FBI thought Demjanjuk evidence faked: Report

John Demjanjuk`s Nazi war crimes trial resumes on Wednesday in Germany.

Updated: Apr 13, 2011, 10:03 AM IST

Berlin: An FBI report kept secret for 25 years said the Soviet Union "quite likely fabricated" evidence central to the prosecution of John Demjanjuk — a revelation that could help the defence as closing arguments resume on Wednesday in the retired Ohio auto worker`s Nazi war crimes trial in Germany.

The newly-declassified FBI field office report, obtained by a news agency, casts doubt on the authenticity of a Nazi ID card that is the key piece of evidence in allegations that Demjanjuk served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland.

Throughout three decades of US hearings, an extradition, a death sentence followed by acquittal in Israel, a deportation and now a trial in Munich, the arguments have relied heavily on the photo ID from an SS training camp that indicates Demjanjuk was sent to Sobibor.

Claims that the card and other evidence against Demjanjuk are Soviet forgeries have repeatedly been made by Demjanjuk`s defence attorneys. However, the FBI report provides the first known confirmation that American investigators had similar doubts.

"Justice is ill-served in the prosecution of an American citizen on evidence which is not only normally inadmissible in a court of law, but based on evidence and allegations quite likely fabricated by the KGB," the FBI`s Cleveland field office said in the 1985 report, four years after the Soviets had shown US investigators the card.

It was the height of the Cold War at the time, and the ID card from the Nazi`s Trawniki training camp had not been as closely examined by Western experts as it has been today. Since then it has been scrutinised and validated by courts in the US, Israel and Germany — though experts at the current trial left room for doubt, with one conceding that a counterfeiter with the right materials could have forged the card and other documents.

The FBI agents argued that the Soviets had an interest in faking the documents as part of a campaign to smear anti-communist émigrés. Those conclusions contradict the findings of another branch of the Department of Justice, the Office of Special Investigations, or OSI, which was in charge of the overall Demjanjuk probe.

A quarter-century later, Demjanjuk, now 90, is standing trial in Munich on 28,060 counts of accessory to murder, which he denies. A verdict is expected within a month.

The news agency discovered the FBI report at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, among case files that were declassified after the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk was deported from the US in May 2009 to face trial in Germany.

It had not previously been seen by defence attorneys in Demjanjuk`s trials in Germany, Israel or the United States, and German prosecutors also were unaware of the document. It is unclear whether prosecutors in the US and Israel knew about it.

The FBI report was among more than 8 million pages of records by federal agencies that were transferred to the National Archives in 1998 under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act. However, the field office report was excluded from public view by the OSI, which was exempted to protect ongoing investigations and prosecutions. The agency learned late last year that partially redacted Demjanjuk files had been opened up, and recently reviewed them.

Neal Sher, the director of the OSI from 1983 to 1994, called the Cleveland report "replete with errors that completely undermine its credibility”. He said in an e-mail that "great care was taken to authenticate any documents" and not one was found to be forged.

But others involved in the US case say it was a key piece of evidence about which they were previously unaware.

Bureau Report