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Sweden to Extradite Auschwitz Theft Suspect
Conservation experts and museum director Piotr Cywinski, second right, examine part of the cynical "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign at the Auschwitz museum, Thursday Jan. 21, 2010. The infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign stolen from Auschwitz and broken into three pieces was returned to the museum at the site of the Nazi death camp Thursday. AP Photo/Jarek Praszkiewicz.
STOCKHOLM (REUTERS).- A Swedish man accused of masterminding the theft of the "Work sets you free" sign from the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz will be extradited to Poland, a Swedish district court said Thursday.

Anders Hogstrom, 34, was seized in Sweden in February on a European arrest warrant issued by Poland.

The theft of the "Arbeit macht frei" sign -- an enduring symbol of the Holocaust at the entrance of the camp -- caused international outrage, especially in Israel and among Jewish groups.

Defense lawyer Bjorn Sandin told Reuters that Hogstrom has been accused of stealing, destroying and selling a "cultural object of importance" and that the punishment for such a crime in Poland would amount to 10 years in prison.

Sandin said Hogstrom, who appeared in court handcuffed and dressed casually in jeans, was "quite prepared" for the decision and would likely make an appeal.

"I will recommend it in this situation because there is a political question in this -- whether or not you should be able to turn over a citizen from one country to another one when there has been no investigation into whether he is guilty or not."

The 34-year-old, who was the former leader of a far-right party in Sweden, has three weeks to appeal. If rejected, he will be handed over to Polish authorities within 10 days.

Swedish prosecutor Agnetha Hilding Qvarnstrom said the court was focused solely on deciding whether there were formal grounds to extradite Hogstrom.

"So far we haven't found any reason for not saying yes to this question from Poland," she told Reuters.

Poland has already arrested five local men who it believes stole the sign and cut it into three pieces, but accuses Hogstrom of orchestrating the crime.

The metal sign is now being repaired. Officials say a replica now topping the entrance gate may remain there permanently as the original could prove too fragile to withstand the varying weather conditions.

Up to 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, died at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during Nazi Germany's wartime occupation of Poland. The site became a museum after the war.

(Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)

Sweden | "Work sets you free" | Auschwitz | Anders Hogstrom |

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