Croatian Six – Judicial Inquiry Into Terror Convictions 43 Years On

It’s been 43 years 8 months and 21 days since the Croatian Six men were convicted of attempts of terrorist acts in Sydney, Australia and Justice Victor Maxwell who delivered the prison sentences was most likely completely unaware that before him was a masterpiece of lies and machinations of communist Yugoslavia operations against Croatians who rejected communism and migrated to Australia after World War Two. Perhaps Justice Maxwell felt that things were not “right” but was in no position to rule otherwise? May that too will become apparent and clear one day.

 It is now clear more than ever that the communist Yugoslavia in its rampage against Croatians who rejected communism and Yugoslavia did include not only purges by mass murders but also framing Croats for terrorist activities around the world due to which Croatians living in West had suffered awful consequences to their good name particularly during the 1960’s and 1970’s while Josip Broz Tito was alive and head of communist Yugoslavia. And so finally, after several attempts since 1982 to achieve a judicial inquiry in this greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of Australia we are looking at the best hope for justice for the Croatian Six men sent to jail on attempted terrorism charges with fabricated evidence and lies that came from a Serbian citizen infiltrating the Croatian community in Sydney as a patriotic Croat! The Croatian Six had always maintained their innocence of the crimes they were charged with eventually imprisoned for ten years each before being released early in 1991.

Finally, the New South Wales Supreme Court in Sydney Australia has 30 August 2022 ordered a judicial inquiry into the 1981 convictions of the so-called “Croatian Six” over an alleged conspiracy to bomb four businesses in Sydney and cut the city’s water supply, amid grave concerns the men were framed by a Yugoslav spy. This historic decision for a judicial inquiry was delivered by Justice Robertson Wright ordered a judicial inquiry into the 41-year-old convictions (and just over 43 years since the indictment) of Maksimilian Bebic, Mile Nekic, Vjekoslav Brajkovic, Anton Zvirotic, Ilija Kokotovic and Joseph Kokotovic, who were sentenced in February of 1981 to a maximum of 15 years’ prison each in relation to the alleged terrorist plot.

As I wrote in my previous posts here these four men of Croatian descent and birth who migrated to Australia and until their shocking arrest for alleged plot to bomb two travel agencies in Sydney, a Serbian club, the Elizabethan Theatre in the Sydney suburb of Newtown, and Sydney water supply pipes connected to the Warragamba Dam on the outskirts of Sydney, as well as other offences of stealing or possessing explosives in Lithgow and Sydney in 1979 all of these six men were decent, honest people and hard workers and it took the communist Yugoslavia dark secret services forces, using a Serb national as a spy to turn them into monsters the world loathed. In that loathing all Croatians living in Australia particularly, who fought for an independent Croatia during World War Two or who simply fled Yugoslavia because they did not tolerate the oppressive, murderous communist regime.  

In paragraph 48 of his determination for a judicial inquiry dated 30 August 2022 Justice Wright said that “a significant amount of other material in the declassified ASIO documents forcefully suggests that, at least, Mr Virkez (Serb communist Yugoslavia operative) was an informer to the Yugoslav Consulate-General for a number of months prior to the arrest of the Croatian Six in February 1979, if not a Yugoslav agent or agent provocateur”.

On Page 31, paragraph 72, of Justice Wrights 39 August 2022 determination that a judicial inquiry is to be held stated: “Having regard to all of the material, which was provided by the applicants and the Crown and which included summaries of or extracts from the evidence at trial, it appeared to me, and I was comfortably satisfied, that there are a number of doubts or questions as to parts of the evidence in the case and the guilt of the Croatian Six,”

and in paragraph 73 Justice Wright continues: “First, it appeared to me that there is a doubt, or at least a question, as to whether the evidence of Mr Virkez  at trial was deliberately false in a number of respects including when he gave evidence about the alleged bombing conspiracy, when he denied spying on the Croatians, and when he denied giving evidence at the behest of anyone connected with the Police Special Branch or the Yugoslav government. I was satisfied that this doubt or question arose having regard to the information identified above, including but not limited to the information contained in: the declassified ASIO documentation; the book Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six; Mr (Hamish) McDonald’s interview with Professor (John) Schindler; the book The Secret Cold War, The Official History of ASIO, 1975 – 1989; the e-book Framed; Mr Virkez’s interview with Mr (Chris) Masters, parts of which were included the Four Corners program; the ABC podcasts including Mr Cunliffe’s information; and, the documents and accounts concerning Mr Cavanagh’s evidence.”

