BERLIN (AP) — Germany's highest criminal court has ruled that the country has jurisdiction over the case of a retired Minnesota carpenter that an Associated Press investigation exposed as a former commander in a Nazi SS-led unit.
The Federal Court of Justice said in its ruling published Thursday that 95-year-old Michael Karkoc's service as a commander in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion made him the "holder of a German office." This gives Germany the legal right to prosecute him even though he is not German, his alleged crimes were against non-Germans and they were not committed on German soil.
Someone in that role "served the purposes of the Nazi state's world view," the court said.
Karkoc's son, Andriy Karkos, didn't respond to an AP email seeking comment and hung up on a reporter who reached him via cell phone. A home number for Michael Karkoc was no longer working Thursday.
The court's decision represents "a big step forward" in the case against Karkoc, said Thomas Will, deputy director of the special federal prosecutors' office that investigates Nazi crimes. He initially handled the case in Germany.
Will referred the case to the court late last year after concluding in his own investigation that enough evidence existed to pursue murder charges against Karkoc, who has denied the allegations against him.
Will's office has no powers to file charges itself, and the federal court in its ruling referred the case to Munich prosecutors. They will examine the evidence again to determine whether to charge Karkoc and seek his extradition from the United States.
The German investigation began after the AP published a story last year establishing that Karkoc commanded a unit accused of burning villages filled with women and children, then lied to American immigration officials to get into the United States a few years after World War II.
A second story uncovered evidence that Karkoc himself ordered his men in 1944 to attack a Polish village in which dozens of civilians were killed, contradicting statements from his family that he was never at the scene.
Polish prosecutors also are investigating. The U.S. Department of Justice has declined to confirm whether it also is investigating Karkoc, citing its policy of not confirming or denying individual investigations.
Karkoc applied for German citizenship on Feb. 14, 1940, according to Nazi documents signed by Karkoc and located by the AP in February in the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Maryland, but he was rejected because of his lack of German language skills.
The SS-administered immigration office instead said it would provide Karkoc — who was 20 at the time and whose date of birth and hometown match those on the documents — passport-like papers identifying him as an ethnic German.
AP Investigative Researcher Randy Herschaft in New York and reporter Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this story.