Germany's highest court on civil affairs, the Bundesgerichtshof, ruled yesterday that the country's laws against Nazi propaganda can be applied even to websites located outside of Germany.

Overturning a lower court ruling, the court found that German authorities can legally act against foreigners who place illegal material on web servers that are accessible in Germany, said court spokesman Wolfgang Krüger.

The defendant in the case, Frederick T"ben, was found guilty of spreading "Auschwitz lies" denying the historical reality of the Holocaust. T"ben, who was born in Germany, operates the Holocaust-denying Adelaide Institute in Australia. In publications and on the website of the institute, he has claimed the Holocaust is an invention of Jewish propagandists.

T"ben was arrested while visiting Germany in 1999, and sentenced to 10 months in prison on the lesser charge of offending the memory of the dead, because of his printed pamphlets.

The lower court found, however, that Germany's laws against incitement to racial hatred could not be enforced against foreign websites. He returned to Australia after serving part of his sentence.

If T"ben or other similar perpetrators set foot on German soil, they can be arrested, said Hans-Gertz Lange, a spokesman for the Verfassungsschutz, the Federal criminal investigative agency that prosecutes such cases. As long as they remain abroad, however, there's not much German authorities can do.