In paragraph 77 Justice Wright of his determination for a judicial inquiry said “… it also appeared that there is a doubt, or at least a question, as to the guilt of the Croatian Six as a result the real possibility that the Yugoslav Intelligence Service used Mr Virkez as an agent provocateur or informer, to cause false information to be given to the NSW Police, and possibly ASIO, as to the existence of a bombing conspiracy involving the Croatian Six, in order to discredit Croatians in Australia. Mr Virkez’s information led to the arrest and charging of the Croatian Six and their eventual conviction for conspiracy to bomb and possession of explosives. The principal evidence relied upon to secure those convictions was the testimony of Mr Virkez and the evidence of police officers of confessions said to have been made by Croatian Six and explosives said to have been found at their premises. As I have explained, there is, in my view, a substantial doubt or question as to the veracity and reliability of Mr Virkez’s evidence and as to the police evidence. Mr Master’s interview with Mr Virkez and the information from Professor Schindler also indicated that the Croatian Six may not have been part of the alleged conspiracy to bomb. This and other material concerning the alleged finding of explosives at the premises of five of the Croatian Six also led me to conclude that there is a doubt or question about the convictions relating to the explosives offences. Furthermore, on Mr Bebic’s case, the explosives found had been stolen by Mr Virkez and were said by Mr Virkez to be for opal mining. Consequently, there appeared to me to be a doubt or question as to whether the Croatian Six were guilty of any the offences for which they were convicted.”

All six Croatian men vehemently and always denied they had made confessions NSW Police sought to attribute to them, Wright said, and four of the six alleged they had been severely beaten by police. They had always maintained their innocence of the crimes they were charged with and convicted for.

Justice Wright in his determination of 30 August acknowledges previous attempts to secure a judicial inquiry into the 1981 criminal convictions against the Croatian Six and says in paragraph 80 “While the previous applications were unsuccessful, it does not appear to me that they were entirely lacking in merit, although the present application is made considerably stronger than the earlier applications by the availability of the declassified ASIO documents and the further research and information contained in the publications and podcasts since 2012…”

We now patiently wait to receive the results of the judicial inquiry, which could take several months, but as Ellis Peters, The Potters Field, The 17th Chronicle of Brother Cadfael,  wrote: “It may well be, said Cadfael, that our justice sees as in a mirror image, left where right should be, evil reflected as good, good as evil, your angel as her devil. But God’s justice, if it makes no haste, makes no mistakes.” Ina Vukic

Croatia and The Relentless Serbian Aggression Against It

Planned and organised exodus of Serbs who never wanted an independent Croatia from Croatia in August 1995

Serbia’s aggression against Croatia in the past three decades wears a political and morally corrupt cloak, chipping away at the glorious Croatian victory over the brutal and genocidal Serb aggression in the early 1990’s.  

The fact that Croatia’s government, despite its loud rhetoric in challenging Serbia’s new indictments for alleged war crimes of four Croatian 1995 Operation Storm pilots fails to stop, or even reprimand, its Serb coalition partners for their barracking for Serbia in this matter is a rude reminder that this Croatian government is hypocritical and dishonest, especially towards the suffering and sacrifices Croatians endured because of Serb aggression. A truly just response would be to cease government coalition with minority Serbs who were associated with Serb aggressor and who degrade Croatian war veterans and who have consistently been trampling over the glory of Croatian victory in defending Croatia from the genocidal Serb aggression.

