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Controversy Over Document Leak Resurfaces

Evidence cited in Milosevic trial raises issues about who leaked Croatian president Mesic's secret testimony.
By Emir Suljagic

Allegations that the lawyer who defended Bosnian Croat general Tihomir Blaskic before The Hague tribunal may have leaked confidential evidence resurfaced at another hearing this week.


Documents which Hague prosecutors handed to former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic as evidence suggest that prominent Zagreb lawyer Ante Nobilo passed the Croatian leadership a secret statement that Stjepan Mesic - now president, but opposition leader at the time - gave during Blaskic's 1997 hearing.


Nobilo still represents Blaskic, who is appealing after being convicted on 19 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has consistently denied involvement in leaking the statement - in which Mesic accused the then Croatian leadership of complicity in atrocities in neighbouring Bosnia - since excerpts from it appeared in a newspaper back in November and December 2000.


The new documents consist of transcripts, including one which appears to be of a May 1997 meeting between the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, his chief of staff Goran Radin, defence minister Gojko Susak, National Security Advisor Markica Rebic, and two newspaper editors. This contains what purports to be a discussion on whether to publish Mesic's testimony, as a way of portraying the increasingly popular opposition politician as a traitor.


"I spoke to lawyer Nobilo. He does not oppose it - in fact, he said it would be good to publish it - but we can't say that he gave us the statement because he has to be discreet," one of the participants is reported as saying.


Tudjman, who habitually recorded all his meetings for posterity, told the newspaper editors, "Mr. Mesic has gone and testified that I should be summoned to the Hague tribunal. We want you to publish the document, but we also want to talk about it with you."


In a telephone interview, Nobilo told IWPR that these transcripts were inaccurate.


"Those allegations were raised long ago. There is no truth in it," he said.


Under the rules of the tribunal, Mesic's statement was supposed to remain anonymous, with only the prosecution and defence knowing that he had testified. Whoever did release it was acting in contempt of court.


Tribunal spokesman James Landale said that such breaches were treated as a matter of great concern, "The tribunal takes any allegation of this sort very seriously, and with all allegations of this nature we have legal proceedings."


Although the transcripts - if true - confirm that the Croatian leadership got hold of Mesic's testimony, Tudjman's proposal to publish it in the press was not acted on at the time. Excerpts appeared much later - in November 2000 - in Slobodan Dalmacija, a Croatian newspaper with strong ties to Tudjman's right-wing Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ. This was widely perceived as a smear attempt against Mesic, who had just become president.


The Mesic statement was relevant in the Blaskic trial because the latter was in command of Bosnian Croat forces in central Bosnia. Many of the charges against him related to the 1993 massacre of Muslim civilians in the village of Ahmici. Tudjman always maintained that Zagreb had nothing to do with the actions of Bosnian Croat military forces. In 2000, at the end of a two-year trial, Blaskic was sentenced to 45 years jail.


Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.