Ex-Bosnian Envoy Awaits Extradition Ruling

Muhamed Sacirbey denies misuse of funds while he was Bosnia's former envoy in New York.

Ex-Bosnian Envoy Awaits Extradition Ruling

Muhamed Sacirbey denies misuse of funds while he was Bosnia's former envoy in New York.

Former Bosnian foreign minister Muhamed Sacirbey is spending his second month in a US jail awaiting a decision on whether he should be sent back to face a Sarajevo court, but his legal adviser says the US authorities should have dismissed the extradition request outright.

Sacirbey was arrested by New York police on March 25 under an Interpol arrest warrant. A city court now has to decide whether he should extradited to Bosnia for questioning about funds which went missing during his time as Bosnian ambassador at the United Nations.

During the war in Bosnia, the US-educated Sacirbey was Bosnia's envoy to the United Nations in New York. He was a ubiquitous presence on TV screens around the world, putting the case for the Sarajevo government. After returning to the city in 1996, he served as foreign minister for two years. He then went back to head the UN mission again in 1998-2000. It is this latter period that the allegations against him relate to.

Following an April 2001 audit of its mission to the UN, the Bosnian foreign ministry accused Sacirbey of misusing 610,980 US dollars. The justice ministry issued an arrest warrant against him in January 2002 after he failed to respond to two summonses to appear in court to face questioning. The warrant was passed to Interpol with a request to detain Sacirbey, currently living in New York.

There are a number of questions about how legal process has been followed in the US. The Bosnian arrest warrant was issued through Interpol, but it was the State Department which decided to act on it by passing it to the Department of Justice. The warrant was then served by the lower Manhattan district attorney's office.

Sacirbey is being held in a prison cell pending a court decision on whether he should be extradited. A bail hearing is expected soon, but the extradition hearing itself is not expected for several months.

Bosnia requested his arrest under its own laws which allow extradition to take place while an investigation is under way but before formal charges have been laid. Sacirbey has not been charged. US legislation does not permit extradition unless a specific indictment has been filed against the suspect. According to Sacirbey's lawyers, this means he should not even be held while the possibility of extradition is examined.

"Under US law there is not provision for extradition for investigation - only when actual charges are filed," said Sacirbey's legal advisor, American University law professor Paul Williams.

"The State Department should have bounced this right back to the Bosnians, not passed it on to the Department of Justice."

The investigation into Sacirbey's case has been running for two years, and has so far been assigned to three successive judges at the Sarajevo canton court. The current one, Ibrahim Hadzic, says the work on the case could take one month to a year. He told IWPR that it is too early to predict what the outcome of the investigation would be.

"First we need to inspect the documentation on this case, which is all packed up in a big cardboard box, and only then draw conclusions."

The fact that Sacirbey holds dual US and Bosnian citizenship also complicates the case for extradition.

Sacirbey has been allowed few visitors since his arrest and it was impossible to interview him. But on previous occasions he has denied there was any misappropriation of funds. He says that despite the lack of receipts, all the missing money was spent on government business.

In September 2000, Sacirbey told the Washington Post that there had been no wrongdoing, "Nowhere did I profit personally". He admitted that some funds had been spent without authorisation because of the administrative chaos that followed the Bosnian war.

He has also said he kept the then president, Alija Izetbegovic, informed of all expenditure. Izetbegovic has since distanced himself from his envoy and denies approving the disputed expense claims.

Sacirbey has previously refused to go to Bosnia to talk about the UN mission's expenses, claiming he would not get a fair trial in Sarajevo.

Political aspects of the case are difficult to unravel, but in part it grew out of a power struggle between two rival Bosnian parties. The affair was brought to light by Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija, appointed when a new government came into power in October 2000. Lagumdzija heads the Social Democratic Party, opposed to the Party of Democratic Action, a traditionally much stronger party which dominated during the war and which Izetbegovic and Sacirbey both represented.

Many in Sarajevo believe Sacirbey should be brought back to Sarajevo to answer for the missing funds, and possibly face trial. Stjepan Kljujic, who was a member of Bosnia's joint presidency during the war, thinks Sacirbey has a case to answer.

But he alleges that while Sacirbey himself may have misappropriated funds, politicians who were in the Sarajevo government at the time could also be implicated if the case has a public airing - and many of them would therefore prefer the case to go away.

"One faction in Bosnia-Herzegovina does not see it as important to fully shed light on the missing funds from the Bosnian mission in New York," Kljujic told IWPR. "If light is shed on this case, ugly shady dealings could be disclosed."

The whole story comes down to money, he says, "or more precisely, it has to do with the control over the routes for money during the war".

Aldin Arnautovic is a producer for Radio Stari Grad in Sarajevo.

Support our journalists