Nazi War Crimes Suspect One Step Closer To Justice

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - After years on the run and successfully dodging numerous attempts to bring him to justice, suspected Nazi war criminal Konrad Kalejs has finally been charged in his native Latvia with genocide and war crimes.

But Kalejs, an Australian citizen resident in Melbourne, may stay one step ahead of the law one more time, as Latvia and Australia have yet to conclude a pending extradition treaty.

The 86-year-old, who has long maintained his innocence, was charged by Latvia's prosecutor-general Janis Maizitis Thursday, following a nine-month legal investigation involving contributions from seven countries, including the U.S. and Israel. Russia reportedly made available previously secret KGB files.

War crimes investigators have accused him of involvement in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews during World War II. He is believed to have been a senior officer in a Latvian auxiliary security police unit known as the Arajs Kommando. Its leader, Viktors Arajs, was jailed for life in Germany in 1979 for life, his unit having been found responsible for the deaths of at least 30,000 Jews, gypsies and other victims.

The charges Kalejs is now facing arise from his military service during the Nazi occupation of Latvia, and his command of a Latvian police unit based in 1941 and 1942 at a Nazi concentration camp called Salaspils, south of Riga.

His alleged activities there, which included overseeing forced labor, "enabled the camp's administration to create living conditions for Jewish inmates bound to drive
them into complete or partial destruction," according to the charge sheet.

If convicted he could be jailed for life.

Ephraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which tracks Nazi war criminals, welcomed the Latvian move, but expressed concern Kalejs may escape if not extradited soon.

Zuroff was earlier critical of Latvia's failure to bring to justice a single war crimes suspect since regaining its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In Australia, a Jewish community leader urged the Canberra government to take steps to ensure Kalejs was "available for extradition to the Latvia the moment a request is in hand from Latvian Authorities," the Melbourne Age reports in its Saturday edition.

The Latvian news agency LETA Friday quoted a U.S. State Department official as congratulating the Latvian government, but saying the filing of an arrest warrant and extradition application would have to be the next step.

Kalejs made headlines late last year when he was found to be hiding out at a luxury nursing home in England.

After a huge row, he left the country voluntarily in early January, pre-empting government moves to deport him after having found insufficient grounds to charge him in Britain.

Kalejs was previously deported from both the U.S. and Canada, in 1994 and 1997 respectively, after probes in those countries linked him to war crimes.

Read the Kalejs Case Chronology

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow