February 18, 2008 / 4:57 PM / in 10 years

Ex-Nazi guard jailed in Italy after extradition

ROME (Reuters) - A former Nazi guard extradited from Canada arrived in Italy on Saturday to serve a life sentence for war crimes committed there during World War Two.

<p>In this file photo accused of war crimes during World War II, Michael Seifert (L) walks with his son John as he arrives at a Vancouver court, November 12, 2002. Seifert, who had lived in Canada since 1951, landed at Rome's Ciampino airport before dawn on Saturday. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>

Michael Seifert, who had lived in Canada since 1951, landed at Rome’s Ciampino airport before dawn on Saturday.

Italian TV footage showed the 83-year-old, wearing a baseball cap and walking slowly with the help of a cane as local police escorted him out of the airport.

An Italian military tribunal convicted Seifert in absentia in 2000 for torturing and murdering at least 18 people while serving as a guard at a prison camp in the northern city of Bolzano between December 1944 and April 1945.

A copy of the sentence, posted on the Web site of Italy’s Defense Ministry, said Seifert -- known at the camp as “Misha” -- had tortured his victims with fire, broken bottles, clubs and ice-cold water.

It said Seifert in one instance raped a pregnant woman detained in an isolation cell before killing her. In a separate episode, he left a 15-year-old Jewish prisoner to die of hunger.

Seifert has acknowledged being a guard at the prison, which held Jews and political prisoners awaiting transfer to German concentration camps, but denied he had killed anyone.

Dubbed by Italian media the “Executioner of Bolzano,” Seifert was turned over to Italian authorities in Toronto on Friday. After arriving in Rome, he was temporarily taken to a military prison in southern Italy.

The top military prosecutor in charge of the trial, Bartolomeo Costantini, said on Saturday Seifert was fit enough to go to jail but he would not oppose allowing him to serve the sentence under house arrest because of his age.

“He is a man who must pay for his crimes, but he will also be 84 in a few days,” Costantini said, adding that he wanted to interrogate Seifert about Otto Sein, another SS guard who served at the Bolzano prison at the same time.

Seifert was born in 1924 in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, and began work as a guard in the Nazi SD security service after the German occupation. He was a member of the SS by the time he served at the Bolzano camp, court documents said.

He moved to Canada after the war, claiming to be from Estonia, and found employment as a mill worker in Vancouver, where he raised a family and lived until he was arrested at Italy’s request in 2002.

Seifert fought his extradition in Canadian courts, but the Supreme Court of Canada refused last month to hear his appeal.

Seifert’s lawyers had argued he had been convicted unfairly in Italy and that Canadian officials were biased against him in allowing the extradition.

The Canadian Jewish Congress said on Friday the extradition showed Canada was not a safe hiding place for people wanted for war crimes. The group estimates 1,000 to 3,000 people with Nazi pasts were able to get into Canada illegally between 1947 and 1956.

Additional reporting by Allan Dowd in Vancouver; Editing by Mary Gabriel

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