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

Prosecutor Accuses Witnesses of Lying to Protect Lukic

One defence witness denies his testimony is “tissue of lies” aimed at helping accused.
By Simon Jennings
A prosecutor at the Hague tribunal this week tried to show that two defence witnesses were fabricating testimony in order to provide alibis for a Bosnian Serb charged with burning Bosniak civilians to death.



“The prosecution is saying your whole evidence is nothing but a tissue of lies and that you are lying because Sredoje Lukic is your friend,” Judge Patrick Robinson warned one of the witnesses.



However, Branimir Bugarski insisted he was telling the truth.



“It’s not true that it is a tissue of lies,” replied the witness. “In a few days, I’ll turn 60. I did not come here to tell lies. I know this man as a good man, a sociable man, always ready to share a good joke, I never knew him as a criminal.”



Sredoje Lukic is on trial at the United Nations war crimes court in The Hague alongside his cousin, Milan Lukic, for atrocities carried out in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad between 1992 and 1994.



Both men are charged with killing approximately 140 Bosniak civilians in two separate house fires, as well as mistreating Bosniak detainees at a Visegrad prison camp. The prosecution alleges that on two occasions, on approximately June 14 and 27, 1992, Sredoje and Milan Lukic barricaded around 70 Muslims inside a house before setting it on fire.



Among those to testify in Sredoje Lukic’s defence was Bugarski, who told judges that on June 14 and 27, the defendant visited him in the town of Obrenovac in Serbia – which lies some 250 kilometres from Visegrad.



Bugarski, a salesman by trade, told judges that he remembered Sredoje calling at his house on June 14 after an argument the defendant had at the local grocer’s about leaving a bottle deposit for some beer.



June 14, 1992, was Holy Trinity, an Orthodox holy day, and Bugarski told judges he was celebrating at home when Sredoje stopped by, but did not come inside. The witness said he remembered it well because it was unusual for someone to visit him without coming inside for a drink.



“What struck me was someone came up to my door and did not come in, and did not want to join us for the celebration,” he said.



Prosecutor Dermot Groome put it to the court that such a refusal of hospitality would have been a common occurrence and was no reason for the event to stick in his mind.



The witness maintained that he remembered the 1992 Holy Trinity celebration well because it was the first one following the start of the war. He also said his memory of the day was good because he and his wife had lost close relatives around that time.



However, when questioned further by Groome, he could not remember what the weather had been like that day.



Bugarski also testified that Sredoje visited him on June 27, saying the defendant had asked him to prepare a pig to take back to Visegrad to eat on Vidovdan Day, another Orthodox holiday which fell the following day.



According to the witness, Sredoje visited him around six in the evening to say he could no longer take the pig to Visegrad.



Groome asked Bugarski why he had not come forward earlier with his evidence when the charges against Sredoje and other 1992 events in Visegrad was first publicised throughout the media. Although the charges against the Lukic cousins were made public in 2000, Bugarski only made a statement on January 5 this year.



“I hadn’t understood that it was really the way it was and that I could be of any help. But later, I understood,” he said, explaining that enquiries by Sredoje Lukic’s lawyer Djuro Cepic made him understand the situation properly.



Another witness provided Sredoje Lukic with an alibi for June 27.



Zorka Lukic, who is married to the defendant’s brother, told judges this week that on that day, Sredoje Lukic visited her.



As her evidence was largely in the form of a written statement, the witness did not state in court where she was living in 1992. However, Groome's cross examination suggested that it was somewhere in Serbia.



According to Zorka Lukic, she had left hospital on June 26 having just given birth to her second child, and Sredoje visited her the next day.



“[Sredoje Lukic] visited me on June 27, the day after I left hospital with my newborn. He visited with his wife and children,” the witness told judges.



The defence showed the court the child’s birth certificate confirming the birth date of June 22, as well as a letter of discharge certifying that the witness left hospital on June 26.



Prosecutor Dermot Groome objected that the original letter had been torn where the date of discharge was printed.



“The critical information on this document has been torn,” said Groome, suggesting that the original document be provided to the judges for them to assess its reliability.



During an intense cross examination, Groome sought to cast doubt on the witness’s credibility. He asked her several questions relating to her newborn child and to Sredoje Lukic’s visit.



Zorka Lukic said she had not taken any photographs of her brother-in-law with her child during his four-hour visit on June 27, which was the first time he had seen his new niece.



Groome also asked this witness why she had not come forward earlier if she knew she had evidence that would exonerate Sredoje Lukic. According to her, she only realised she could provide an alibi in January this year after Sredoje remembered his visit on June 27 1992 and asked his lawyer Cepic to contact her.



However, Groome was not convinced.



“The reason that you never came forward with this very important information is the same reason that you do not have photographs of Sredoje Lukic holding his newborn niece,” Groome put to the witness, suggesting she was not telling the truth.



“Although it may be true that you were discharged on [June] 26, I put it to you that it is not true [Sredoje] visited you on [June] 27 – the precise day he was meant to be in Visegrad.”



However, Zorka Lukic stuck firmly to her version of events.



“It’s a very important date to me. I remember all the first visits I received after the birth of my first, second and third babies,” she said.



The defence team of Milan Lukic is scheduled to begin its case next week. It will call a total of 45 witnesses.



Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.