The Zagreb based N1 TV has Monday 20 August 2022 published parts of the Serbian indictment against Croatian pilots engaged in battles during Operation Storm in August of 1995 that was successful in swiftly liberating a part of Croatia from brutal Serb occupation that held ground since 1991 and had ethnically cleansed the area from all Croats and other non-Serbs. Then, following orders from Serbia and rebel Serb leadership in Croatia some 200,000 Serbs, who never wanted an independent Croatia and mostly sided with rebel Serbs and Serb aggressors (those Croatian Serbs who fought with Croatia defending it from Serb aggression never fled or exited) left Croatia for Serbia, which happening Serbia has called ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Croatia. Make no mistake, Serbia and Slobodan Milosevic regime planned and staged this exodus for Serbia’s political agenda. There is no doubt in the mind of many professional war analysts as well as Psychologists that, once Croats were successful in liberating their land the Serbs, including so-called civilians, feeling guilty and being guilty of crimes against Croats, fled in fear of retribution for their crimes and brutal aggression and ethnic cleansing and murders and rapes… The indictment for alleged war crimes against the four pilots, Vladimir Mikac, Zdenko Radulj, Zeljko Jelenic i Danijel Borovic, is reportedly a 26-page document issued in Belgrade on 31 March 2022 and upheld by the Belgrade Appeals Court in mid-August 2022, and reeks of Serbia’s desperate and consistent attempts to deny its own genocidal aggression against Croatia in the 1990’s and to whitewash its heinous war crimes there.

While the Croatian government headed by the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ and Andrej Plenkovic as Prime Minister keeps as his deputies in government coalition Croatian Serbs (such as Boris Milosevic and Anja Simprega and holds Milorad Pupovac close) the same persons are conducting Serbia’s political and other interests rather than Croatian ones in Croatia. They do not accept nor condemn Serbia’s brutal aggression against Croatia! They do not embrace the truth that Croatia was placed in the position of self-preservation, defending the lives of its people, in the face of Serb aggression that was brutal, indiscriminate, wanton and genocidal, worse than what we see these days in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic assessed Thursday 25 August that the indictment against four Croatian pilots for alleged war crimes against civilians during the Operation Storm was “politically staged” and said that Serbia must face its past. Prime Minister Plenkovic recalled that a few months ago they met with the accused pilots and told them that they would protect them in this context. “We believe that this entire indictment is a politically staged indictment, and we look at it that way. (…) Serbia needs to face its past, with the effects of the Greater Serbian aggression of the Slobodan Milosevic regime on Croatia,” said Plenkovic.

Croatia was a victim of aggression, the Homeland War had a liberating character and our defenders, our pilots will be under the special care of the Croatian state in this context, and we will find an appropriate way to react to this whole situation, he added.

Croatian Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlic Radman also asserted that the indictments from Serbia against Croatian pilots and the announced indictments against two Croatian generals were politicised. “All the indictments from Serbia have been politicized, The Hague has had its say,” he told reporters at the two-day annual conference of Croatian diplomats at the Westin Hotel in Zagreb Thursday 25 August.

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic also publicly addressed the indictments against Croatian pilots on August 24.

“We have another reason for the meeting of the National Security Council. This was done by official Belgrade, not some independent prosecutor’s office…” Milanovic said.

“Prosecutors are otherwise doubtfully independent. In some countries they are, in some countries they are, and they are not. In Belgrade, they are as independent as those ladies who experimented with centrifugal force in Brooklyn and Harlem and the Bronx while twirling a purse around their hand. That’s about the kind of independence we are looking at there. Until the pimp comes. And the pimp is always around. It’s pimping, not an independent prosecution,” Milanovic said.

“Good will is being shown so that the story about the war in which Serbia attacked Croatia finally stabilises, and then poof. Here’s the indictment. The topic is important for the Council to harmonise the position of how we will react. I should now react from the knees, from the hips,” he said and continued:

“Aleksanader Vucic (President of Serbia) and his colleagues have decided that now is the time to indict four wartime commanders. I don’t want to discuss this because Serbia has no jurisdiction. We can indict President Vucic because he ran amok on the territory of Croatia, not on the Petrovac road , as in Branko Copic’s song, on which some children died. I am sorry for that, but the Croatian commanders cannot be responsible for that,” says Milanovic.

