From the Trail of Communist Crimes Against Croatian Patriots

Đuro Zagajski (Djuro Zagajski) Murdered in Germany as part of Yugoslav communist purges 26/27 March 1983

Former Yugoslavia was the most aggressive among socialist countries in using assassinations, murders, as a means of protecting the communist state and the communist party from its opponents. Over its 45-year existence, the UDBA, the Yugoslav State Security Service, murdered several dozens of its political enemies, mostly Croats, abroad. These do not include mass murders of hundreds of thousands of Croats immediately after World War Two whose remains lie in 1,000 pits and mass graves so far uncovered. To know that children or grandchildren of these murderers still enjoy the perks their ancestors received from the communist regime for participating in these murderous sprees sends shivers down the spines of all who hold justice dear.  To know that some of the descendants of these communist murderers may be holding powerful positions in today’s Croatia is unthinkably cruel. We know, nothing has really been done in systematic processing of communist crimes committed against Croats in Croatia during the existence of former Yugoslavia. This tragedy, for sure, is one of the fundamental reasons why Croatia has not made progress with democracy in which the rule of law and justice are paramount.  

Djuro Zagajski is just one of many Croatian emigrants, Croatian patriots, who fled communist Yugoslavia, who were closely monitored by the Yugoslav Intelligence Services UDBa even after they left Yugoslavia, with the goal of organising assassinations of Croats monitored. According to a report by the Council for the Identification of Post-War Victims of the Communist System Killed Abroad, which operated within the 1991-1999 Commission for the Identification of War and Post-War Victims, the Yugoslav Communist Service murdered 63 Croats abroad, however this number has risen to 74 by research completed in June 2020 (Tomislav Djurasovic). In addition, 25 Croats survived assassination attempts in the diaspora, 5 still considered missing and 5 kidnapped. Djuro Zagajski is one of about 30 Croats assassinated by Yugoslav communist secret services within the borders of Germany and to date nobody has been held responsible for his murder 39 years ago, this weekend.

Croatian patriots murdered by Yugoslav Secret Services UDBA by country in which they lived and by year (Source: Tomislav Djurasovic)
Top left: Croats missing in diaspora, Top right Croats kidnapped in diaspora in communist purges, Bottom columns: Croats who survived communist purges’ assassination attempts in the diaspora (Source: Tomislav Djurasovic)

After the quashing of the “Croatian Spring” in late 1971, which was a mass movement that lobbied for greater autonomy of Croatia within communist Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav communist Party headed by Josip Broz Tito admitted that even after hundreds of arrests and imprisonments much still remained to be done “to liquidate all the remaining chauvinist hotbeds in the society.” According to Tanjug, the official Yugoslav press agency, Croatia’s Communist party leaders made an appeal on 15 December 1971 to all organisations and members to join the fight against “nationalist aberrations.” Hence, the communist murderous hands extended to the Croatian patriots living outside Croatia and Yugoslavia with greater frequency and depraved viciousness.

The Croats made up 22 per cent of Yugoslavia’s 20 million inhabitants and had contributed the most towards Yugoslavia’s government revenue. The enormous economic problems of Yugoslavia that evolved had contributed toward reviving Croatian antagonism toward the central Government, which has diverted some of the revenues of Croatia’s highly developed industry for investments in more backward republics. Croatian Spring movement was to bring a better balance, but it caused an acceleration of assassinations, murders, and purges of Croatian patriots.  

Djuro Zagajski, born on October 2, 1939, in Zagreb, attempted to escape from Yugoslavia several times as a minor. Political persecution and oppression by the communist Yugoslavia regime often resulted in murder or assassination of patriotic Croats within Croatia and within the diaspora to where multitudes fled. Djuro once succeeded to flee across the border, but was returned to Yugoslavia by the Austrian authorities, where he first spent two months in prison and was later sent to serve in the compulsory military service. Returning from the obligated service in the Yugoslav People’s Army to Zagreb, he was arrested again and sentenced to two years in prison for “enemy propaganda”. Finally, in July 1967, Zagajski again decided to flee Yugoslavia and went to Germany, where he was granted political asylum. In the following period, he took part in many demonstrations and public rallies against Yugoslavia and followed emigrant publications.

