Sase Dimovski, Denis Dzidic, Josip Ivanovic, Edona Peci, Marija Ristic
Former Yugoslav countries have spent almost 40 million euro of public money supporting war crimes suspects on trial at the Hague Tribunal, a BIRN investigation has revealed
The two countries which have lavished the most public money on suspects standing trial for war crimes at the International Criminal for the Former Yugoslavia are Croatia, which has spent over 28 million euro on three defendants, and Macedonia, which spent an estimated 9.5 million euro on just two men, BIRN has learned.
Macedonia’s internal conflict with Albanian rebels in 2001 only lasted for around six months, and as a result only two Macedonians were indicted by the UN-backed court in The Hague, but the impoverished Balkan state spent millions on defending, supporting and lobbying for interior minister Ljube Boskoski (who was ultimately acquitted of war crimes) and policeman Johan Tarculovski (who was convicted).
Croatia meanwhile spent more than 28 million euro on defence costs alone for its three generals, Ante Gotovina, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak, who were all ultimately acquitted.
Both countries made it state policy to defend their ICTY indictees and spent huge sums to give them the best chances of being freed. The apparent aim was to defend their wartime heroes, score political points at home and prevent any further damage to their international image.
The other three countries in the former Yugoslavia have spent lesser sums on larger numbers of suspects, but the total amount spent on wartime officers who were arrested and made to answer to the international court for some of the worst atrocities committed in Europe since World War II still comes to almost 40 million euro.
Shadowy, unaccountable funds also collected cash through public appeals to aid war crimes suspects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, but it remains unclear exactly how much money they raised and how it was spent.
Defending wartime ‘heroes’
Serbia spent 1.7 million euro of state money from 2004 to 2013 on personal allowances and doctors’ bills for the accused and travel costs for their families, rather than on their defence teams.
But BIRN’s survey revealed that out of the 26 indictees currently being paid by Belgrade, 18 of them are actually Bosnian Serb military officers who have Serbian citizenship, including General Ratko Mladic – despite the fact that Serbia firmly denies that it played any part in the Bosnian war.
A total of 640,000 euro was sent from Bosnia and Herzegovina to aid indictees, but all of this came from the Serb-led part of Bosnia, Republika Srpska, and went to help Serb suspects. Money has also been donated to families of Serb indictees through a fund called Pomoc (Help), although it has published no accounts to indicate what exactly was raised and how the money was spent.
With its difficulties in coming to any political consensus, Bosnia’s other political entity, the Bosniak-Croat Federation, has given nothing to help Bosniak or Croat suspects, officials said.
Kosovo meanwhile spent nothing on defending its six war crimes indictees, officials told BIRN, laying out a mere 16,750 euro on a welcome-home party for suspects who were acquitted.
However more than 1.5 million euro was raised to help two prominent ex-Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas turned politicians, Ramush Haradinaj and Fatmir Limaj, through public appeals which collected money in untransparent funds.
These funds also never publicly accounted to their donors for what they received or spent. BIRN managed to establish partial figures through ICTY documents and from a corruption case in Pristina over alleged improper management of the fund for Haradinaj.
In Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia, BIRN obtained its data for this investigation from public information requests.
But the other two countries – the ones that spent the most – were reluctant to give a full breakdown of what had been paid out, perhaps due to public sensitivity about lavish spending amid tough economic times in the Balkans.
Macedonia declined to give any information at all about what it had paid to support its two Hague defendants, and BIRN’s estimate of Skopje’s state spending was assembled from interviews and anonymous briefings from a range of official and legal sources within the country, as well as the few statements that are on record.
“I tried to get the data that you asked for, but I was immediately told that it’s strictly confidential and that I should not ask,” a Macedonian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told BIRN.
The 9.5 million euro spent by Macedonia from 2006 to 2013 includes 3.5 million for a US defence team led by celebrity US lawyer Alan Dershowitz, and 2.5 million for lobbying.
Croatia failed to supply any more than the already-known sum of 28 million euro spent on the defence of three of its generals who were acquitted of war crimes, despite its legal obligation to do so under public information legislation.
No information was provided on any other payments, for instance to Bosnian Croat indictees accused of atrocities during the Bosnian war who are also Croatian citizens. It is still unclear whether Zagreb helped to support these men or not.
Neither was there any official confirmation of the amount that the Croatian state spent on engaging US company Patton Boggs to do lobbying work on the generals’ case.
The Foundation for the Truth About the Croatian Homeland War, a private fund set up to aid the generals and defend their actions during wartime, has also published no accounts, although one of its promoters has said that it collected 1.1 million euro in its first year alone.
The official payments to aid Hague defendants have often been described by the states that made them as humanitarian efforts to support citizens on trial abroad.
But they were also made for political reasons, said Roland Kostic, a Balkans expert at Uppsala University in Sweden.
“The cases before [the ICTY] are seen by the countries of ex-Yugoslavia as a fight for their own truth, in which every state sees its opportunity to prove that their truth is the right one,” Kostic said.
Providing funding for war crimes suspects, however lavish, is not illegal. The chief prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal, Serge Brammertz, told BIRN that it is “up to sovereign states to decide for themselves how they want to spend money”.
But he noted that many victims of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, who often struggle to gain compensation from their cash-strapped and recession-hit states, often feel a sense of injustice when they see governments funnel money to battlefield commanders.
“I can understand the frustration of victims who see there are amounts of money invested in the defence of potential war criminals, many of whom get convicted afterwards,” Brammertz said.