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New Twist in Conflict of Interest Dispute

Judge says Cermak lawyers should remain on Operation Storm case.
By Lisa Clifford
A judge in the case against three Croatian generals accused of war crimes this week disagreed with the decision to dismiss two defence lawyers due to an alleged conflict of interest.

Judge Alphons Orie said he had no objection to Cedo Prodanovic and Jadranka Slokovic continuing as Ivan Cermak’s lawyers, subject to certain conditions.

Cermak, Mladen Markac and Ante Gotovina are charged with the murder, persecution and deportation of ethnic Serbs during Operation Storm – a Croatian military offensive launched in the summer of 1995 to retake the Serb-held Krajina region.

Orie’s fellow judges ruled earlier this month that Prodanovic and Slokovic could no longer represent Cermak because their other client, Croatian army general Rahim Ademi, could be summoned to testify as a witness.

Prodanovic and Slokovic had proposed hiring a third lawyer to cross-examine Ademi if he was summoned to appear in The Hague, but this was deemed unacceptable by the judges.

Explaining their decision, the judges said the duo’s continued involvement in the case would prevent Cermak from building his defence on the shifting of responsibility onto two of his superiors – Gotovina and his deputy Ademi – because of their duty to Ademi, whom they represent before a Croatian court.

The judges urged the appointment of new defence lawyers for Cermak, ordering Prodanovic and Slokovic to assist them in preparing for the trial.

The two lawyers said they would appeal, and their case could be boosted by Orie’s comments in his dissenting opinion published this week.

He points out that Ademi has agreed that the two lawyers could continue to represent Cermak and says he finds no compelling reason to prohibit that under certain conditions.

The conditions are that Prodanovic and Slokovic stop representing Ademi and avoid any direct dealings with the general in case he is called as a witness, and also that they hire a third lawyer to deal with Ademi if he does testify.

Markac’s lawyer, the former Croatian justice minister Miroslav Separovic, was also dismissed when judges ruled he had a personal interest in the case and was likely to be called as a witness.

The possible conflicts have delayed the start of the trial, which was originally scheduled for May 7.

Lisa Clifford is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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