|Franko Simatovic in court. Photo: MICT.|
The defence lawyer for Franko Simatovic told the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague on Tuesday that a prosecution military expert’s claim that the Serbian State Security Service, SDB engaged paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic was wrong.
Prosecution military expert Reynaud Theunens argued that documents issued by intelligence bodies of the Yugoslav People’s Army indicated that Vasiljkovic, alias Captain Dragan, “was engaged on behalf of the Serbian SDB”.
Simatovic, the former leading intelligence officer of the Serbian SDB, is on trial alongside along with the wartime chief of the service, Jovica Stanisic, accused of the persecution, murders and deportations of Croat and Bosniak civilians during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
According to the charges, the crimes were committed by paramilitary forces under the control of the Serbian SDB, including the Red Berets, Arkan’s Tigers and the Scorpions.
The prosecutors allege that Vasiljkovic trained the first Red Berets members in Knin in Croatia on behalf of the Serbian SDB in 1991.
Simatovic’s defence lawyer Mihajlo Bakrac denied the authenticity of similar military documents suggesting a link between the Serbian SDB and Serb paramilitary forces in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bakrac suggested that the documents were falsified by a special commission of the General Headquarters of the Yugoslav Army following the beginning of the Hague Tribunal’s trial of Slobodan Milosevic in order to free the army of responsibility for crimes committed by paramilitary forces during the Croatian and Bosnian wars.
But Theunens responded by saying that the military intelligence service’s information about the link between paramilitary forces and the Serbian SDB was confirmed in other wartime documents which he had analysed.
The defence cited a report by Simatovic issued in the spring of 1991 which said that Vasiljkovic had come to Belgrade under mysterious circumstances a year previously and that he had been in contact with an opposition party, the Serbian Renewal Movement. He had previously been living in Australia.
Defence lawyer Bakrac said that the Serbian SDB had Vasiljkovic under surveillance at the time and recorded a conversation in which he said he had “started a job for the Defence Ministry” of Yugoslavia.
Expert witness Theunens insisted however that Simatovic talked to Vasiljkovic at that time about engaging him as part of a plan that had already been put to him.
When asked if he had found any pieces of evidence about “a direct link between Simatovic and Captain Dragan after August 1992”, Theunens said no.
Bakrac also quoted a document which said Vasijkovic operated within the Territorial Defence of the Serbian Autonomous Region of Krajina, a wartime Serb rebel statelet, in Knin in 1991.
Theunens responded by saying that the Serbian authorities concealed their involvement in the conflict in Croatia at the time by using such smokescreens.
Captain Dragan was convicted by a Zagreb court last September of committing war crimes in Croatia, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Stanisic and Simatovic both pleaded not guilty in December 2015 after the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia overturned their acquittal in their first trial.
The appeals chamber ruled that there were serious legal and factual errors when Stanisic and Simatovic were initially acquitted of war crimes in 2013, and ordered the case to be retried and all the evidence and witnesses reheard in full by new judges.
Simatovic’s defence will continue cross-examining the prosecution’s expert witness on Wednesday.