WASHINGTON -- The Department of Justice had in its files in 1978, but did not disclose, references to a man whom defenders of John Demjanjuk claim was actually the "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka death camp, Assistant Attorney General Robert S. Mueller III disclosed yesterday.
In the department's first formal statement on the Demjanjuk case since his Israeli death sentence came under serious challenge, Mr. Mueller said that the department's internal watchdog unit was investigating "serious issues of prosecutorial misconduct."
But so far, said Mr. Mueller, who heads the department's criminal division, no misconduct has been disclosed in connection with the new material. The references were in the files of another accused Treblinka guard, Feodor Fedorenko, who was stripped of his U.S. citizenship, deported to the Soviet Union in 1984, and later executed as a Nazi collaborator.
"We are guided by a single objective," Mr. Mueller said: "To see that justice is done and that the law is scrupulously enforced."
Demjanjuk is a retired Cleveland auto worker who was convicted of war crimes in Israel after he was denaturalized and extradited by the United States. In addition to Demjanjuk, the department's Office of Professional Responsibility recently intensified its investigation of the case of Adrija Artukovic, a Seal Beach, Calif., man who died in a Yugoslav prison in 1988.
Both cases were handled by the department's Office of Special Investigations, which pursues former concentration camp guards and others with Nazi service who lied about their backgrounds when admitted to the United States. Artukovic was minister of interior in a Nazi puppet government in wartime Croatia that carried out the execution of thousands of Jews, Serbs and Gypsies.
Defenders of Artukovic and Demjanjuk contend that the OSI ignored evidence casting doubt on some allegations in its zeal to remove their citizenship and deport them from the United States, allegations that OSI Director Neal M. Sher has repeatedly denied.
The references disclosed yesterday by Mr. Mueller were among material obtained by the United States in August 1978 in connection with Fedorenko's case and "were apparently maintained in the Fedorenko files from that point forward," Mr. Mueller said. Demjanjuk was stripped of his citizenship in 1981 and extradited to Israel five years later. The material was not turned over to his lawyers.
One of the references is an excerpt of a Feb. 21, 1945, Soviet interrogation of Pavel V. Leieko, a Ukrainian who served as a guard at the Treblinka death camp in Poland.
Leieko identified two men who he said had operated motors that fed gases into the gas chambers, which the Nazis represented as a bath house. One of the men had the name Marchenko, which is the last name of a man Demjanjuk's defenders have identified as Ivan the Terrible.
In March 1991, Mr. Mueller said, the Israelis obtained copies of 21 statements made by former Treblinka camp guards to Soviet interrogators between 1944 and 1961, relating to the presence of a Marchenko at the death camp. The statements included the two found to have been in the Department of Justice's Fedorenko file.
5l The material is far from conclusive, however. Along with Mueller's statement, the Department of Justice released immigration documents in which Demjanjuk listed his mother's maiden name as Olga Martschenko. A department official said that the name could be Marchenko as translated from Cyrllic.
In an unusual action, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati last week reopened the question of whether it should have blocked Demjanjuk's extradition to Israel, saying that it may have been based on "erroneous information."
The court ordered the Department of Justice to turn over by July 15 any evidence it had that tended to show that Demjanjuk was not Ivan the Terrible and to detail when U.S. agents first learned of each such item of evidence.