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

Simic Case: Contempt Hearing Against Simic And His Lawyer Awaits Verdict

Tribunal Update 154: Last Week in The Hague (November 29-December 4, 1999)

Simic is one of six Serbs charged on July 21, 1995, with atrocities against Muslims and Croats during the ethnic cleansing of Bosanski Samac, and who surrendered to the Tribunal in February 1998.

Disabled and confined to a wheelchair, the result of a 1993 car accident, he was later released from pre-trial custody in The Hague only to return to the former Yugoslavia of his alleged crime to allegedly bribe and threaten witnesses in his case.

Simic and his Belgrade defence lawyer were accused of contempt of the tribunal, in that they attempted to bribe and intimidate a witness known as 'Agnes'.

The prosecutor claims that Simic and Avramovic phoned Agnes, offering him money, a flat and a job if he testified that Simic was not in the school building in Bosanski Samac, used by the Bosnian Serbs as a prison at the time of the crimes. Furthermore the prosecutor alleges that Simic's defence even 'practised' Agnes' potential testimony to the tribunal.

But in May this year, Agnes approached The Hague investigator in Bosnia-Herzegovina and told his story, claiming that he feared for his life. After living in Serbia under the assumed name of Damir Jankovic he was transferred to The Hague for his own security. The contempt hearing against Simic and Avramovic opened in Trial Chamber III in September.

Two defence witnesses testified last week, followed by Avramovic and Simic. At the end of the proceedings however the case had boiled down to a matter of which testimony was to be believed.

Simic said he had never seen Agnes before they both appeared at the contempt hearing. Avramovic said he did not intend to call Agnes as a defence witness, as he had told the prosecutor that he went only once to the school. He said this made his testimony - that while there he had not seen Simic - "not important for me," he said.

Prosecutor Nancy Patterson, however, believes that 'Agnes' did not have a motive to lie and that he approached the Tribunal only because he sought security. The prosecution, she pointed out, only later gave him guarantees for a transfer to a third country. On the other hand, Patterson deems, Simic and Avramovic did have a reason not to admit their conduct to the judges.

"Avramovic was hard pressed to find at least one witness" who would testify in Simic's favour, Patterson said. "Agnes was in a vulnerable situation," she added. Agnes was a Bosniak who served in the Bosnian Serb Army after his captivity in Bosanski Samac, during which he was accused of a criminal act in Republika Srpska. As a result he had moved to Serbia. Avramovic "could take advantage of that" situation, Patterson said.

Simic and Avramovic's defence lawyer Peter Haynes said that Agnes only approached the Tribunal because he "wanted to find somewhere else to live". He said the entire case against Avramovic and Simic was based on Agnes's statements, and Agnes was, according to him, an "utterly unreliable witness".

"Agnes lied under oath repeatedly," said Hayes. "His statements are full of inconsistencies and contradictions."

Patterson admitted "that Agnes is far from a perfect witness, that he gets very emotional and frustrated". But, she said, "if he was going to make up a story, why would he give so many details, why not saying there was only one meeting" between him and the two accused?

At the hearing, the prosecutor played the recordings of the telephone conversations, made by The Hague investigator in Bosnia-Hercegovina, after Agnes approached him in May this year whilst seeking security.

In one of the recorded telephone conversations Agnes tells him that he needs money, and Avramovic apparently replies: "I'll send you." (Serbo-Croat: "Poslat cu ti".) Avramovic, however, claims that Agnes mentioned money for the first time on that occasion, and that he replied to him: "I'll call you." (Serbo-Croat: "Pozvat cu te".)

In the second recording Agnes asks Avramovic's colleague, Igor Pantelic, about the beginning of the 'programme', which Agnes said referred to the testimony 'practice' sessions. But Pantelic said that he was not referring to "any programme related to the trial of Simic" and said that though he replied, as taped, that it was starting "some time in November," in reality he did not know what programme Agnes was talking about.

The defence concluded its closing submission by claiming that the prosecutor had not backed up her key witness's allegations with credible evidence, and stressed that Agnes was not regarded as a potential defence witness in Simic's defence at any time.

"You cannot convict anybody on these charges (of contempt of court) unless you are sure Agnes was a potential witness", Haynes concluded.

The highest sentence applicable for contempt of the court is a fine of 200,000 Dutch guilders and/or seven years imprisonment. The Trial Chamber has now adjourned to consider its decision.