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Spanovic Lawyer Claims Serbs Face Discrimination in Croatia

Lawyer for Croatian Serb says he would not receive a fair trial.
By Rory Gallivan
Milan Spanovic, whose extradition Zagreb is seeking so that he can be put on trial for war crimes, will call on witnesses from Croatia to support his contention that as a Serb, he would not receive a fair trial there.



Spanovic, a Croatian Serb, lives in Britain, where he appeared before the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on September 11. His lawyer, Julian Atlee, said he would be calling on expert witnesses from Croatia to demonstrate that Serbs still face discrimination in the country’s courts and that therefore Spanovic would not receive a fair trial there.



Spanovic is accused of being part of a Serb paramilitary group that attacked civilians and plundered and torched buildings in the villages of Maja and Svracica in the Glina region of Croatia on August 18, 1991, in the early stages of the Croatian war.



In 1993, he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 20 years in prison, but the Croatian government says it will retry him if he is extradited.



Croatia sought his extradition last year after he was arrested in London on a shoplifting charge. He has been living in Britain since 1998.



Spanovic’s case was returned to the Westminster court following a ruling by the High Court that the judge hearing the case, Timothy Workman, had been wrong to conclude that it would be “unjust and oppressive” to extradite him.



Judge Workman made this decision on March 20 on the basis that Spanovic had been in contact with the Croatian authorities several times since he moved to Britain, and that they had not taken the opportunity to apprehend him for his alleged crimes.



Croatia appealed against this ruling, which was based on the “passage of time” argument, saying that it had not been aware of Spanovic’s whereabouts since 1997 as had been alleged. The case was then sent to the High Court, which agreed with Zagreb’s contention and ruled that Judge Workman must look at the case again to see whether there are any other bars to extradition.



At the hearing held this week, Spanovic’s lawyer spoke of one witness whom he wished to call, and who would have to be granted anonymity because his life would be under threat if he were to testify that Croatia’s legal system discriminated against Serbs.



Melanie Cumberland, representing the Croatian government, opposed such anonymity, saying it would give the defence an unfair advantage to have a witness providing evidence on matters that require expertise, if the witness’s credentials were not known by all sides.



Atlee responded that as a solicitor, he had a duty of fairness and that he could assure the court of the “unimpeachable credentials” of the witness.



Judge Workman ruled that the witness should be allowed to appear anonymously, since this seemed to be the only way his evidence could be brought before the court.



Atlee said he also intended to call on other witnesses, including a former judge from Croatia who now lives in Serbia. This witness would not appear anonymously, Atlee said, although he did not give the individual’s name.



Judge Workman asked Atlee to compile a list of witnesses he wished to summon to Britain in time for the next hearing to be held on October 4, where issues to be discussed at further hearings would be set out.