Dragan Vasiljković

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Dragan Vasiljković
Dragan Vasiljković.jpg
Vasiljković (middle) with Savo Štrbac (right)
Native name Драган Васиљковић
Nickname(s) Captain Dragan
Born (1954-12-12) 12 December 1954 (age 60)
Belgrade, Serbia, Yugoslavia
Allegiance Serbian Krajina
Years of service 1991–1995
Rank Captain
Unit Knindže

Dragan Vasiljković (Serbian Cyrillic: Драган Васиљковић, born 12 December 1954) nicknamed Captain Dragan (Serbian: Kapetan Dragan/Капетан Драган) was a founder and captain of the Serbian paramilitary unit called the Knindže (Knin ninjas, Red berets).[1] He is accused of committing war crimes by the Republic of Croatia during the Croatian War of Independence, and subsequently issued an arrest warrant by Interpol.[2] He was arrested in Australia in January 2006,[3] and ordered to prison by the High Court of Australia in anticipation for extradition to Croatia to face prosecution for his alleged crimes.[4][5] He was extradited to Croatia on 8 July 2015 after losing his thirteenth appeal.[3]

Early life[edit]

Dragan Vasiljković was born on 12 December 1954 in a Serbian Orthodox family in Belgrade.[6] His father Živorad died in a motorcycle accident while Dragan was still young.[6] At the age of 3, his mother moved to Australia with her two children from a previous marriage, and Vasiljković ended up in an orphanage and later a foster home.[6] At the age of thirteen he joined his mother and two siblings in Australia under the name Daniel Snedden.[7] As a juvenile, he ended up in trouble with the law several times: one time he was accused of robbery and selling stolen goods, a second time he was charged with forcing women into prostitution.[6] At the suggestion of a judge, he joined the army. He spent 4 years in the Australian Army's reserve unit 4th/19th Prince of Wales's Light Horse. After his military service, he served as a weapons instructor in Africa and South America. He was sailing around the world and stayed in Serbia in 1988 where he set up a boat and airplane charter business.[citation needed] He was convicted of criminal charges in relation to brothel ownership in Elsternwick, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia during the 1980s.[8] He also worked as a golf instructor in Australia.

War in Croatia[edit]

He returned to Belgrade in May 1990, as Croatia held its first democratic parliamentary elections.[9][10] In Belgrade, Captain Dragan met Saša Medaković, one of the leaders of the barricades in Krajina following the "Log Revolution" in August.[10] Medaković was a friend of Knin chief of police Milan Martić, and was an employee of Krajina state security. Captain Dragan visited Krajina in the autumn 1990.[10] There, he met Martić and claimed that the defence of Krajina appeared "very disorganised".[10] He thus decided to help organise the Krajina defence. On his return to Belgrade, he attempted to gather support for his effort, and became a member of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement.[citation needed] He then returned to the United States to complete his aviator training.[10]

During the March 1991 Belgrade upheaval when the Serbian Renewal Movement's challenge to the government was met with tanks in the streets, Captain Dragan was compelled to return there. Again, Milovanov had him in contact with Serbian State Security personnel, among them Franko Simatović.[10] Simatović told him of his Krajina-related activities that if his bosses were to learn about it, he would probably be arrested and dismissed.[citation needed] On 4 April, Captain Dragan went to Krajina to work for Milan Martić.[11]

On 25 June 1991, Croatia proclaimed its independence; soon after, war broke out in Croatia. He served during the Croatian War of Independence under the newly created Republic of Serbian Krajina as a volunteer; International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia prosecutors claim that this service took place under Serbian police auspices, and media even reported that he claimed this during his testimony at the Slobodan Milošević trial in 2003. Milošević asked him of this, and to this he replied "I was speaking exclusively of the Service of Krajina, the Police of Krajina or the Army of Krajina or the JNA until the Vance plan".[citation needed]

Asked if "at any time was there a unit of the MUP (Ministry of the Internal Affairs) of Serbia?" in Krajina with him, he replied that Jovica Stanisic once made an informal visit and Frenki Simatović came three or four times.[citation needed] He was asked if Stanisic and Simatovic ever gave him any orders.[citation needed] He replied that they did not and were in no position to, and did not know nor were they qualified to know.[citation needed]

