The District court in Zagreb ruled on Wednesday 8 January that the communist-era intelligence chief, Josip Perkovic, could be extradited to Germany where he is wanted over a killing of Croatian emigrant Stjepan Djurekovic in the 1980s.
On Thursday 9 January the District court in Velika Gorica (near Zagreb airport) ruled that the second ex-communist secret service chief, Zdravko Mustac, couldn’t be extradited to Germany (wanted for the same crime as Perkovic) because of Statute of Limitations.
Some 15 Km apart, two courts in Croatia, rule in opposite directions – on the same crime of murder that occurred in Germany in 1983!
You may well ask: how on Earth can this be possible?
Aren’t all courts in the country supposed to rule in similar ways on the same cases, under the same laws? You’d think so. But, we are dealing here with what seem to be last-ditch efforts by lawyers defending Josip Perkovic to prevent his extradition to Germany to face the German courts on what is classified as a “communist crime” or political assassination of persons by the ex-Yugoslav communist regime.
So, since last Wednesday, Perkovic’s lawyer Ante Nobilo (whose law office also defends Mustac!) has been working frantically, trying to make a case against extradition court decision, pending an appeal. He went on saying how Statute of Limitations or related laws had changed a number of times since 1983 and that his client has the right to chose the one that suits him best. I.e., chose the one under which Statute of Limitations in Croatia precludes his client from being extradited. Nobilo expressed the view that Perkovic would not receive a just trial in Germany, which is ludicrous! Yesterday, 14 January, Nobilo stated that he has received a statement from Vinko Sindicic (a Yugoslav communist secret police operative convicted in the UK to 15 years prison for attempted assassination of Croat émigré Nikola Stedul in 1988 in Scotland and whose name has also been associated with the murder in Germany of Croat family Sevo) in which he says that he had lied (committed perjury) in the German court which convicted Krunoslav Prates in relation to the murder of the same Stjepan Djurekovic, Perkovic and Mustac are sought for by German court – how miraculously convenient!
To make matters worse for those yearning for justice for victims of communist crimes, the Croatian State Attorney Office has now shown its full colours: it too wants to stifle the extradition to Germany.
Yesterday, 14 January Croatia’s Office of State Attorney, as party to these two cases in Croatian courts, has filed an appeal NOT against the decision made by the court in Velika Gorica against extradition of Mustac BUT against the Zagreb court decision to extradite Perkovic! This has enraged many in Croatia as it’s seen as yet another ploy to defer or prevent processes dealing with communist crimes. Some say that the Croatian State Attorney is on the path to open a whole new trial in Croatia in the case of the murder of Djurekovic in 1983 in Germany! If this is true then the State Attorney, Mladen Bajic, is handing out an indictment of bad and rotten practices against German courts and German judiciary (?).
Some say that Germany as country seeking extradition should file an appeal, while Zeljko Olujic, a well known lawyer and former State Attorney in Croatia, sees the moves by the Croatian Office of State Attorney as attempts to save Perkovic and Mustac from accountability for acts they committed in the former communist Yugoslavia. “That is the opinion of the State Attorney who currently finds himself in times of re-elections and who exclusively flirts with politics, which is scandalous. This what’s happening in Croatia is the twilight of the legal system and the rule of law in the state,” said Olujic for Croatian TV news.
So, to say matters simply, one would have expected the Office of State Attorney to take a different path in ensuring that both District courts delivering on the same case, but different defendants, make similar or same judgments regarding extradition. After all what kind of a country can Croatia be when courts can interpret a simple matter such as Statute of Limitations for murder in such conflicting ways! Only a country which is failing scandalously in transitioning from communism into democracy and only a country that has as its State Attorney a person with heavy political leanings when there should be none – I’d say! The Office State Attorney by appealing one of the court decisions, the one to do with Perkovic’s extradition rather than appealing the other, the one of Mustac’s non-extradition, has clearly taken sides. The side it has taken – not to extradite Perkovic – seems to me to be an attack on judiciary, an attack on democracy, an attack on the people and victims of communist crimes to whom these cases under Germany’s arrest warrant mean a great deal.
A spark of good hope in these matters, though, is that the family of Stjepan Djurekovic has, according to Croatian HRT TV news, filed an appeal against the court decision in Velika Gorica and seek Mustac’s extradition or that all courts dealing with the issue of extradition rule similarly. Whether the court will accept their appeal is yet to be seen given that they were not a party to the proceedings.
After all these appeals in lower courts are exhausted we may yet be pleasantly surprised because the Supreme court in Croatia will be the step in this process that will deliver the final ruling on extradition of Perkovic and Mustac and it will need to rule on equal ground in both cases. We may yet celebrate the extradition of Perkovic and Mustac to Germany. But then again, we may be in for an even bumpier and a more torturous path for dealing with communist crimes in Croatia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)