On 22nd January 1982, the State Security Services (SDS) Operational Centre Zagreb initiated and began “Operational processing” of Djuro Zagajski.

The operational treatment of him was proposed by Zdravko Mustač, head of the SDS Zagreb Centre, and Josip Perkovic, head of the Second Department of the SDS Headquarters of the Socialist Republic of Croatia, and was approved by Vinko Bilic, the head of the SDS Socialist Republic of Croatia, while the operational processing had since been led by Milan Munjas, an operational worker of the SDS Zagreb Centre. (As a reminder both above mentioned Zdravko Mustac and Josip Perkovic were in 2016 both sentenced to life imprisonment by the German Court for abetting the murder of Croatian emigrant in Germany, Stjepan Djurekovic, as part of their role in the Yugoslav State Security Services/SDS, which was about purges of Croatian patriots and political opponents of communism.) The SDS Operational Processing of Zagajski as with all similar cases meant the drawing of pathways and information about the movements of the target with the aim of his assassination.

A person of special trust of Đuro Zagajski was Stjepan Mesek, who was an agent of the SDS Zagreb Centre under the code names “Karlo” and “Dubravko”. He was kept in communication pathways from November 1981 to March 1983 by Miso Deveric and Milan Munjas – employees of the Second Department of the SDS Centre Zagreb.

The associate that was known under the code name “Emin” was kept in the loop and operations by the employees of the SDS Varazdin Centre, Milan Tesla and Ilija Dodik, and as instructed by Josip Perkovic.

Dušan Sime Peris was hired on June 12, 1981, and his code name was “Dukat”.

Zlabnik Damir and Roguljic Mladen, employee of the Second Department of the SDS Zagreb Centre at the time when the head of the Centre was Franjo Vugrinec.

The statement of the associate “Jerko” dated December 2, 1982, signed by him says the following: “I, Branko Sklepic, born on January 7, 1947, temporarily working in the Federal Republic of Germany, Munich, voluntarily and without coercion, declare that I will undertake on a voluntary basis, to loyally provide data to Security Services. Since I am moving in the company of extreme emigrants in Munich, such as Zagajski Djuro, etc., I will share all the information, either in writing or in direct contact with the SDS service. ” “Jerko” was led by the employee of the Second Department of the SDS Zagreb Centre Damir Zlabnik, at the time when the head of the Centre was Franjo Vugrinec.

The collaborator “Pjesnik” was Miro Skrinjaric, led by employee of the Second Department of the SDS Zagreb Centre Miso Deveric, at the time when the head of the Centre was Franjo Vugrinec.

In addition to them, a certain Milan Doric also played a big role – under the code names of “Hanzi”, “Milan”, “Flora” and “Pagan”.

In the night between Saturday and Sunday, March 26-27, 1983, emigrant Djuro Zagajski, a native of Zagreb, was killed.

The dead body of Đuro Zagajski was found in the morning in an open field in the Pheasant Garden Park in Munich. Zagajski was a friend and collaborator of Stanko Nizic (killed on August 23, 1981, in Zurich), Stjepan Đurekovic (killed on July 28, 1983 in Wolfratshausen near Munich) and Luka Kraljevic (survived several assassinations).

Months before Zagajski’s murder, an associate of the Zagreb UDBa under the pseudonym “Karlo” submitted reports on the activities of Croatian emigrants in Germany and Switzerland. The main person in these reports was Djuro Zagajski.

