Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The ex-case manager for Bosnian Serb paramilitary leader Milan Lukic pleaded not guilty this week to charges that she paid potential witnesses in exchange for their false statements.
According to the indictment, Jelena Rasic, 27, was working for the Milan Lukic defence team in October 2008 when she met a man called Zuhdija Tabakovic in Sarajevo. Rasic allegedly showed him a pre-prepared witness statement and asked if he would “confirm, sign and verify the statement in exchange for 1,000 euros (1,340 US dollars) cash.
“The statement was false as [Tabakovic] had no knowledge of any of the events described in the statement.”
The indictment further charges that Rasic promised Tabakovic more money if he came to The Hague to testify on Lukic’s behalf “in accordance with the statement”.
Rasic also allegedly offered Tabakovic a “reward” to find two other men willing to sign pre-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 euros from Rasic, states the indictment.
Tabakovic pleaded guilty last March to contempt, after admitting that he signed the false statement, accepted payment from Rasic, and also 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 authorities there about the scheme, providing them with the false statements and other documentation.
At that time, Tabakovic said he came forward because it was “the proper thing to do, actually” and that he felt “relieved and much better” as a result, states the plea agreement.
During Tabakovic’s sentencing hearing last March, his lawyer, Steven Powles, pointed out that Tabakovic was led to believe he would be a witness if the contempt case went forward, and was not interviewed as a suspect until September 2009.
“It was Tabakovic himself who sought to ensure that no harm was done to the outcome of Lukic trial,” said Powles, adding that his client, a Bosniak, signed the statement because he needed money, and not for ethnic or patriotic reasons.
Powles said that Tabakovic sent his “sincere apologies to the trial chamber and the victims of the crimes in the Lukic case”.
Milan Lukic was accused of leading a campaign to terrorise and kill Bosniak civilians during the summer of 1992 in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad. On July 20, 2009, Lukic was found guilty of all 21 counts against him, including the burning alive of about 120 civilians in two barricaded houses, and sentenced to life in prison.
Sredoje Lukic, Milan’s cousin who stood trial alongside him, was found guilty of aiding and abetting the first of the house fires – on the town’s Pionirska Street – as well as joining his cousin in the beating and mistreatment of civilians at the Uzamnica prison camp. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Both men are appealing against their convictions.
The indictment against Rasic was originally filed confidentially in July and confirmed by judges in August. She was transferred to The Hague on September 20.
Rachel Irwin in an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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