Excerpts of the Serbian indictment state, among other things, that the indictees, “by violating rules of international law defined by the Geneva Conventions, ordered – and their orders were carried out – air attacks on civilians not participating in hostilities”, who should be treated humanely in every situation, without any discrimination based on ethnic background, and protected from any form of violence. Ten civilians including four children were killed in the shelling over the column that formed Serb exodus from Croatia between 4 and 7 August 1995.

Croatian renowned historian and author and authority on Homeland War, Dr Ante Nazor, said recently that “first of all, one should express regret for every innocent victim who died, especially when it comes to children, but all the evidence that has been publicly presented so far cannot call into question the key and undoubted fact that military vehicles and weapons of the Serbian Army of Krajina (SVK) were attacked in to the circumstances of combat action during the military operation, which means that for collateral civilian casualties, regardless of whether the column was attacked by a Serbian or Croatian aircraft, those who allowed the military vehicles and equipment of the then self-proclaimed Serbian Republic of Krajina army to withdraw together with the civilians are primarily responsible…”

It is mind boggling how the Serbian authorities have the gall to claim that there were civilians under the alleged attacks who did not participate in hostilities. How would they know if military equipment and members of Serbian army were together with those who appeared to be civilians. The truth on the ground, while the aggression lasted, was that most Serbs who fled in August of 1995 who appeared as civilians after the victorious Operation Storm would most likely not fit the definition of a civilian. Most aided and abetted any which way they could the Serb aggression against Croatia, including political agitation that encouraged many to kill and destroy, not to speak of attacks, intimidation, threats, beatings … of Croatians living in the areas they proclaimed Serbian Republic.

The indictment underlines that the then conflict in Croatia’s territory did not have the character of an international conflict because parties to the conflict were the Croatian Army and the Croatian Ministry of the Interior on one side and units of the army of the so-called Republic of Serb Krajina on the other. Serbia obviously does not even care that the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia had in fact declared the conflict an international conflict and, hence, only on that basis did it have jurisdiction to prosecute Croatian Generals who were acquitted of war crimes indicted with in 2013! Serbia omits the fact that Krajina rebel Serbs in Croatia perpetrated horrors over the Croatian population in service of Serbia’s pursuits in creating a Greater Serbia.

Since neither Serbia nor Croatia allows the extradition of their citizens, the indictment proposes that the indictees Vladimir Mikac, Zdenko Radulj, Zeljko Jelenic and Danijel Borovic be tried in their absence.

Serbia’s War Crimes Department further insists that it has jurisdiction over the case as to the substance of the matter, in line with Article 3 of its Act on Organisation and Jurisdiction of Organs of State, which says, among other things, that Serbian state organs defined by that law have jurisdiction over crimes committed in the territory of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim.

Croatia rejects that, rightfully and correctly so.

The Croatian government and senior state officials have, in the meantime, stressed on several occasions that Croatia does not recognise Serbia’s jurisdiction in the case. Again, one wonders why Croatian government bothers with having Diplomatic relations with Serbia. Serbia will never accept its guilt or Croatia’s victory over Serb aggression. I, for one, will be keeping an eye on this case if the indictments against the pilots go to court in Serbia. Ina Vukic   

Croatian Six – Judicial Review May Stand Tall On The Horizon Soon (40 Years On)

It was a story that captured the attention of the entire Australian nation, indeed of the world and stunned with disbelief and grief the entire Australian Croatian community. In February of 1979 six Croatian men were arrested in Sydney and nearby Lithgow on suspected activities in terrorism, i.e., alleged plan to plant bombs around Sydney, including a major water supply to the city. In 1981 they were each sentenced to 15 years of prison and always maintained their innocence of these crimes. Judicial review of this case and associated criminal convictions had been unsuccessfully applied for several times since then. Finally, though, the matter of justice for Croatian Six appears to have taken a new turn in the positive direction and a judicial review may occur soon.

