JERUSALEM — Israeli Justice Minister Yitzhak Modai said Thursday that he has enough evidence to prove that former U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim was an accessory to Nazi war crimes .
"He certainly was an accessory to the crimes, he has aided in the crimes and we have enough evidence in this respect" to try him under Israeli law, Modai told the state radio.
The justice minister was referring to evidence he said Israeli investigators have gathered showing that Waldheim, then a lieutenant serving in the German army, knew about standing orders to carry out "cleansing operations" against anti-German partisans in the Balkans during World War II.
Cabinet Report Due
Modai, whose ministry is to submit a report on the Waldheim affair to the Israeli Cabinet next week, did not say the evidence that has been compiled contains any new information or goes beyond the allegations already brought against Waldheim by the World Jewish Congress and other organizations in the United States.
Modai said Israeli investigators are questioning witnesses who say they are able to give testimony linking Waldheim personally to war crimes. But Modai said he "cannot as yet take (this testimony) for granted."
He said that, under Israeli law, the evidence he has is enough in his judgment to justify putting Waldheim on trial as an accessory to war crimes. It "definitely ties him, if not personally, then at least as an accessory, and that is enough," Modai said.
'No New Facts'
In Vienna, a spokesman for Waldheim accused the Israelis of engaging in a witch hunt. "After the slander campaign against Waldheim failed," the spokesman said, "a witch hunt has now begun. There are no new facts."
Waldheim has acknowledged certain aspects of his wartime past but has strenuously and repeatedly denied any involvement in war crimes.
Waldheim, who is favored to win the Austrian presidency, served in the Balkans between 1942 and 1945 in a unit that fought against Yugoslav partisans and also carried out the deportation of Jews. In the election May 4, he received 49.6% of the vote and faces a runoff on June 8. He is ahead in public opinion polls and is favored to win.
Modai did not say whether his report recommends that Austria be asked to extradite Waldheim to Israel for trial. Sivan Shalom, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry, was asked if Israeli prosecutors were contemplating such a step, and he replied, "We will issue the report and then the government will decide."
Prime Minister Shimon Peres, addressing a group of high school students Thursday, was cautious and noncommittal when asked about Israel's position on the Waldheim controversy.
"We cannot afford to say something which is not verified," he said. But he added that "if Dr. Waldheim is found guilty, whether or not he is elected, we will behave toward him as toward a person who is marked for life with the Nazi sign on his forehead."