Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Herceg Bosna Finances Under Scrutiny

Witness says statelet’s president held purse-strings in Bosnian war.
By Goran Jungvirth
A courier who carried cash for the Croat statelet in Bosnia during the country’s 1992-95 war told the Hague tribunal that local head Mate Boban was in charge of financial decisions, not six men on trial for war crimes.

Miroslav Rupcic was supposed to be a prosecution witness at the trial of six former high-ranking Bosnian Croat officials, but ended up putting most of the blame on Boban, who was president of the breakaway region of Herceg Bosna that carved itself out of Bosnia after the collapse of Yugoslavia.

The six accused - Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic - are all charged with crimes against Bosniak civilians during the war in Bosnia.

According to the indictment, they conspired with former Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, ex-Croatian minister of defence Gojko Susak, General Janko Bobetko and Boban to expel Bosniaks and other non-Croats from the Croat-held territories.

Rupcic this week told the Hague tribunal’s judges that he had regularly carried bags of money containing tens of millions of Croatian dinars from Croatia into Herceg Bosna.

Rupcic, who worked in the finance department of the breakaway government, described Boban as “god and bludgeon in Herceg Bosna”, and said everyone else was in his shadow.

The money is said to have come from the Croatian government and donations from Catholic charities. One document presented to the court showed that at one point the account held 131 billion Croatian dinars (almost 2 billion German marks at the time).

“Assets were collected from taxes and contributions as well from foreign donations,” he said. “You need to know that Catholic missions around the world joined in collecting the assets for this defensive war.”

He dismissed the prosecutor’s allegations that some of the defendants had controlled the statelet’s finances. He stood by his claim that in the chain of decision making, the main figures were Boban, who died in 1997, Ante Jelavic, a Croat politician who was to have a leading role in the Bosnian government after the war, and Pero Majic, the witness’ boss.

“Boban made all financial decisions related to the Herceg Bosna army… I was never present while Boban was making decisions, but judging by Majic’s words I can confirm this,” he said.

He said he did not know what most of the money was used for, saying he did not think about it at the time. He added that money had been used to pay soldiers’ wages, and that the Croatian national bank’s permission was needed before the Zagreb Economic Bank, PBZ, would hand over the cash.

Prosecutor Keneth Scott reminded the witness about statements he gave to investigators in July 2005 in which he clearly indicated that “Bruno Stojic with his assistants was making decisions about priorities for the packages of money”.

The witness explained the discrepancy with the argument that he had previously not realised that the statelet’s defence ministry was not founded until the end of 1993, and therefore Stojic could not have been connected to the decisions.

The prosecutor said that argument was nonsense since Stojic, before he became minister, had headed the Herceg Bosna office for defence, which was to change its name to the ministry of defence afterwards. The defence crowed that the “prosecutor is trying to discredit his own witness”.

Rupcic repeatedly sought to apologise to the defendants for any offense caused and, at the end of his testimony, stressed that he had not appeared of his free will. “I didn’t come because of a request from the prosecutor but under a court warrant. I was issued with a subpoena,” he said.

Rupcic has previously served two years in prison, convicted of being part of a group which proclaimed autonomy from Bosnia in March 2001 after their nationalist party performed poorly in elections, and told the court he was bitter about having been made a scapegoat.

“I was the only Croat sentenced to two years in prison for this project in which I was no one and nothing, while all the others who were its chief movers went free,” he said, when asked by the prosecutors about the plot to break free of Bosnia.

After he finished speaking, Judge Jean Claude Antonetti thanked him for his time. “Although our future is questionable judging by your history,” said the judge.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR journalist in Zagreb.