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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ex-Nazi on Trial in Britain For War Crimes in Belarus

LONDON -- An English judge and jury decided Monday to make an unprecedented official visit to Belarus as part of Britain's first full-scale Nazi war crimes trial.

The judge, jury and lawyers for the prosecution and defense will visit the small town of Domachevo next week to see for themselves the site where Polish-born Anthony Sawoniuk, now 77, is accused of killing four Jews in late 1942.

Court officials said it was the first time an English judge and jury would travel abroad as part of a criminal trial.

The court heard that Sawoniuk was a police officer serving in German-occupied Domachevo where it is alleged that he "helped the Germans in putting into effect the policy of mass murder of the local Jewish population."

Sawoniuk, a stocky white-haired man who came to Britain in 1946, is pleading not guilty to the four counts of murder against him. The prosecution will begin outlining its case Tuesday and the trial is expected to last about eight weeks, taking evidence from elderly witnesses from Britain and abroad.

He is the first person to come to trial on war crimes charges since the British parliament controversially agreed in 1991 to hunt down those who slipped into the country after the war with blood on their hands.

Judge Francis Potts told the four women and eight men on the jury that they should not serve "if either you or your family suffered as a result of the German actions against Jewish or other races or religions." Warning them not to discuss the case with anyone outside the court, he said: "This is a highly unusual case. It is the first time a jury has been arraigned to try a case of this sort in this country. There will be a good deal of interest."

Sawoniuk is being tried under the 1991 War Crimes Act, which for the first time extended British jurisdiction to cover alleged war crimes committed by non-British nationals in German-controlled territory during the war. Much of his trial is expected to rest on the question of identification.

The legislation was passed after heated debates pitting those who argued that alleged war criminals could not expect a fair trial after so many years against others who insisted Britain must not become a hiding place for former Nazis.

Official inquiries at the time estimated there were 300 war criminals in Britain f most of them former members of police units from the Baltic states and eastern Europe who were admitted by a government desperately in need of manpower to rebuild its war-ravaged mines and factories. Most later took British citizenship.

More than half the cases never got to court because of lack of evidence, and scores more suspected Nazis have since died.

A 1996 case involving Szymon Serafinowicz, who was accused of three specimen murder charges of Jews in Belarus, collapsed before reaching trial when the 86-year-old was found to be suffering from Alzheimer's disease, heart problems and cancer. He died seven months later, still maintaining his innocence.