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Slobodan Praljak, a wartime commander of Bosnian Croat forces, has been ordered to pay back nearly three million euro in legal fees by the Hague tribunal.
Praljak stood trial with five other Bosnian Croat military and political leaders in one of the biggest trials ever held at the tribunal.
In May 2013, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for “planning and directing” operations of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), including those which resulted in the destruction of a 16th century bridge in the southern town of Mostar. (See Guilty Sentences for Six Bosnian Croat Leaders.)
In March 2006, after being ordered to do so by judges, the tribunal registrar assigned Praljak counsel, to be paid for by the tribunal. In August 2012, however, the registry decided that Praljak was ineligible for this financial assistance since he was “able to fully remunerate counsel”.
Praljak asked for a review of that decision, and requested that his legal aid be restored for the entirety of the proceedings, including the appellate phase.
In July last year, the president of the tribunal, Judge Theodor Meron, issued a decision agreeing with the registrar. Praljak asked for the president’s decision to be reviewed, but this request was turned down.
In December 2013, Praljak was “invited” by the registrar to voluntarily pay back the amount he owed. When he failed to comply, the registrar asked the appeals chamber to issue an order to that effect.
In their May 13 decision, appeals judges noted that Praljak was deemed ineligible for legal aid because the registrar found that he could contribute over six million euro to the cost of his defence.
Praljak has argued that his assets “are not liquid” and that all except two are “legally owned by third persons”. The appeals chamber found that these arguments had been “considered and rejected by both the registrar and the president”.
“Praljak has consistently frustrated the registrar’s investigation into his means, refusing to provide information and to comment on information gathered by the registrar when given the opportunity to do so,” the appeals bench stated.
The judges ordered Praljak to pay back 2,807,611 euro to the tribunal. They said the total amount should be paid within 90 days, or in monthly instalments over a three-year period.
Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.
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