In its deliberations and response to the February 2021 Sydney barrister Sebastian De Brennan and solicitor Helen Cook’s application for a review on behalf of three of the Croatian Six – Vic Brajkovic, Maks Bebic and Mile Nekic – sentenced to prison in 1981 for a conspiracy to commit bombing terrorist act, the NSW Supreme Court has in July 2022 designated Justice Robertson Wright to decide whether a judicial review should be held into the convictions of the Croatian Six indictments that are more and more appearing as trumped-up charges with planted evidence as a result of individual ASIO officers clandestine collaboration with communist Yugoslavia UDBa. The Croatian Case has frequently during the past decades been labelled as the greatest miscarriage of justice in the entire Australian history.

Justice Wright is likely to make his decision soon after examining De Brennan’s argument for a review and the NSW Crown Solicitor’s Office argument against a review. Among other material there are more than 5,000 pages of the court transcript from the dawn of the 1980’s which are filled with details demanding duly close attention.

Still, this provides the best hope ever that the Croatian Six may indeed soon come out of the dark tunnel of injustice and false accusations and receive the justice they deserve.

Soon after the 2019 publishing of Sydney based Hamish McDonald’s book on the Croatian Six case, “Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six”, barrister Sebastian De Brennan and solicitor Helen Cook, with opinion from David Buchanan SC began working pro bono on a new application to the NSW chief justice.

To remind of the case things went down with the following events. In February of 1979 Vico Virkez, a man from former Yugoslavia, walked into the police station in the mining town of Lithgow and declared to the police that he was part of a Croatian conspiracy to plant bombs around Sydney that night. He was told to go home and not say anything to anyone about what he had said to the police. Later, writes Hamish McDonald, police arrived from Sydney, arrested him and his tenant Maks Bebic, and discovered crude gelignite bombs in Virkez’s old Valiant car. With names supplied by Virkez, police also raided three homes around Sydney, in each of which they found two half-sticks of gelignite in the possession of a total of five other Croatian Australians, Joe and Ilija Kokotovic, Anton Zvirotic, Vjekoslav “Vic” Brajkovic and Mile Nekic. Taken to the old Central Investigation Branch at the back of Central Court, the five confessed to the bomb plot, as had Bebic in Lithgow.

That was the police version, anyway, and along with Virkez’s account it was enough for a jury to convict the six men of conspiracy in a terror-bombing plan, and for Justice Victor Maxwell to sentence each of them to fifteen years’ jail in early 1981. Those decisions were upheld on appeal the following year. All served their time with maximum remissions for good behaviour and were out of prison by the end of the 1980s. Their jailing didn’t improve the Croatian community’s already blackened image at which Yugoslav communists, led by Serbs, worked very hard to achieve with lies and fabrications, writes McDonald.

Virkez, the informer, returned back to Yugoslavia soon after giving his statement evidence in Sydney court, and, given the case attracted a great deal of public interest in Australia, ABC Four Corners reporter Chris Masters travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina and tracked him down in 1991. There, on camera, Virkez revealed that he was a Serb (not a Croat as he told the police in Australia), Vitomir Misimovic. He stated unequivocally that his evidence of the bomb plot against the Croatian Six had been false, that he had been coached in what to say in court by NSW police.

The Six Croats, Max Bebic, Vic Brajkovic, Tony Zvirotic, brothers Joe Kokotovic and Ilija Kokotovic and Mile Nekic were released from prison early, after serving a total of about 10 years with custody pre and during trial counted around the time of Chris Master’s investigations that early on pointed to possible interference with justice and on account of their good behaviour.

After the interview with Virkez featured on the ABC’s Four Corners, two defence lawyers from the original trial, David Buchanan and Ian McClintock, applied to the NSW attorney-general for the convictions to be reviewed. Three years after the broadcast, attorney-general John Hannaford (1992-1995) decided against a review on the advice of two senior state government lawyers, Keith Mason and Rod Howie — advice still not public because of claimed legal privilege.

