosecutor Vladimir Vukevic said in a courtroom interview. "Justice is being served today."