He commanded special units known as Red Berets (not to be confused with the Special Operations Unit (JSO) founded in Serbia in 1996) or Knindže after the Krajina's capital of Knin and ninja fighters.[10] He trained units at Krajina's Golubić training camp for which he was allegedly paid by the State Security Service of Serbia;[12] he denied this at the Milosevic trial, despite his role as a prosecution witness. He added that the only time that the Serbian State Security paid him was for a 28-day stint in 1997 "to monitor exercises"; his fee was 2,200 dinars.[13] He was allied with Interior Minister Milan Martić in his power struggle with president Milan Babić, whom he described as "dishonest, a man who was not of his word."[14] Martić, in contrast, he considered to be "a man of honour and a man of his word."[14] In November 1991, Babić called Vojislav Šešelj to Knin to help him thwart what he believed to be a coup attempt being planned by Captain Dragan himself.[citation needed] According to Šešelj, "Captain Dragan interfered and started a rebellion among the army ranks", and organised a rally of military personnel.[citation needed] Šešelj toured the front lines and in the media explained to people that "those who want internal conflicts while an armed clash is still going on cannot be friends of the Serb people."[citation needed] The rally, Šešelj said, proved a failure and Babic remained in power.[15] Šešelj also testified at the Milosevic trial that Captain Dragan had a training camp in Golubic.[16] Vasiljković ran for president of Serbia in 1992, placing fourth with 1.86% of the vote.[citation needed]

During the war, he founded the Fond Kapetan Dragan aimed at helping victims of war.[13]

Life in Serbia[edit]

After the end of combat in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vasiljković returned to Serbia where he lived for several years.[citation needed]Vasiljković was involved in the Serbian Renewal Movement.[17] He maintained his friendship with Franko Simatović, and in 2001 stated that he would defend him in court if necessary.[18] Simatović was arrested and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2003.[citation needed] Vasiljković reemerged in the spotlight after he testified against Slobodan Milošević in 2004 at the ICTY, and subsequently moved back to Perth, Western Australia.[19]

Allegation[edit]

In September 2005 an article in The Australian newspaper accused Dragan Vasiljković of war crimes as a Serbian paramilitary commander between 1991 and 1994.[20] Vasiljković made a short return to Serbia and held a press conference in Belgrade before returning to Australia.[21] He then lodged a public defamation case against the publishing company Nationwide News for the article, but in December 2009 the court ruled in favor of Nationwide News and ordered Vasiljković to pay them $1.2 million.[22]

Vasiljković was arrested on the basis of a Croatian warrant in January.[23] He is accused by the Republic of Croatia of being responsible for soldiers under his command allegedly torturing, beating and killing captured members of Croatian Army and Police between June and July 1991 in a prison on the fortress in Knin,[24] and also for making plans to attack and take over the Glina Police station, a near city village Jukince and the villages Gornji i Donji Viduševac in February 1993 at Benkovac (in agreement with the commander of the tank unit JNA).[25] It is alleged during that attack, against the Geneva convention, civil buildings were damaged and ruined, Croatian citizens were forced to escape, their property requirements of as robbed and civilians, were wounded and killed, among them German journalist Egon Scotland.[26] Those accusations were made public after the newspaper The Australian reported a story about him.[20] Dragan subsequently sued The Australian for defamation.[27] In July 2007, the Supreme Court held that 6 out of 10 imputations in that article were defamatory (The Australian – Majority rules Dragan defamed).[citation needed] However, in December 2009, a judge ruled that Captain Dragan "committed torture and rape" and that The Australian article from 2005 proved that Vasiljković participated and committed the allegations against him.[28][29]

Vasiljković gave evidence during the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague in 2003 without immunity.[30] The ICTY Hague Tribunal had named Vasiljković as a "participant in a joint criminal enterprise" against Croats and other non-Serbs in the judgement against Milan Martic, but did not request his arrest.[31]

All of the others named are either already on trial at the Hague or at large.[32] In 2005, ICTY spokesperson Florence Hartmann announced that Vasiljković had been under investigation, but that it had stopped due to the mandate on the tribunal to finish its work.[33]

Trial in Australia[edit]

In December 2006, Vasiljković's bid to prevent his extradition hearing from going ahead failed in the Sydney Magistrates Court.[34] His grounds of defense were that as a Serbian Captain, he believed that he would be facing a biased Croatian Court and that no evidence of the allegations are required under the Extradition Act 1988 (House of Commons Extradition Requirements – Section 10) for an Australian citizen to be extradited.[34]

On 12 April 2007, authorities in Sydney granted Croatia's extradition request, with Vasiljković being held pending appeal at Parklea Correctional Centre in its maximum security section on protection. By April 2007, the Serbian community of Australia had spent over $500,000 on Vasiljković's defence.[35]

On 3 February 2009 Vasiljković appeal against extradition to Croatia was rejected by the Federal Court of Australia.[36],[37] Among those coming to the defence of Vasiljković was the Serbian Orthodox bishop of Australia and New Zealand Irinej Dobrijević.[38]

On 2 September 2009 Federal Court of Australia ruled that "there was a substantial or real chance of prejudice" if he was extradited to Croatia, ordering release, pending appeal.[39] He subsequently walked free from Parklea prison in Sydney's west on 4 September 2009.[40]

The Australian government appealed the ruling, and in March 2010, the High Court of Australia overturned the Federal Court decision and ruled that Vasiljković should be extradited to Croatia.[41] After the ruling, Vasiljković was nowhere to be found, prompting the Australian Federal Police to launch a nationwide manhunt.[42][43]

Final arrest and appeals[edit]

Vasiljković was caught again by the Australian Federal Police at the Harwood slipyard on the Clarence River on 12 May 2010, having evaded police for 43 days.[44][45] Vasiljković had bought a yacht in which he had been living in and repairing with the intent to flee the country.[45] Intelligence received by the Netherlands police stated that Vasiljkovic sent his former lawyer Brad Slowgrove to the country to plead that his case be moved to the International Criminal Tribunal.[46] Slowgrove, had been disbarred from practicing law due to threatening NSW magistrate Allan Moore, who was hearing the Vasiljkovic extradition in 2006, with "severe personal consequences."[47] Because of this, he was flagged once entering the Netherlands, and Dutch police were able to provide information to Australian police that Vasiljković was still hiding in Australia. Vasiljković's location was tracked after he made a call to Franko Simatović at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.[48]

On 19 May, the Australian Court rejected Vasiljković's defence that Croatian courts would not give him a fair trial and that claims that Croatian courts had been more lenient towards Croats were "scanty" and "feeble".[49][50] Australia's Federal Court upheld the ruling four months later, rejecting an appeal made by Vasiljković.[51]

On 16 November 2012 the Australian Government and prime minister Julia Gillard decided to extradite Vasiljković to Croatia. The decision is the first war crimes extradition conducted by Australia.[52] Vasiljković appealed the decision, but on 12 December 2014 the Full Federal Court rejected the appeal, clearing him for extradition to Croatia.[53][54]

On 15 May 2015 the High Court of Australia refused Vasiljković leave to appeal the December 2014 Federal Court ruling because of the unlikelihood of a successful outcome for him. Following this refusal, Vasiljković had no remaining legal avenues to challenge his extradition.[55]

Extradition[edit]

On the morning of 8 July 2015 Australia surrendered Vasiljković to Republic of Croatia police officers at Sydney Airport, his thirteen separate legal challenges against the extradition process having failed.[3][56] Upon arrival at Zagreb International Airport the following day he was transferred by high-security police motorcade to an isolated wing of a gaol in Split, where he will be prosecuted.[57]

Trial in Croatia[edit]