Associate of the Varazdin UDBa under the pseudonym “Emin” in a statement dated February 25, 1983, a month before the murder, he claims that Djuro Zagajski has gained complete trust in him and that lately he has been able to mostly come to his apartment and stay longer, while he previously avoided going anywhere outside public places together. Now he is ready to drive alone with “Emina” in his car… preparing patriotic Croats for slaughter was the modus operandi leading to murder… the grotesque character of the communist Yugoslavia still haunts. Ina Vukic

Communist Yugoslavia Secret Services Archives Needed To Fight Against Organised Crime

The report on cooperation in the fight against organised crime in the Western Balkans was adopted by the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday 26 October 2021 by 60 votes in favour, 4 against and 6 abstentions.  In the report Members of the European Parliament urged governments in the region to significantly increase their efforts to go forward with reforms in the rule of law and the fight against corruption and organised crime. The report says that the Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Serbia) are countries of origin, destination, and transit for human trafficking, and they serve as a transit corridor for migrants and refugees and as a location for money laundering and firearms trafficking.

There is a lack of genuine political will in fighting the organised crime in these countries and MEPs want Western Balkan countries to address fully the shortcomings of their respective criminal-justice systems, including the length of legal proceedings. While not located within the Western Balkans for the matters addressed in this report, Croatia as a country that used to be a part of communist Yugoslavia until 1991 still has a great deal to answer for and fight against when it comes to organised crime and corruption.

The report said that Members of the European Parliament insisted that “fighting organised crime and advancing towards European Union integration are mutually reinforcing processes and call for an accelerated integration process.” The EU should, according to its Members of Parliament, support these efforts through financial assistance and practical cooperation. Call me a pessimist and a cynic in this if you like, but judging from the fact that organised crime and corruption are rooted in these societies of former communist regimes or similar political and social realities, the EU money dished out to root out corruption will be largely swallowed up by the same corruption, to feed itself, unless political power landscapes are changed in those countries or the EU actually controls every euro given and does not give money away.

As a member state of former Yugoslavia Croatia has also inherited widespread corruption as organised crimes from it. As such, Croatia could play a significant role in its input into fighting organised crime in those countries of Western Balkans that have their eye on being members of an extended EU member country because it possesses “inside knowledge” of organised crime. But given the alarming level of organised corruption still plaguing Croatia one must doubt as to whether much will change in Western Balkans on account of Croatia’s input. To be effective in this Croatia would need to shed most of its public administration heads and replaced them with those who have no links whatsoever with the corrupt echelons. Or, assisting the EU in this role from Croatia should be persons who would not qualify for lustration if lustration was to occur as well as not be a descendant, child, or grandchild of those who would qualify to be lustrated whether now living or not. It sounds like a big ask but, in essence, it is not because Croatia has quite a number of those who would qualify and who had during the life of former Yugoslavia either lived there or lived abroad as part of the diaspora.

Croatia’s criminal-justice system is certainly there where Western Balkans’ is and it needs a complete overhaul, however, we are not likely to see this occur while those aligned with the former communist Yugoslavia mental set control all aspects of public administration including judiciary.

The Report says that the main factors that make Western Balkans societies vulnerable, are the lack of employment opportunities, corruption, disinformation, elements of state capture, inequality, and foreign interference from non-democratic regimes such as Russia and China. Croatia, even after 30 years of seceding from Yugoslavia still has these problems plaguing its progress and everyday life.

Links between organised crime, politics and businesses existed before the break-up of Yugoslavia and have continued since the end of the conflicts of the 1990s, and Members of the European Parliament “condemn the apparent lack of will of the responsible authorities in the region to open the former Yugoslav archives and for files to be returned to governments if they want them.”

The report welcomes the conclusion of cooperation agreements between Eurojust and the governments of Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, as well as the authorisation to open negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina. MEPs urge the Council to authorise as soon as possible the opening of negotiations for a similar agreement with Kosovo.

It is of great interest to monitor how the recommendation from the Report that says that “Responsible authorities should open the former Yugoslav archives” will fare. Knowing the utterly corrupt persons that held the corrupt and criminal Yugoslavia together, influence of whom poisons many a responsible authority in former Yugoslavia countries, including Croatia, the opening of all archives is likely to be stalled for generations to come. Unless of course there comes a time when the political landscape changes and new generations, unpolluted by communist Yugoslavia nostalgia, come to be the authority that makes such decisions.

