In his announced book on Balkan intelligence intrigue (Agents Provocateurs: Terrorism, Espionage and the Secret Struggle for Yugoslavia 1945 – 1990), the former US National Security Agency expert, John R Schindler, now a professor at the US Naval War College, said former top UDBA (Yugoslav Secret Police) officials cited the Croatian Six case as their most successful example of agent provocateur operations.
A year ago it seemed that Ellis Peters’ words from The Potter’s Field, “… But God’s justice, if it makes no haste, makes no mistakes”, would finally apply to decades old criminal verdicts for the Australian Croatia Six, in that the verdicts would be investigated in light of new revelations about corrupt police at the time and the very likely scenario that evidence in their case was fabricated and/or tampered with.
But this it seems is not yet to be as far as exonerating the Croatian Six might be concerned. For now it seems that “justice” smiles upon unwillingness to delve officially into the history of Secret Services laundry, especially any dirty one.
In August 2012, Australia’s Attorney-General (now ex-Attorney-General) Nicola Roxon had decided not to start an inquiry into allegations by a former senior federal government lawyer that Canberra intelligence and police officials suppressed information that would have resulted in a not guilty verdict in what became known as the Croatian Six case.
Three of the five surviving men from Croatian Six had also applied to the NSW Chief Justice, Tom Bathurst, for a judicial review of their convictions in 1982 (a judicial review of the same case was refused in 1994!), which resulted in 15-year jail terms that all served, with remissions for good behaviour. They lodged this application as the Sydney Morning Herald (Hamish McDonald) investigation turned up new material supporting long-held suspicions that the former Yugoslav intelligence agency UDBA set up the six Croatian-Australian activists in a faked plot to plant bombs around Sydney in February 1979. Tom Bathurst then appointed Acting Justice Graham Barr of NSW Supreme Court to advise him on whether a judicial review should go ahead.
This week in NSW Supreme Court – the curtain has been shut, once again to a judicial review – to justice!
“… Like the appeal court in 1982, Barr thus comes back to the police evidence. But he sees only the same partial view as did the jury, complaining that the transcripts of the trial and arguments over admissibility of evidence are ‘presumably now lost’. They are not. The Supreme Court registry can get them out for him, and they are illuminating”, writes Hamish McDonald in his article – an absolute MUST READ!
What is most frightening in this case, where Justice Barr acted as a court, is that he actually went ahead and gave Roger Rogerson’s words unquestionable “credibility”. Yes, you read right: it’s the same Roger Rogerson who had led one of the Sydney raids and arrested three of the Croatian Six. It’s the same Roger Rogerson who was dismissed from the police force. The same Roger Rogerson who is also known for his association with other NSW detectives who are reputed to have been corrupt. The same Roger Rogerson heavily present as a subject in the 1996 Wood royal commission (in Australia), which found ”systemic” corruption in the NSW Police and led to disbandment of the squads involved in the Croatian Six raids. The same Roger Rogerson who was convicted of perverting the course of justice and lying to the 1999 NSW Police Integrity Commission.
So, where are we now with any prospect for the testing independently (and meaningfully) of the new discoveries that strongly suggest Croatian Six were set up by the Yugoslav Secret Police (UDBA), working in concert with individuals from the Australian Secret Service (ASIO) and police? Justice Barr’s decision to shut that door remains a final administrative decision on the matter. But given that the new discoveries include a statement by a former senior legal officer in the Department of Australia’s Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ian Cunliffe, that intelligence material which would have led to ”not guilty” verdicts had been withheld by Canberra officials in a virtual ”conspiracy to pervert the course of justice”, an inquiry could certainly be initiated by Australia’s Attorney-General or the head of ASIO.
A political pressure from Croatia (acting in the interests of its ex-patriots on issues that affect not only justice but also the reputation of Croatians) and the Croatian community for a review the Croatian Six legal case could perhaps bring positive results – at least for the world to see that when there are grave, objective, concerns for a miscarriage of justice, there are also those in power willing to investigate the matter in a deserved and fair fashion rather than raising more suspicion and disgrace of the justice system by leaning heavily on what a convicted criminal, involved with the case originally, has to say.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals”.
Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)