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Contempt Suspect Accuses Prosecutors of Intimidation

Witness in Seselj trial claims he was exposed to “pressure, intimidation and blackmail” by tribunal prosecutors.
By Simon Jennings
A witness accused of contempt in the trial of Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj this week said tribunal prosecutors issued threats against him and his family.



Ljubisa Petkovic, the former head of the war staff of the Seselj’s Serb Radical Party, SRS, made the allegations when he appeared before judges this week to face charges of contempt of court for not responding to two subpoenas to testify in the case.



“I was exposed to pressures exerted against me by the Office of the Prosecutor [OTP] at the Hague tribunal. Not only pressures but also threats…,” he said. “After six years of pressure, intimidation and blackmail on the part of the OTP, I sought suicide as my only way out.”



Petkovic was supposed to be a protected witness for the prosecution in the Seselj trial. Although he was called to testify as a prosecution witness on January 8 this year and as a trial chamber witness on May 13, he failed to appear in court on both occasions.



He told the court on September 3 that threats and blackmail by the tribunal’s OTP prevented him from testifying.



Under tribunal rules, a witness who does not respond to a request to testify can be held in contempt.



According to presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti, the rule applies to “those who knowingly and willfully interfere with [the tribunal’s] administration of justice, including any person who without just excuses fails to comply with an order to attend before a chamber”.



If found guilty, Petkovic could face a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment, a 100,000 euro fine or both.



Because the case is brought against the accused by the trial chamber, the prosecution was not in court to address Petkovic’s accusations.



However, OTP spokeswoman Olga Kavran later denied his claims.



“We reject these allegations, but as the contempt proceedings are pending before the court we cannot comment specifically on things,” she told IWPR.



Petkovic was first contacted by the tribunal in 2002, when he was interviewed as a suspect. After that, he said, he cooperated with the OTP fully.



“I did not avoid contact with the prosecution, not for a moment. I was always available to them, to the Serbian police. I was available to all of them at all times,” he told the court.



He explained how he had also put another individual in touch with the prosecution so that he too would come and testify for them in the Seselj case.



However, Petkovic went on to describe events in 2006 which caused his attitude towards the OTP to change.



He said that prosecutor Daniel Saxon called him in the autumn of 2006 asking for an urgent meeting.



According to Petkovic, Saxon said a list of eight witnesses including him had been leaked from the tribunal via Seselj’s wife, and he and his family were now in danger.



Petkovic said Saxon offered to transport his family to Slovenia where they would be safe.



He told the court how on hearing this, he “lost the ability to speak” and “was completely disorientated”.



“At that moment, I started seeing an enemy in everyone I came across, at work, when I would walk down the street and turn back to see if anyone was following me,” he told the court.



Petkovic said that a protected witness in the Seselj trial bearing the code name VS033 also threatened him two months after Saxon’s warning.



“He told me personally that somebody would kill me,” he said, explaining that after the witness actually testified earlier this year, he telephoned Petkovic to try to convince him to corroborate certain things he had said in court.



Petkovic said after reflecting on the security threat outlined by Saxon, he began to consider the possibility that it was the OTP that was kidnapping families and then blaming it on the SRS.



The witness told the judges that he was contacted again by the OTP a month or two later, but he “no longer had the will or strength to see anyone from OTP, because in 2006, it had already been four years of intimidation”.



It was then that he went to the SRS and realised that members were not plotting against him, so he agreed to testify in Seselj’s defence, he said.



“I started trusting them. I gave them my confidence… and I immediately expressed my desire to testify for the defence,” he said.



He then described how he drafted a statement which he gave to Seselj’s legal team in order for it to be sent to the trial chamber.



“I wanted to make the trial chamber aware that I had terminated my contact with the investigators and that I was willing to appear as a defence witness in the trial of Vojislav Seselj,” said Petkovic.



Asked by the judges why he did not communicate directly with the trial chamber, he blamed his state of mind. “There was no ill intention on my part. I simply couldn’t communicate with myself. I was anxious, I had a conflict with my family, I withdrew into myself,” he told the tribunal.



Petkovic’s defence lawyer, Branislava Isailovic entered into evidence her client’s medical records to support his testimony about receiving neurological treatment.



Judge Antonetti also asked Petkovic to clarify whether it was Saxon himself who threatened him, or whether he had simply informed him of threats.



“It is not clear to me either,” Petkovic replied. “When Mr Daniel Saxon came he said to me, ‘We have information that eight names were leaked from the Hague tribunal, that it was done by [Seselj’s wife]. You are now in danger, as is your family.’ He didn’t tell me anything else.”



In her closing arguments, Isailovic called for the acquittal of her client, not on the grounds that he did not ignore subpoenas from the tribunal, but rather because his state of health was the reason for “everything that has happened to him recently”.



Petkovic – who has been in the tribunal’s detention unit since May – asked at the end of his trial this week that judges deliver their verdict swiftly, because “uncertainty and waiting [were] the greatest enemies of [his] biological survival”.



Judge Antonetti said the trial chamber would hand down a decision as soon as possible.



Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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