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UK Refuses Spanovic Extradition

A Croatian Serb accused of war crimes has been allowed to stay in Britain.
By Rory Gallivan
A British court ruled this week that Milan Spanovic, a Croatian Serb convicted in absentia for 1991 war crimes in the Glina region, should not be extradited to Croatia to face a retrial.



The judge hearing Spanovic’s extradition case said extradition would be unfair since the alleged offences happened so many years ago, and because the Zagreb government has known of his whereabouts in Croatia and subsequently in the UK since May 1997.



“I am satisfied that the passage of time since the offence is alleged to have been committed would now make it unjust and oppressive to extradite the defendant, and he is therefore discharged,” said Judge Timothy Workman.



Ben Lloyd, representing the Croatian government, said he would appeal.



Croatia sought Spanovic’s extradition from the UK last year after he was arrested in London on a shoplifting charge. A court in Croatia convicted Spanovic in absentia on November 17, 1993 of war crimes against civilians in the Glina region of Croatia, and sentenced him to 20 years.



The conviction relates to events in the villages of Maja and Svracica on August 18, 1991 as Serb paramilitary forces attacked predominately Croat villages between the towns of Glina and Sisak. Spanovic was charged with attacking and torturing civilians and plundering and setting fire to civilian and religious buildings during this attack.



His final extradition hearing was held at the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on March 20.



Explaining why he accepted the “passage of time argument” against extraditing Spanovic, Judge Workman pointed out that since arriving in the UK in 1998, Spanovic had been in contact with both the Croatian embassy and the UK immigration authorities.



“Mr Spanovic had, therefore, a reasonable expectation that he could live freely in this country and, as far as I am aware, he has done so in employment, supporting his family and without committing offences,” he said.



Judge Workman also addressed the question of whether there would be impediments to a fair re-trial.



“I have in mind that the alleged offences were said to have occurred during a period of civil war in which inevitably evidence will be hard to find or reconstruct,” he said.



“Witnesses’ memories after such a lengthy period during which radical change took place will have faded or be inaccurate. Inevitably, some witnesses may be unavailable or impossible to trace.”



However, Judge Workman dismissed the idea - suggested by Spanovic’s lawyer Julian Atlee in previous hearings - that the Croatian government may have been seeking another Milan Spanovic and not the one before the court.



“I am satisfied that the defendant is the person being sought by the Croatian authorities, because the particulars given in the request are identical to those given by the defendant in respect of his name,” he said.



At a previous hearing, held on March 5, Atlee had pointed to an OSCE, human rights report which claimed that Serbs in Croatia accused of war crimes had their offences upgraded so that they would not be covered by a government amnesty.



Judge Workman said it appeared that the crimes with which Spanovic was charged were excluded from the amnesty, but that - had he not discharged Spanovic on the basis of passage of time - he would have had to ask for further information and to hear further submissions on the matter.



The judge said that since the Croatian government intended to appeal against the decision, Spanovic would still have bail conditions imposed on him.



However, Atlee requested that these be relaxed as Spanovic had cooperated fully with the court, observing his bail conditions stringently. Judge Workman agreed that Spanovic would no longer have to wear an electronic tag and reduced the hours at which he was required to be at home.



Asked outside the court how he felt about the decision, Spanovic said he was “happy”.



His lawyer issued a statement saying, “My client came to the United Kingdom in 1998 because he had faith in the English system of justice. He has always cooperated fully with that system, and he believes that in its judgement today, the facts of the case have been recognised.”



Rory Gallivan is an IWPR contributor in London.