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Simic & Avramovic Case: 'Bribery And Intimidation Of Witness'

Tribunal Update 146: Last Week in The Hague (October 4-9, 1999)

The exceptions were Bosnian Serb general Djorde Djukic, released in April 1996 after it was confirmed that he was dying of cancer (he died a month later) and Drago Josipovic and Mario Cerkez, both briefly released to see sick or dying parents.

But so far the only detainee to be granted a provisional release before the beginning of his trial - has been Milan Simic. Simic is accused of participating in the June 1992 beating of a Muslim detainee in the town of Bosanski Samac, a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, a violation of the laws and customs of war and a crime against humanity. He was released because he is partially paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, the result of a 1993 car accident. He also suffers from various health problems and requires daily intensive medical care, and the Tribunal itself and its Detention Unit lacked facilities to either accommodate or treat him (see Tribunal Update No. 69).

One reason why the judges are so selective, or restrictive, in granting requests for provisional release, is their fear that the accused will use their freedom to threaten potential witnesses or the victims of crimes of which they are accused.

Yet according to the prosecution, this was precisely what happened in the case of Simic, after he won his provisional release. On May 25 1999, it was learnt last week, the Prosecution filed an ex parte confidential request for a hearing on alleged "bribery, intimidation of witness and suborning perjury of witness" by Simic and his lead counsel Branislav Avramovic.

The Prosecution alleges that between July and September 1998 Milan Simic made telephone threats to a potential witness, 'Agnes', driving to the witness's house at night and on one occasion firing a shot in the air. The prosecution also alleges that between January and May 1999, Simic tried to bribe Agnes, inviting him to give false evidence in his favour and promising money, an apartment and employment after he had given evidence in the trial. The Prosecution makes similar allegations against his lead counsel, Avramovic. The Prosecution alleges that between July and September 1998, Avramovic coached Agnes in his false testimony, rehearsing it on a tape recorder and taping the false testimony supposed to exculpate Simic.

Trial Chamber III judges David Hunt, Patrick Robinson and Mohamed Bennouna issued two confidential orders to open a contempt hearing against Milan Simic and his counsel. This was followed in late September by a further order "releasing confidential documents in the matter of contempt allegations against Defence Counsel and an accused".

The contempt hearing started on September 26, with the first two days held behind closed doors. Last week, however, the hearing was open, and two prosecution witnesses appeared before the judges and the public. The first was Mirsad Sahanic, a policeman from Bosanski Samac, who knew Agnes prior to the war and with whom he later shared time in detention. He testified about telephone conversations he had with Agnes in which he told him about the pressure Simic and his defence counsel were putting on him.

The other witness was Tore Soldal, an investigator at the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) who met Agnes in May 1999 at a SFOR camp outside Brcko and took a series of five written statements from him. Soldal said Agnes stated that he was expected to call the Simic's defence lawyers every two weeks. The OTP also attempted to tape one telephone conversation between Agnes and Avramovic. Agnes was put under the Tribunal's full protection between May and September 1999, when he testified to the contempt hearing in closed session.

The defence counsel of Simic and Avramovic at the contempt hearing, Peter Haynes, tried to dispute the credibility of the witness, arguing that Agnes was guilty of killings that the OTP investigators had "failed to investigate". Haynes also claimed inconsistencies between different statements Agnes gave to the OTP investigators between May and September. The contempt hearing's closed session concluded Wednesday, whereupon the Trial Chamber adjourned until a later date.

The contempt procedure against Belgrade lawyer Milan Vujin, accused of working against the best interests of his client, the accused Dusko Tadic, should continue and end next week. The highest sentence applicable for contempt of the court is a fine of 200,000 Dutch guilders and/or seven years imprisonment.

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