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Arkan Mystery

Tribunal Update 134 - Last Week in The Hague (12-18 July, 1999)

The question was legitimately raised after the US Internet-TV network MSNBC reported at the beginning of last week a sensational, though unsubstantiated, story about Arkan's alleged attempts to reach a deal with the Tribunal and/or the Belgian authorities.

In addition, the story was spiced with piquant details, that Arkan twice avoided arrest thanks to the "clumsiness of the Tribunal's intelligence", and how the Prosecutor's files "are a mess", so that the Tribunal "is not ready for Arkan".

It was inevitable that Arkan should be a major topic in the regular press briefing that takes place in the Tribunal on Wednesdays. The deputy prosecutor, Graham Blewitt, confirmed that he was aware of the MSNBC speculations, but said that neither Arkan nor his lawyer had been in direct contact with the Tribunal on this matter.

Since his indictment was announced, Blewitt said, Arkan's lawyer Giovanni di Stefano had corresponded frequently with the Tribunal, but on no occasion had there been any talk of surrender.

Continuing, Blewitt said that the Arkan indictment had been issued in 1997 and that since that time attempts had been made to arrest him. Blewitt rejected allegations that the Tribunal was not ready for Arkan and said that his office was ready to go to trial.

Only on part of the msnbc story was seemingly substantiated, by the Belgian prosecutors' office, which have confirmed that they were contacted on 25 June this year by a lawyer from Brussels, Pierre Chome, who asked what would happen to Mr. Raznatovic if he came to Belgium. In reply Brussels State Prosecutor Benoit Dejemeppe said would be immediately arrested, and they would decide later where to extradite him.

Chome does not dispute that he has talked with the Prosecutor, but he is not sure in whose name he was acting when he did so. He told Tribunal Update that a person he knew and who "has good contacts in Balkan nationalist circles" contacted him in June. This person expressed willingness to put him in touch with 'Arkan's mediator'.

However, that contact was not made, since the announced mediator had still "not returned from the Balkans." This is the reason, Chome says, that "he is not sure about the quality of those mediators, or the extent of his mandate," nor is he able to establish "whether it is manipulation, a practical joke or something serious."

Since he had no contact with his alleged client, and since he cannot check the authority of those who present themselves as mediators, and since he has nothing on paper to authenticate the request, Chome says that he "does not consider himself to be Arkan's attorney".

However, just in case that there really is "something serious" in the communication, Chome has established, as he says, "informal and confidential contact with the prosecution", in order to establish the "national and international status" of his potential client whilst awaiting the contact with the announced mediator.

The Belgian prosecution, Chome claims, was not sure about Arkan's "national status". Criminal acts such as the armed robberies for which Raznatovic was jailed for several years in Belgium in 1974 pass statute of limitations after ten years. But that period can be suspended if the convict escapes from jail, as Arkan did in 1979. Chome claimed that the prosecution could not say whether this applied in the case of his potential client.

As regards Arkan's 'international status', Chome went on, Germany still has an outstanding arrest warrant out for Arkan, issued in 1979 in connection with a jewellery store robbery.

He is aware that Interpol has issued a 'red notice' to all member states informing them that Arkan was a wanted man. Unlike an international warrant of arrest, the red notice does not call for an active search for the indicted, but only that he be arrested if he shows up in a Interpol member state.

"If this is really the initiative of Mr. Raznatovic," Chome went on cautiously, "he was only interested what would be the conditions of his detention and his personal security - in case he handed himself over to the Belgian authorities."

Chome said he understood from his "Balkan contact" that Arkan fears that someone might try to kill him if he were to surrender to The Hague directly.

As far as an alleged "deal" with the Tribunal is concerned, Chome says that such a possibility "is in principle unrealistic" and that the issue was not even raised. But he has no doubts that in the case of surrender to Belgium, Arkan would be extradited to the Hague Tribunal, as it has primacy over national courts.

Pierre Chome, who has a reputation as a first-class criminal lawyer, believes that the story about his informal and confidential contact had been 'leaked' by the prosecutors' office. He said this "makes him very angry," and that such a "disclosure" is not only "incorrect and stupid, but also very dangerous" for his potential client.

According to the theory, many people would have an interest in preventing Arkan's possible escape to The Hague, where he could deeply implicate others.

Chome said he did not understand the motive of the prosecution to talk about this publicly - unless the intention was to deter Arkan from surrendering to Belgium and "get rid of the problem in this way". Belgium is preoccupied with Algerian fundamentalists who have threatened to leave Belgium 'swimming in blood' unless the leaders of the North African state's radical Armed Islamic Group (GIA) now held in a Belgian jail are released.

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