Suffice to say that there are multitudes of politicians in power or those holding authority in Croatia for whom the opening of Yugoslav archives would reveal alignment with UDBA (communist secret services in former Yugoslavia) communist purges operations and grand thefts for personal gain; an abominable, criminal past that included persecution and assassinations of anti-communist Croats and stealing public wealth for personal gains. Further problem for the opening of Yugoslav archives rests in the fact that when former Yugoslavia crumbled apart Serbia retained much of the archival material pertaining to the country’s federal depository held in its capital city Belgrade. Serbia did not do the decent thing and returned to all the former states of Yugoslavia their rightful archives – Serbia kept them all and it is not a member state of the European Union. Those archives would undoubtedly also reveal, among many other facts, the nasty historical fabrications Serbia has engaged in against its neighbouring countries, particularly Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.     

Communist Yugoslavia Secret Service files (UDBa) hide everything that the lustrated or those prosecuted for endangering human freedoms, political and civil rights, destroying families would be accused or members of the service lustrated or those prosecuted for endangering human freedoms, political and civil rights, destroying families and various blackmails and interfering in political and economic life and installing in political parties would be charged with. But Croatia’s criminal justice serves largely those it needs to protect from such lustration or prosecution. Secret service files hide everything unknown that would shed light on various historical and political deceptions, montages and that it would produce grounds for a different understanding of the 20th century history that is based on facts rather than communist or Serb fabrications.

Plights by several Croatian politicians in the opposition to the HDZ or SDP governments since year 2000 for the opening of accessibility to all Yugoslav archives, wherever on the territory of former Yugoslavia they may be held, have been numerous. Lobbying for the opening of the archives has been quite rich. But all to no avail! Will EU succeed where others have failed!?  The answer to the question “what is in those secret services files” appears with more urgency as Yugoslav secret services files continue to remain a “taboo topic” despite the landscape where, on surface, all the government officials and leaders swear to their personal commitment towards the truth! EU has been asking for access to those archives for over a decade and this Report regarding fighting organised crime on Western Balkans is just another notch in the string of asking.

The Report’s other significant recommendation is that political and administrative links to organised crime must be eradicated. This all sounds very great, just like the European Parliament’s declaration condemning all Totalitarian Regimes from the past some 12 years ago (2009). But the European Union authorities still to this day fail to punish or impose consequences upon Croatia for encouraging symbols of communist Yugoslavia totalitarian and murderous regime to thrive on the streets of Croatia that lost rivers of blood in the 1990’s while trying to secede from communist Yugoslavia. All this tells me that the European Parliament and the EU authorities have no real political will to contribute effectively to the achievement of recommendations from the Report on cooperation in the fight against organised crime in Western Balkans. I, for one, would love to see Yugoslav secret services archives open for all to access and study and show the truth but somehow, I fret that in my lifetime I will not see that without a miracle of political change. There appear to be too many individuals with power at some level within the countries’ machinery involved with organised crime in both Croatia and in the Western Balkans and only a miracle can rid the people of that scourge. The miracle, of course, can be shaped at the next general elections. Ina Vukic

Anatomy of Injustice – Australian Croatian Six Case Up For Judicial Inquiry 40 Years On

The Croatian Six 1979 mugshots Photo: ABC TV Four Corners

In 1981 six Australian Croatian men (Max Bebic, Vic Brajkovic, Joseph and Ilija Kokotovic, Mile Nekic, and Tony Zvirotic) were convicted of terrorism related activities on clearly largely dubious evidence and sent to prison on a 15-year sentence each for acts of terrorism in Sydney. They have always maintained their innocence. This case has for many years been dubbed as a case of the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of Australia. That label of miscarriage of justice did not originate from Australian Croatians, who had many reasons to be angry and bitter as this guilty verdict came at the time when the communist Yugoslavia machinery stopped at nothing when it came to destroying the Croatian name and Croatian people who in war (WWII) and in peace (post-WWII) stood for a free and independent Croatia – it came from others including members of Australia’s legal profession.  

