TEL AVIV, Israel -- The former director of the U.S. Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit denied that in the late 1970s he had documentation in his files suggesting that the Treblinka sadist known as "Ivan the Terrible" was a man other than John Demjanjuk, who is awaiting an Israeli Supreme Court ruling.
The former chief, Allan A. Ryan Jr., was responding to suggestions Assistant Attorney General Robert S. Mueller III made Friday in Washington. Mr. Ryan said from the Boston area that the department had not contacted him and that he is upset at how the case is being handled.
"No such statements were in the file," said Mr. Ryan, the first director of the Office of Special Investigations and now a lawyer for Harvard University. "It is very distressing that Mueller is saying we had those statements back then."
Mr. Mueller said the department's internal watchdog unit was investigating "serious issues of prosecutorial misconduct" on the part of OSI during Mr. Ryan's tenure there, because, Mr. Mueller said, the department had in its files in 1978 references to a man who Demjanjuk's defenders say was the real Ivan.
Demjanjuk, a retired Cleveland autoworker, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 after being convicted of being Ivan the Terrible, the Treblinka gas chamber operator who tormented and abused hundreds of thousands of Jews before he gassed them to death.
In 1986, Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel, where, after an emotional trial, he was sentenced to death. But last year, files from the former Soviet Union came to light saying that Ivan was a man named Ivan Marchenko.
The Israeli Supreme Court is due to rule shortly on whether, given the new evidence, the case against Demjanjuk has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati also has reopened Demjanjuk's extradition case because of the new evidence.
The evidence consists of statements by 21 former Treblinka guards who were interrogated by the Soviet KGB, then were tried and convicted of war crimes. All identified Ivan as Marchenko, whose age and appearance differ significantly from Demjanjuk's.
The statements were taken from 1944 to 1961, and in none of them does the name Demjanjuk appear.
The allegations against the OSI are that it had several of those same statements in its file against another Nazi guard, Fedor Fedorenko, but that it failed to either recognize their significance or pursue the lead properly.
But Mr. Ryan said yesterday that what he received in 1978 were only snippets and short summaries of the guards' statements, not full texts. And, he said, while in a few there were references to Ivan the Terrible, none of them contained anything that called into question Ivan's identity as Demjanjuk.
"One statement said the person at the gas chamber was Marchenko, Nikolai," Mr. Ryan recalled. "We looked at that and said that must be Nikolai's last name but nothing more. Two lawyers in my office were going through that stuff very carefully. We took this for what it seemed to be."
But, he said, he is troubled that no one at the Justice nTC Department has contacted him yet on the allegations of possible misconduct.