Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Arkan's 'Contacts' with the Tribunal

The prosecutor refuses to make public the content of the indictment issued against Arkan, while the Tribunal spokesman dismisses speculation that a 'deal' was under discussion with Arkan's representatives.
By IWPR

Following the murder Zeljko ("Arkan") Raznatovic in Belgrade on January 15, ICTY Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte issued a statement on January 17 to confirm that the indictment against Arkan would remain sealed.


"Other investigations involving persons who sponsored "Arkan", or who were otherwise linked to him, are ongoing and accordingly I have no intention to seek a lifting of the order of confidentiality of the indictment," the statement read.


On the same day, following a visit to the European Commission in Brussels and talks with EC President Romano Prodi, Del Ponte told journalists that Arkan was only one of the people named in the indictment (issued in September 1997). For that reason, Del Ponte said, the indictment would remain sealed until the other accused are arrested.


Although she was not prepared to disclose specific crimes or locations cited in the indictment, Del Ponte confirmed publicly for the first time that the indictment deals with crimes committed in "the Eastern Slavonian part of Croatia and in eastern and north-western Bosnia between 1991 and 1995". Del Ponte indicated that Arkan's activities during that entire period "have been thoroughly investigated and well-documented."


Admitting that she "regrets that Arkan will not appear in The Hague to answer to the charges which have been brought against him", the prosecutor said she remained confident "that other persons who shared responsibility with Arkan for his crimes will ultimately be brought to justice."


Speculation surrounding the motives of Arkan's killers has included, especially in the foreign media, allegations that Arkan's secret contacts with the Tribunal provide a possible reason why some (Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav secret service, other "sponsors") would seek to silence him forever.


The history of Arkan's indirect contacts with the Tribunal, however, suggests he was guided primarily by vanity rather than by a desire to strike a 'deal' with the prosecution.


Arkan was very sensitive to his image in the Western media. Newspaper articles and television broadcasts portraying him as a viscious and notorious war criminal triggered his contacts with the Tribunal.


The first written trace of his alleged contacts with the Tribunal came in a letter to the editors of British daily newspaper, The Guardian in September 1996. In response to a report in The Guardian accusing Arkan of being a "war criminal", Arkan said in the letter that he "was under investigation" by the ICTY, but that the prosecution had not obtained any evidence linking him to the crimes. Arkan said that, "as far as he knew, the prosecutor has no intention of issuing an indictment against him."


Richard Goldstone, ICTY prosecutor at the time, said to IWPR: "Mr. Arkan obviously knows more than I do."


Some eight months later Cable News Network (CNN) portrayed Arkan as a "notorious war criminal" in a report by Christian Amanpour, quoting United States envoy Richard Holbrooke and chairman of the UN Commission of Experts, Sharif Bassiouni. Giovanni Di Stefano, Arkan's "legal representative" and the "foreign relations spokesman" for his Party of Serbian Unity, requested written confirmation from the Tribunal that Arkan was not indicted and that Arkan intended to sue CNN.


Di Stefano first requested a confirmation in a telephone conversation with Christian Chartier, head of the Tribunal's press and information office. He then sent a fax to the prosecution with a very carefully worded question: "Could you confirm that at the time of writing the Tribunal has not issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Raznatovic?"


To avoid the prosecution making a "mistake" by elaborating in their reply, Di Stefano specified that he was "not interested whether, perhaps, Mr. Raznatovic is currently under investigation."


On May 27, 1997 Chartier sent the following response to Arkan's spokesman and legal representative:


"Dear Sir, As a reply to your phone inquiry and to the fax you sent us earlier today, and as a follow-up to our phone conversation, I inform you in writing, as requested, that the name Raznatovic is not on the list of the persons indicted to-date by the ICTY. This list is a public document and I attach to this fax a copy of it. Sincerely yours, Christian Chartier."


Di Stefano waved that piece of paper at press conferences in Belgrade where he announced Arkan's intention to sue CNN, claiming the letter represented "key evidence" that Arkan was "clean" before international justice.


The "sealed" indictment came four months later in September 1997.


When the then Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour publicly announced at the end of March 1999 the existence of the indictment against Arkan, Di Stefano spoke out again, this time requesting that the prosecution supply him with a "copy of the indictment and all supporting evidence."


Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt, confirmed last week to IWPR that Di Stefano addressed the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) with such requests "on several occasions". Each time he was told that Arkan and his legal representatives would receive all requested and other documents "the moment the accused appears before the judges of the Tribunal."


After the fifth or sixth request, Di Stefano got the message and stopped besieging the OTP. Meanwhile, Di Stefano was himself arrested in Italy and charged with fraud.


OTP spokesman Paul Risley said last week that other persons "claiming to represent Arkan" contacted the Tribunal "in an attempt to get information regarding the specific nature of charges against him."


Blewitt dismissed any suggestion of that a 'deal' between the prosecutor and Arkan was discussed with these contacts. Firstly, Blewitt specified, "we never expected, that in the case of an arrest, Arkan would in any way co-operate with the prosecution." Secondly, Blewitt added, "when issuing the indictment against Milosevic and others, the question of testimonies from Arkan and the like was not raised at all." This suggests the prosecution already have enough material evidence and reliable witnesses to present a strong case against Milosevic and others without the aid of Arkan's testimony.


Finally, Blewitt said the Tribunal's Statute does not allow for any 'deals'. After an indictment has been issued, the prosecutor is no longer in a position to offer anything to the accused. All the prosecution can do is recommend a shorter sentence for accused persons who co-operate with the prosecution during a trial. It is then up to the judges to decide whether to accept such a recommendation.