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COURTSIDE: Fee-Splitting Scandal

Defendant received almost 200,000 euros from his lawyer's fees
By Mirna Jancic

Zoran Zigic, who was sentenced to 25 years for war crimes committed against non-Serbs in Omarska and Keraterm camps in 1992, was last week found to have unlawfully received substantial sums of money from his defence counsel.


On arrival in The Hague in 1998, Zigic declared he had no means to fund his defence. The tribunal registry then allocated legal aid for a team comprising up to ten lawyers, legal assistants and investigators. The accused's former lead counsel, Simo Tosic of Banja Luka, organised a fee-splitting scheme with several team members, some of whom undertook no defence work at all.


Zigic, a former taxi driver, was charged with entering detention camps during the Bosnian conflict with the aim of torturing, beating, abusing and killing detainees for pleasure. The court has spent almost 1.5 million US dollars on his defence since April 28, 1998.


He is currently being held in the Scheveningen detention unit waiting for his appeal to be heard. The remaining defence costs until the end of the proceedings are estimated at 32,000 US dollars.


The tribunal registry's Office of Legal Aid and Detention Matters, OLAD, had investigated claims that Zigic abused the system and split the lawyers' notoriously high fees. It later discovered he had amassed some 175,000 dollars for himself and his family. An additional lesser sum came from other donors, including the Republika Srpska government and the Serbian Orthodox church.


Zigic invested the money in two apartments, a commercial company and three vehicles. It was discovered he spent some 33,000 euros in the detention unit canteen alone.


After Zigic was revealed as having the means to pay for his defence, the registry withdrew both the legal aid for the remaining costs of the case and the members of his team who were involved in the scheme, notably lead counsel Slobodan Stojanovic, a lawyer from Belgrade.


The registry has reserved the right to file for recovery of funds against the accused and to further investigate the conduct of his past and present defence counsel. They believe their investigation has uncovered only part of the sum of money the defendant obtained in this manner.


Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor


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