Canada extradites convicted Nazi war criminal to Rome

Saturday, February 16, 2008

ROME -- An 83-year-old former SS prison guard who was sentenced to life in jail in Italy for Nazi war crimes was extradited by Canada to Rome on Friday, officials said.

Canadian authorities handed Michael Seifert over to Italian police in Toronto and a special military flight departed late Friday afternoon, said Alain Charette, a spokesman for Canada's Department of Justice.

When Seifert arrives today, he will be transferred to a military prison near Naples to begin serving his sentence, said Bartolomeo Costantini, the military prosecutor who pursued the case.

Seifert, known as the "Beast of Bolzano," was convicted in absentia in 2000 by a military tribunal in Verona on nine counts of murder, committed while he was an SS guard at a prison transit camp in Bolzano, northern Italy.

At his trial, people testified that Seifert starved a 15-year-old prisoner to death, gouged out a person's eyes and tortured a woman before killing her and her daughter.

Seifert, a Canadian citizen of Ukrainian origin, has acknowledged being a guard at the SS-run camp but denies being involved in atrocities.

In 1944 and 1945, the Bolzano camp served as a transit point for Jews, Italian resistance fighters, Italians drafted for factory work and German army deserters who were being shipped north.

Seifert, who has lived in Canada since 1951, had unsuccessfully fought efforts by the Canadian government to strip him of his citizenship based on allegations that he hid his past when he entered the country.

Canada bars former members of the SS and related units such as the Nazi SD because of their involvement in concentration camps and with other war crimes.

Last month Seifert lost a bid to have the Supreme Court of Canada consider his appeal seeking to stop his extradition to Italy, clearing the way for his deportation.

His lawyer, Doug Christie, said Seifert called his wife Thursday night to say he was being escorted from a detention center in Vancouver. "He called her and said he was being taken away," Christie said.

Avi Benlolo, president of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Canada, said Seifert needs to face justice in Italy.

"It's critical that this happens," Benlolo said. "It sets an example for other war criminals, not only Nazi war criminals, but war criminals related to Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur or any other genocide, that there's no time limit to justice."

The Italian prosecutor, Costantini, said he planned to question Seifert as a witness to atrocities committed by other guards at the camp.

The former SS officer eventually could be allowed to serve his sentence on house arrest because of his age, Costantini said.

"Given his age, he could ask to be detained at home, if there is someone willing to host him," the prosecutor told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

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