It took a Serbian imposter in Australia working for the communist Yugoslavia agenda, it took an Australian/NSW police “squad” that evidently assisted that imposter’s agenda to build a damming case against the Croatian Six, and it took a Supreme Court of NSW judge, Justice Victor Maxwell’s, among other possible failings in the case, his apparent and total belief in that the NSW Police could do no wrong as well as failing to reveal to the jury that one of the presented confessions by one of the Croatian Six was unsafe (as it was unsigned) to send six Croatian men to ruin and push the reputation of the Australian Croatian community deeper into darkness of being considered “nationalist extremists and terrorists” and despair thus executing a mighty favour for the oppressive communist Yugoslavia. Judge Maxwell also refused leave for the Croatian Six defence to summon police who had arrested a seventh Croatian that night in February 1979 when the Six were arrested and who was subsequently released by a Magistrate. “In his summing up, Justice Maxwell told the jury it was a matter of whether to believe thirty-nine police officers or the six defendants, and a question of who had the motive to lie. The fact that he had suppressed two examples of police giving false evidence didn’t seem to bother him. It was, he said, ‘black and white,’” (Hamish McDonald article “Held Captive By Cold War Politics”, 5 March 2021)

On 15 February 2021, human rights and criminal law barrister Sebastian De Brennan and solicitor Helen Cook, with opinion from David Buchanan SC launched an appeal, filed for a judicial inquiry in the Supreme Court of NSW on behalf of the Croatian Six case based on new evidence disclosed in the relatively recent release of secret ASIO documents (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation),  in the recently published Official History of ASIO (John Blaxland and Rhys Crawley, 2016) and in Hamish McDonald’s book “Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six” (2019) where the facts, after extensive and thorough research, are set out.

 If successful, the guilty verdict for the Croatian Six could be overturned, more than 40 years after that terrible fact.

Launch of Hamish McDonald book 2019 Sydney (L) Hamish McDonald, (R) Marko Franovic Photo: Ina Vukic

At the end of WWII Croatia’s hopes for independence from Yugoslavia were crushed and mass murders, mass communist Yugoslavia crimes against Croatian patriots followed, filling the so far discovered 1,700 mass graves of innocent people (at least 1,000 of them are now unearthed in Croatia) with mutilated, murdered, now decomposed human remains. This horror and oppression triggered a surge in Croatians fleeing communist Yugoslavia and settling in the United States, Canada, various South American countries, Australia and others.  All the Croatians who settled in these countries were proud of their heritage and they continued their struggle for the freedom of Croatia in many ways. They established with their own work and funds and fortified many Croatian community clubs and Croatian Catholic Centres everywhere, Australia was no exception; indeed, it could be said Croatians in Australia were leading in these efforts to maintain traditions, culture and zest for independence of Croatia for all the decades that followed.

It is understandable that some Yugoslav migrants of Croatian origin should continue to hope for the establishment of an independent Croatia and within a democracy like Australia they have a right to advocate their views so long as they do so by legitimate means,” Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia 27 August 1964. (Source: Australia, House of Representatives, Parliamentary Debates, No.HR.35, 1964, 679.)

2019 Sydney – Launch of Hamish McDonald’s Book (L) Hamish McDonald, (C) Ina Vukic, (R) Branko Miletic Photo: Ina Vukic

Throughout the stormy and turbulent 1970’s random criminal acts ending in injury and destruction often occurred in Australia. Often the finger was pointed at Croatian patriots as being involved even though their protests against communist Yugoslavia had never escalated into violence; that is a historical fact. As such an unpleasant (to say it mildly) reputation of Australian Croatians built on lies fabricated by communist Yugoslavia Secret Service UDBa grew bigger, things got alarmingly serious against Croatians when in 1979 a man named Vico Virkez walked into the Lithgow Police Station and gave the police a surprise tip-off that would lead to one of the longest criminal trials in Australia’s criminal history. Virkez was passing himself off in Lithgow as a Croatian migrant and worked at the local power station when he made a surprise confession at the Lithgow Police Station that he and his fellow members of his Croatian community were plotting a series of terrorist attacks in Sydney.

