Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A series of twists and turns in the Stevan Todorovic case culminated last week in the defendant pleading guilty to persecution on political, racial and religious grounds - a crime against humanity.
Todorovic, the former police chief in Bosanski Samac, is accused of crimes against Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats in the area in 1992.
Todorovic had, however, lodged a suit against NATO and S-For at The Hague, claiming his arrest was illegal. He said he should therefore be allowed to return to his "country of refuge" - Serbia.
On December 11, a Yugoslav court sentenced to a total of 46 years' imprisonment nine men accused of kidnapping Todorovic in September 1998.
The men were convicted of seizing the Hague suspect inside Serbia and transporting him illegally to Bosnia where they handed him over to the international Stabilisation Force, S-For, for 50,000 German marks.
But on December 13, Todorovic withdrew his claims against NATO and S-For and pleaded guilty to count one of his indictment as part of a plea bargain struck with tribunal prosecutors.
Todorovic's defence team had been in negotiations with prosecutors for several months. In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors have agreed to drop the other 26 charges against the defendant, including murder, sexual assault, torture and deportation.
The prosecution believes that by pleading guilty to the persecution charges, Todorovic implicitly admits guilt for the other offences, which form elements of the alleged persecution.
At the press conference immediately after the hearing, Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt denied the plea bargain was struck to bring an end to the so-called "S-For Case". "Absolutely nothing has been sacrificed," Blewitt said.
Blewitt said there were no indications the downturn in the number of arrests were related to the Todorovic case against S-For, but he added "I would not be surprised if it had something to do with it."
If there were a logjam in arrests because of this case, Blewitt went on, that has now been removed, which alone makes the developments this week very important.
As part of the deal, the prosecution and defence will jointly recommend Todorovic serve a sentence of between five to 12 years.
The defence has agreed to drop its challenges to the legality of Todorovic's arrest, provided the prosecution sticks to their side of the agreement and the trial judges accept the defendant's plea.
Should the plea bargain go ahead, the defence has agreed to withdraw requests for S-For to disclose all documents relating to the arrest, all allegations the arrest was unlawful and all accusations S-For and NATO were involved in unlawful activity in relation to Todorovic's arrest.
A binding order on S-For, NATO and NATO member states to hand over all documents relating to the arrest was issued by the trial chamber on October 20, but later suspended pending an appeal against the order. The tribunal appeals chamber was scheduled to hear objections on January 10, but that hearing has now been cancelled. The appeals chamber has, however, reserved the right to return to the matter.
Todorovic's defence team has also retained the right to raise the issue of his arrest again should the appeals chamber reject the agreement with the prosecution.
At last week's hearing, Judge Patrick Robinson asked the accused a series of questions to confirm his plea was "voluntary, informed and unequivocal". Robinson warned Todorovic the trial chamber could pass a much graver sentence - including life imprisonment - than that recommended by the prosecution and defence.
Todorovic said he was aware of that, and other possible consequences, and confirmed his plea was voluntarily and entered without coercion or threats from either side.
Todorovic is only the third defendant to plead guilty before the tribunal. Drazen Erdemovic pleaded guilty to participating in the Srebrenica massacres and Goran Jelisic to crimes in Brcko, including the murders of 13 people.
A hearing before the full trial chamber, comprising judges Robinson, David Anthony Hunt and Mohamed Bunnouna, is scheduled for January 12, 2001 to determine whether the court is satisfied with the plea.
The defence and prosecution have been ordered to submit by January 5 a brief statement outlining the factual basis for the charge.
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