In 2012, Australian Commonwealth Attorney General Nicola Roxon refused to meet with a group of Australian Croats, known as Justice4Six, who had repeatedly asked her to launch an investigation into the knowledge and actions of the Australian Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Commonwealth Police related to the Croatian Six case. Her department responded that it would be “inappropriate” for the Attorney-General’s office to conduct a separate investigation, as an application for a review of the conviction was before the New South Wales Supreme Court from 1982.

The Australian Justice4Six group made the request for an investigation after an investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald, headed by Hamish McDonald, produced new material, which pointed to the truth of the claims that the whole thing was set up by the UDBA, the former Yugoslav intelligence service, then that information about UDBA’s involvement in the whole case had been covered up. New material that would indicate a need to review the convictions against the Croatian Six also emerged at this time, as noted by McDonald, from scholars like John Schindler of the US Naval War College about the murderous war waged on the Croatian diaspora by Yugoslavia’s security service, the UDBa, and Virkez’s withdrawal of evidence.

David Buchanan, joined by a younger lawyer, Sebastian De Brennan, put a fresh application for a judicial review to NSW chief justice Tom Bathurst, appointed after the Coalition had taken government in New South Wales the previous year. Bathurst asked an acting justice, Graham Barr, to assess whether a review was warranted. His assessment, relying on police evidence, saw no cause to prod into convictions.

In November 2016, though, another opening emerged. Military historians John Blaxland and Rhys Crawley published the third volume of the Official History of ASIO, covering 1975–89, the final years of the cold war. In a book vetted by the organisation and based on free access to its archives, they wrote that Virkez had been working as an informant to a suspected UDBa officer in the Yugoslavian consulate-general in Sydney, that ASIO regarded many of the alleged Croatian bombings as “false-flag” operations by the UDBa, and that ASIO had failed to note the seriousness of Yugoslav intelligence activity here. The result, they concluded, was the “wrongful conviction” of the Croatian Six, wrote Hamish McDonald.

In January 2018, certain files from the Commonwealth of Australia National Archives had been opened for the public including files on Vico Virkez. They show that he had been working with a communist Yugoslavia UDBa handler in the Yugoslav Sydney consulate for six months before the arrests.

After the arrests in 1979, ASIO quickly concluded Virkez was the man working with the UDBa officer and circulated this information around state police forces through an intelligence channel. The reaction at NSW police headquarters was dismay. Assistant commissioner Roy Whitelaw contacted ASIO to say that if the men’s defence team became aware of this information, “it could blow a hole right through the police case,” writes Hamish McDonald and continues: Under its chief at the time, Harvey Barnett, ASIO tried to tone down its assessment of Virkez from “agent” to mere “informant.” Barnett wrote in the file that this reduced the likelihood of ASIO’s being accused of having been party to a miscarriage of justice. Bob Hawke government’s attorneys-general, Gareth Evans and Lionel Bowen, then signed off on moves to prevent Ian Cunliffe, by then secretary of the Australian Law Reform Commission, from raising his misgivings regarding the suppression of evidence about Virkez, writes Hamish McDonald and continues:

As Whitelaw correctly saw, this blew a big hole in the case against the Croatian Six — not just the information itself but the act of hiding it. As the counsel for the NSW Crown, Reg Blanch QC, admitted in 1986, during the brief and forlorn attempt by the Croatian Six to appeal to the High Court, it was “almost automatic” that a miscarriage of justice would be created by failure to convey relevant evidence to the defence.

This cover-up was detailed in Hamish McDonald’s book on the affair, Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six. Soon after its 2019 publishing, barrister Sebastian De Brennan and solicitor Helen Cook, with opinion from David Buchanan SC — began working pro bono on a new application to the NSW chief justice. This application is the basis upon which NSW Supreme Court has now, last month, given Justice Robertson Wright the task of advising the relevant authorities as to whether a judicial review on the Croatian Six case should be pursued. Finally, a glimpse of real hope for justice. Ina Vukic

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