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

Vujin Contempt Hearing: Michail Wladimiroff Testimony

Tribunal Update 142: Last Week in The Hague (September 6-12, 1999)
By IWPR

In an extended interview Wladimiroff described Vujin, who was a member of his Dutch-British team for a year, as "an intelligent man with significant experience in criminal cases". But he added that "his knowledge of the English language is not sufficiently good for him to participate in our agreements, so that he was sometimes somewhat isolated.


"Then, he took up another case, so that we parted nicely," he added to Tribunal Update at the time. Wladimiroff's true feelings were more starkly put last week, when he appeared before the Tribunal Appeals Chamber to give evidence in the contempt hearing against Vujin.


The proceedings were initiated after Tadic accused Vujin of working against his best interests, both in the phase of the trial when he was a member of Wladimiroff's team (April 1995 - April 1996) and in the appeals phase (April 1997 - November 1998), when Vujin was the lead defence counsel. (See Tribunal Update Nos. 110 through 141).


Last week Tadic's counsel at the contempt hearing, English barrister Anthony Able, asked Wladimiroff whether he thought Vujin was carrying out his task of a defender "professionally, conscientiously and expertly".


"He did not meet the standards I was looking for," Wladimiroff replied. He carried on: "Vujin was never assigned, he popped up in the case making himself necessary. Later I realised that he was taking control of the case for different aims from mine. He wasn't taking care of the interests of Mr. Tadic, he was taking care of somebody else's interests - it might be the authorities or other people, I don't know. His interest seemed to be to defend the Serb cause and to protect other people from becoming involved in Tadic's defence."


Wladimiroff believed that Vujin "ought to have been in a more advantageous position to get the facts and witnesses," because he "knew people in power in the Republika Srpska and the FRY". But, "the (witnesses) statements provided by Vujin were of very poor quality and none of them provided any information I was looking for". Wladimiroff explained to Vujin that he was looking for the people "who had direct knowledge of Tadic's movements, not those who could testify only on his character," but this did not help either.


To illustrate Vujin's way of dealing with the witnesses, Anthony Albe showed a video tape of one interview with a potential defence witness conducted by Wladimiroff in Vujin's presence. The Dutch lawyer provided a commentary to the shown scenes: "We did an interview, and at once he interrupted the witness I was interviewing and told the witness what to say. Vujin had a tendency to correct or advise witnesses...


"In the beginning I thought he was trying to make things more clear, then I thought it was a habit, but later I understood he was directing witnesses, manipulating them... It all worried me. Other co-counsel were strong in view that we should get rid of him because of his unprofessional conduct." In spite of that, Wladimiroff wanted to avoid a confrontation with Vujin, because - as he explained last week - "we thought that if we declared him an enemy, with his relations and contacts there (in Serbia and Republika Srpska) it would not help Mr. Tadic."


Then, in February 1996, Wladimiroff was astonished to discover that the notorious police chief of Prijedor, Simo Drljaca, had a copy of a list of Tadic's potential defence witnesses. (Drljaca was accused together Milan Kovacevic of genocide in the region of Prijedor, but was killed in July 1997 while resisting arrest by British commandos from SFOR - See Tribunal Update No. 36)


"In February 96, I saw that list on Drljaca's desk and I was really surprised. I did not want Drljaca to see it... He was the man of absolute power there and did everything to block me, even my efforts to prove that Tadic was elsewhere" (when a crime was committed). Drljaca did not want me to meddle, or to be there at all."


According to Wladimiroff, "Vujin admitted that it was he who gave the list of potential defence witnesses to Simo Drljaca. And Vujin explained that he thought it would help tracking down the witnesses. I regarded that as absurd given that Vujin was aware, just like me, of Drljaca's attitude to my investigations... After Drljaca had got the list, it was more difficult to approach people from the list."


When Wladimiroff finally managed to speak to two witnesses he had "a strong feeling that they were well prepared, as if someone had carefully choreographed them."


In an attempt to halt Drljaca's obstruction, Wladimiroff met with Radovan Karadzic at the end of 1995. The meeting was agreed by Vujin, who also drove him to meet Karadzic, further underlining Vujin's contacts in Republika Srpska. However, despite Karadzic's promises that he would 'rein in' the Prijedor police chief, "Drljaca continued to obstruct our work," Wladimiroff said last week. As Wladimiroff came to see the full picture of what was going on, he said he "lost trust in Vujin". They "parted nicely" after a certain period of time. Vujin's counsel in the hearing before the Appeal Chamber, Belgrade lawyer Vladimir Domazet, tried to persuade the judges that Vujin "considered Drljaca incorrect," but that he kept approaching him anyway as he needed the police's help to find potential witnesses.


Domazet noted that while Vujin did indeed give the list to Drljaca, he stressed that Wladimiroff had sent the same list to the Banja Luka lawyer Krstan Simic, as well as to the brothers of Dusko Tadic. Domazet also attempted to dispute Wladimiroff's professionalism, claiming that he had failed to present evidence that might have helped Tadic. The Dutchman said that he and his team had felt the evidence in question would not hold up in court.


The presentation of arguments by Milan Vujin and the hearing of his witnesses began after the testimony of Michail Wladimiroff. That part of the hearing, as announced at the beginning, was held behind closed doors. One account described the events in courtroom as "exciting... like a second-rate crime movie". On Friday, the Appeals Chamber adjourned the Vujin contempt hearing until October 11.


Vujin's problems with the Tribunal do not end yet. Last week the Tribunal Registrar refused him permission to defend Radomir Kovac, accused of rape and sexual enslavement of Muslim women in Foca, Eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina. After his arrest by SFOR troops in August this year, Kovac chose Vujin as his defence counsel. But the Registrar, "considering that Mr. Vujin is formally charged with contempt of court... and that these proceedings are continuing," decided to refuse his assignment, concluding that "the interest of justice does not permit the assignment of a counsel as long as he is charged with contempt of the Tribunal".


As Kovac failed to name another defence counsel, the Registrar decided to assign Momir Kolesar, another Belgrade lawyer, as temporary defence counsel until further notice. In the meantime Kovac has been asked to pick another counsel or "to elect in writing that he intends to conduct his own defence".