At his first interview with prosecutors he stated that he did not feel guilty of the war crimes that they allege he committed, and dismissed his state-appointed attorney.[57]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Real Captain Dragan". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2015. 
  2. ^ Interpol Red Notice, Last modified on 26 Mar 2009
  3. ^ a b c "Captain Dragan: Serbian war crimes suspect Dragan Vasiljkovic extradited from Australia". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. 8 July 2015. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  4. ^ "High Court orders Australian to Croatia". The Sydney Morning Herald. 30 March 2010. 
  5. ^ Ansley, Greg (14 May 2010). "War crimes suspect hunted down". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 29 September 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Tko je Dragan Vasiljković, poznatiji kao ‘Kapetan Dragan’?". Narod.hr. 8 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Selma Milovanovic, Sydney (8 July 2015). "Captain Dragan’ extradited from Australia to face Croatian court over alleged war crime". News.com.au. 
  8. ^ Selma Milovanovic, Sydney (7 May 2009). "Ex-Serb soldier claims to be hero". The Age. 
  9. ^ "Captain Dragan: Serbian war crimes suspect Dragan Vasiljkovic extradited from". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 October 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "ICTY Transcript, 19 February 2003". The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 19 February 2003. 
  11. ^ "Icty – Tpiy :". United Nations. 5 March 2007. 
  12. ^ "ICTY: Prosecutor vs. Milan Martić (pg. 51–52)" (PDF). United Nations. 5 March 2007. 
  13. ^ a b "Icty – Tpiy :". United Nations. 5 March 2007. 
  14. ^ a b "ICTY Transcript, 20 February 2003". The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 20 February 2003. 
  15. ^ "Icty – Tpiy :". United Nations. 5 March 2007. 
  16. ^ Archived October 27, 2004 at the Wayback Machine[dead link]
  17. ^ "Kapetan Dragan: Od imigranta do komandanta". Vesti-online.com. 
  18. ^ The Bloody Red Berets, Time
  19. ^ "Dragan Vasiljkovic at Trial Watch". Trial-ch.org. 
  20. ^ a b War crimes accused teaching in Perth, Natasha Robinson and Paige Taylor, The Australian, 8 September 2005. [1]
  21. ^ Vijesti, Beograd, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
  22. ^ "War crimes accused Dragan Vasiljkovic to pay $1.2m defamation court costs". The Australian. 28 September 2012. 
  23. ^ "Captain Dragan: Serbian war crimes suspect Dragan Vasiljkovic extradited from Australia". ABC News. 8 July 2015. 
  24. ^ "Captain Dragan`s Victims Testify of War Crimes". Javno.com. 29 April 2009. 
  25. ^ Trial: Dragan Vasiljkovic
  26. ^ "Australian justice delayed denies war victims of Dragan Vasiljkovic". The Australian. 5 July 2014. 
  27. ^ "Dragan Vasiljkovic extradition order to Croatia set aside by judge". The Australian. November 22, 2013. 
  28. ^ "Captain Dragan Vaslijkovic 'committed torture and rape'". The Australian. 28 September 2012. 
  29. ^ Kim Arlington. "War criminal fails in defamation case". Brisbanetimes.com.au. 
  30. ^ Kim Arlington (25 October 2005). "Perth man prepared to face war crime claims". ABC. 
  31. ^ "Milan Martić sentenced to 35 years for crimes against humanity and war crimes". The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 12 June 2007. 
  32. ^ "ICTY: Martić sentence summary". United Nations. 5 March 2007. 
  33. ^ Hag odustao od Kapetana Dragana, B92
  34. ^ a b High Court of Australia - Republic of Croatia v Snedden, 19 May 2010
  35. ^ Serbians pushing for Vasiljkovic stay, The Sydney Morning Herald
  36. ^ "Trial Watch: Dragan Vasiljkovic (Kapetan Dragan, Captain Dragan", trial-ch.org. Retrieved 2009-03-05.
  37. ^ "Snedden v Republic of Croatia 2009 FCA 30 (3 February 2009)". Austlii.edu.au. 
  38. ^ No proof of Vasiljkovic's Serbian war crimes: bishop, The Australian
  39. ^ Taylor, Rob (2 September 2009). "Accused Serb commander can appeal in Australia". Reuters. 
  40. ^ Taylor, Rob (4 September 2009). "Suspected war criminal leaves Sydney jail". ABC.net.au. 
  41. ^ Australian police lose track of Serbian 'war criminal'
  42. ^ AFP unable to find war crimes suspect Captain Dragan Vasiljkovic, The Australian
  43. ^ "Police hunt for accused war criminal – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 
  44. ^ Lanai, By (13 May 2010). "Dragan Vasiljkovic captured after 43 days on run". News.com.au. 
  45. ^ a b "Captain Dragan Vasiljkovic left high and dry". The Australian. 28 September 2012. 
  46. ^ Selma Milovanovic and Kirsty Needham (14 May 2010). "'Captain Dragan' tried to make a deal". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  47. ^ Selma Milovanovic and Kirsty Needham (14 May 2010). "War crime suspect sought Hague help". The Age. 
  48. ^ "Kapetan Dragan lociran nakon poziva Frenkiju Simatoviću". Vecernji.hr. 
  49. ^ Kirsty Needham (20 May 2010). "Court rules to extradite Vasiljkovic for war trial". Brisbanetimes.com.au. 
  50. ^ "High Court rejected key Dragan Vasiljkovic evidence". The Australian. 28 September 2012. 
  51. ^ Accused Serb war criminal loses Australia extradition appeal. Reuters, 30 September 2011[dead link]
  52. ^ "Australci će izručiti Kapetana Dragana Hrvatskoj". Večernji list (in Croatian). 16 November 2012. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  53. ^ "Dragan Vasiljkovic ‘Captain Dragan’ faces Croatia extradition". The Australian. 12 December 2014. 
  54. ^ "Dragan Plea Too Little Too Late". The Australian. 29 November 2012. Retrieved 24 December 2012. 
  55. ^ "Alleged war criminal Daniel Snedden faces extradition to Croatia after last chance appeal fails". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. 15 May 2015. Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  56. ^ "NAKON DEVET GODINA Dragan Vasiljković u rukama hrvatske policije!". Dnevnik.hr. 8 July 2015. 
  57. ^ a b "Kapetan Dragan na ispitivanju: 'Nisam kriv!'". Dnevnik.hr. 10 July 2015. 
  • [2] – Extradition Act 1988 Croatian regulations
  • [3] – Submission by Dr David A Chaikin to the Inquiry into Australia's Extradition Law, Policy and Practice held by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.
  • [4]- Legal Objections under Extradition Act 1988 sec 7
  • [5] – Model Treaty on Extradition
  • [6] – Human Rights Watch discuss bias in the courts of the Former Yugoslavia
  • [7] – House of Commons Extradition Requirements (see section 10)

External links[edit]