Former Lithuanian Nazi leader gets postponement of crime trial

MOSCOW — A Vilnius judge has adjourned the trial of an alleged Nazi war criminal for 10 weeks — just a day after the trial began.

In ruling for the adjournment on Thursday of last week, however, a judge with the Vilnius Regional Court, Viktoras Kazys, rejected an appeal by the lawyer for Aleksandras Lileikis to drop the charges against his 91-year-old client.

Lileikis is accused of having handed Jews over to Nazi death squads during World War II while he was head of the Saugamus, the Nazi-sponsored Lithuanian security police.

The defense categorically denies the charges of genocide against Lileikis, saying they are based on documents forged by the Soviet KGB after World War II in an attempt to discredit Lithuanian emigres.

On Thursday of last week, the court commissioned the prosecution to obtain originals of the documents used as evidence against Lileikis. Many of the documents have been provided by the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations.

The court also instructed the prosecution to question witnesses living outside of Lithuania, including an elderly Jewish woman living in the United States.

According to the defense, the woman, whose name is given as Grace Montes and who reportedly lives in an old-age home in Denver, might be Shifra Grodnikaite, a Jewish woman Lileikis has claimed he rescued during the Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1944.

Investigators have so far been unable to locate her.

Lileikis' lawyer said he was satisfied by the court's decision to put off the trial until May 18.

Lithuanian Jewish officials who have said that they would not attend court hearings to avoid possible clashes with ultranationalists, were outraged by the court's decision. One Jewish activist who insisted on anonymity said that by delaying the trial, authorities are clearly waiting for Lileikis to die.

Lileikis is being tried in absentia. Earlier this year, he reportedly had a stroke, and Lithuanian officials said it would be difficult for him to attend court sessions.

The Lileikis case is the first trial for Holocaust crimes in any of the three Baltic states since they gained their independence from the Soviet Union seven years ago.

Some 94 percent of Lithuania's prewar Jewish community of 240,000 died in the Holocaust.