Vitomir Misimovic a.k.a. Vico Virkez, 1991 Photo: ABC TV Four Corners

So in February 1979, NSW Police announced that a group of Croatians had been arrested in Lithgow and Sydney just before planting gelignite time-bombs in targets identified with the Yugoslav regime – including the 1600-seat Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown, where entertainers from Yugoslavia were about to perform.

The police swoop at the time was drummed up as an ideal and right mix of force and intelligence to grab terrorists and their explosives just in time – to save Australians! Raids on Virkez and his alleged accomplices in Lithgow and Sydney followed quickly and mercilessly.

Many questions were left unanswered despite the 1981 Supreme Court verdict. The Croatian informer Virkez who was the prosecution’s linchpin disappeared soon after he received a two-year sentence and while the trial against the Six was still afoot, on its tail end. In 1990 the Croatian Six were released from prison on the ground of good behaviour, having spent ten years in prison. In prison they had reportedly endured severe beatings, isolation and mental torture.

Sydney 2019 at the launch of Hamish McDonald book (L) Chris Masters, (R) Ina Vukic

In 1991 the ABC TV Four Corners’ award-winning investigative journalist Chris Masters, went looking for Virkez and found him in the then Yugoslavia, in a village in Bosnia Herzegvina, discovering that he was a Serb, Vitomir Misimovic, who masqueraded in Australia as a Croatian nationalist having infiltrated the Australian Croatian Community as an operative of Communist Yugoslavia Secret Service (UDBa) whose main goal at the time was to destroy in any which way the Croatians abroad who were pursuing the idea of freedom for Croatia from communist Yugoslavia.

In the ABC TV Four Corners program on the Croatian Six in 1991 Chris Masters among other things said “…Tonight, the spy who came in from the cold… he disappeared from Australia 11 years ago after exposing a major terrorist plot. When Four Corners tracked him down, he confessed to perjury that cost six men a total of 50 years in prison… The man who used to be known as Vico Virkez was found in a farmyard in a very Serbian corner of Yugoslavia. This Balkan James Bond turned out to be a modest pig farmer with an immodest imagination…” Chris Masters said about the interview with Virkez:  “It was a long conversation, Virkez has not spoken English for some time but one thing he made clear as he had made clear in a letter to Malcolm Fraser (Prime Minister of Australia) before the trial was that the evidence in his three statements was not his own.” Masters asked Virkez: “In the court was the evidence you gave all of the truth?”  “No,“ Virkez replied. Masters: “Were you given any instructions by police about what to say?”. “I was told what I have to say there,” Virkez replied. “Did they make you tell lies?” Masters asked. “I did that because they say this is all true I didn’t know if it was true or not,” Virkez replied.   

In court, in the case against the Croatian Six, Virkez had evidently kept to a script written by police. None of the six were guilty of the bombing conspiracy yet they served long prison sentences for it.

Three years after the Chris Masters Four Corners broadcast, NSW attorney-general John Hannaford decided against a review of the Croatian Six case reportedly on advice of two senior state government lawyers, Keith Mason and Rod Howie — advice still not public because of claimed legal privilege.

In 1990’s the secrets that Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s adviser Ian Cunliffe discovered began to leak but it was not until 2007 that these secrets revealed had taken the Australian investigative journalist and author, Hamish McDonald, on a quest for justice for Croatian Six.

In 2007, in the case of the killing of five Australian television newsmen at Balibo, in Portuguese Timor, in 1975, Hamish McDonald “spent two months in the old coroner’s court on Sydney’s Parramatta Road listening to former officials, signals intelligence operatives, Timorese civil war veterans and even former prime minister Gough Whitlam testify to what they knew. One witness was Ian Cunliffe, a former federal government lawyer who’d served on Justice Robert Hope’s late-1970s royal commission into the intelligence services. He had seen an Indonesian signals intercept concerning the Balibo deaths that he felt had been covered up.

Asked by his lawyer if he knew of other instances of intelligence being withheld from the government, Cunliffe instanced ‘a criminal trial in Sydney involving six defendants.’ Canberra officials had agreed to keep material from the prime minister, he said, and had been willing to make intelligence material disappear if it was subpoenaed by defence lawyers.

