Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Jelena Rasic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
The former case manager for convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal Milan Lukic pleaded guilty this week to five counts of contempt for paying potential witnesses to give false statements.
The defendant, Jelena Rasic, initially pleaded not guilty to all charges in September 2010, and the trial was due to take place on January 23 this year. A few days beforehand, however, proceedings were postponed “indefinitely” and a plea agreement was reached on January 24, with judges formally accepting it at a hearing on January 31.
Judgement and sentence will be delivered in the coming days.
Lukic, a former reserve policeman, was found guilty in July 2009 of personally killing at least 132 Bosniak civilians in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad during the summer of 1992, more than 100 of whom were trapped in two barricaded houses and burned alive.
While he is widely held to have been a wartime paramilitary leader, judges found there was not enough evidence presented during the trial to substantiate this claim.
Lukic was sentenced to life in prison. His cousin and co-accused Sredoje Lukic was given a 30-year sentence. The case is currently on appeal.
The Lukic trial was already well under way in October 2008 when Rasic travelled to Sarajevo and met a Bosniak man called Zuhdija Tabakovic. Rasic pleaded guilty to showing Tabakovic a prepared witness statement and asked whether he would “confirm, sign and verify the statement in exchange for 1,000 euro”.
“The statement was false as [Tabakovic] had no knowledge of any of the events described in the statement,” the indictment against Rasic says.
Rasic also offered Tabakovic a “reward” to find two other men willing to sign prepared statements, which Tabakovic subsequently did. These two men, referred to in the indictment as X and Y, eventually signed false statements and each received 1,000 euro from Rasic, as she admitted this week.
Tabakovic pleaded guilty to contempt in March 2010, after admitting that he signed the false statement, accepted payment from Rasic, and recruited X and Y. He was sentenced to three months in prison and released soon thereafter, due to time already served.
According to the plea agreement reached in that case, it was Tabakovic who in December 2008 went to the tribunal field office in Sarajevo and notified the authorities there about the scheme, providing them with the false statements and other documentation.
Speaking about the circumstances of the case this week, Paul Rogers, the senior appeals counsel in the Office of the Prosecutor, said that it was "clearly an alleviating fact" that Rasic, like Tabakovic, was not “the organiser and mastermind behind the idea of the false statements”.
“Nevertheless,” Rogers said, “she was in a position of trust and therefore could influence the outcome of the proceedings and the opinion of the chamber, through her actions.”
The statement, Rasic told the chamber, was “made and written by lawyer Dragan Ivetic”, who was one of Milan Lukic’s defence lawyers during trial.
Ivetic “sent the statement as an electronic file and I printed it out”, Rasic told the bench.
Ivetic, a Chicago-based lawyer of Serbian origin, was supposed to be part of ex-Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic's defence team, but Mladic himself disclosed – at a status conference held late last year – that Ivetic had not been allowed to join his team.
Rasic was unable to confirm whether it was “Ivetic personally who prepared the statements”, or whether he had just sent them to her.
She also said that she “did not discuss much detail with Tabakovic, nor ask him in much detail about any connection he may have had with the crimes”.
But as she said this week, she “was aware that the statement she had given the witness was very probably false”.
During her first interview with the prosecution’s investigators, in March 2009, Rasic claimed that she was not guilty. Her defence lawyer Mira Tapuskovic said she did so “without the intent of giving a false statement, but rather with the intent of using her right not to disclose any information which may be self-incriminating”.
Tapuskovic said this countered the prosecution’s claim that statements made by Rasic in that first interview were an attempt to “divert the attention of the investigation onto a wrong course”.
Velma Saric is an IWPR contributor in Sarajevo.
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