During the court’s morning tea break, I asked Cunliffe which case he was referring to. ‘The Croatian Six,’ he replied cryptically,writes Hamish McDonald.

Framed – the untold story about the Croatian Six, by Hamish McDonald 2012 was Sydney Morning Herald’s first ebook, investigates the fate of six men jailed for up to a decade over plans to blow up a Sydney theatre in 1979 as part of a Croat terrorist plot.

Hamish McDonald spent months tracking down the surviving members of the Croatian six, the police and others involved in the case. His findings strengthen suspicions that these convictions are, as one former senior Australian official puts it, “a grave injustice”.  

McDonald also investigates the role in the case of the Yugoslav state security service, which used Australian police and intelligence services as tools to blacken the reputation of Croatian-Australians as extremists.

According to McDonald, vital evidence in proving the innocence of the Croatian Six and Indonesian culpability in the murder of the Balibo Five was suppressed by the Australian federal government on the grounds of “national security.”

In January 2018… I went to Canberra and found myself reading through two files on Virkez. They showed that he had been working with a UDBa handler in the Sydney consulate for six months before the arrests, speaking by telephone and meeting in Sydney, in all cases monitored by ASIO.

After the arrests (of Croatian Six), 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.’

ASIO was initially inclined to let the NSW police reveal the information about Virkez as long as the source and wire-tapping involved were not revealed. It appears that Whitelaw opted not to pass it on, certainly not as far as crown prosecutor Shillington. With the court case set, ASIO then opted to throw a blanket around the evidence, persuading federal attorney-general Peter Durack to strenuously oppose the defence subpoenas during the trial and appeal.

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. The 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,” McDonald wrote in his March 5, 2021 article.

This cover-up was detailed in his book on the affair, Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six, which was published in 2019.

2010 Australian White Paper on Counter-Terrorism Photo: page screenshot

What is also telling of a cover-up and miscarriage of justice for the Croatian Six is that when in 2010, Kevin Rudd’s Australian Federal Government released its White Paper on counter-terrorism (PDF here), it was curiously surprising to discover that it omitted to mention from its list of terrorist attacks and major foiled attempts in Australia over the past 40 years the acts that the Croatian Six spent a total of 50 years in prison for! Australia’s White Paper on Counter-terrorism omitted to list that NSW police were said to have stopped the imminent bombing of Sydney’s Elizabethan Theatre during an event attended by up to 1600 people, the bombing of several city businesses and the cutting of Sydney’s water supply!

This government White Paper explains the nature of the terrorist threat to Australia within Australia’s broader national security context, sets out the Australian Government’s strategy for countering terrorism, and details the policy settings by which the Government will implement its counter-terrorism strategy. Since it did not mention the Croatian Six, since it did not boast how its counter-terrorist operations stopped that large terrorist act no terrorism was attempted by the Croatian Six nor committed. One may indeed hope, then, that the current judicial inquest/appeal against the 1981 conviction of Croatian Six will find the same as the 2010 Australian White Paper on Counter-Terrorism and their convictions – quashed. Ina Vukic

Disclaimer, Terms and Conditions:

All content on “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is for informational purposes only. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is not responsible for and expressly disclaims all liability for the interpretations and subsequent reactions of visitors or commenters either to this site or its associate Twitter account, @IVukic or its Facebook account. Comments on this website are the sole responsibility of their writers and the writer will take full responsibility, liability, and blame for any libel or litigation that results from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment. The nature of information provided on this website may be transitional and, therefore, accuracy, completeness, veracity, honesty, exactitude, factuality and politeness of comments are not guaranteed. This blog may contain hypertext links to other websites or webpages. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of information on any other website or webpage. We do not endorse or accept any responsibility for any views expressed or products or services offered on outside sites, or the organisations sponsoring those sites, or the safety of linking to those sites. Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome and encouraged to voice their opinion regardless of identity, politics, ideology, religion or agreement with the subject in posts or other commentators. Personal or other criticism is acceptable as long as it is justified by facts, arguments or discussions of key issues. Comments that include profanity, offensive language and insults will be moderated.
%d bloggers like this: