UN court orders arrests in radical Serb leader's case

1st December 2015, Comments 0 comments

The Yugoslav war crimes court Tuesday unveiled arrest warrants issued for two lawyers of Serb ultra-nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj's defence team and a former war-time associate, accusing them of witness tampering.

Lawyers Petar Jojic and Vjerica Radeta, as well as Jovo Ostojic "have been charged with contempt of the Tribunal for allegedly having threatened, intimidated, offered bribes to, or otherwise interfered with two witnesses," the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said.

The Hague-based ICTY issued confidential arrest warrants against the three suspects in January, but as Belgrade had not carried out the orders, the judges decided Tuesday to make it public.

The warrants say Jojic and Ostojic approached a prosecution witness in Seselj's trial -- in which he faces ethnic cleansing charges against Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs during the region's bitter Balkan wars in the 1990s.

Jojic told the witness since he had given prosecutors a statement and he should also give the defence "a little statement," court papers said.

Lawyer Jojic then dictated a statement, which was occasionally corrected by Seselj's wartime associate Ostojic, but which was "untruthful in that it contained false allegations against the prosecution and misrepresented the role and responsibilities of Seselj during the war".

Seselj, a firebrand Serb nationalist, is accused of leading Serb volunteers to cleanse large parts of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia's northern Vojvodina region during the conflict in which more than 130,000 people died and millions of others were left homeless.

The witness "signed the statement without reading it" and was later told to memorise it when testifying in court.

In a second case, lawyer Radeta approached another prosecution witness and told him Seselj's lawyers "would help him," if he changed his testimony and came over to the defence's side.

The witness afterwards received a 500 euro ($530) per month payment, received from Seselj's Serbian Radical Party.

This witness too was handed a summary of questions and answers which he had to memorise during Seselj's own contempt of court trial.

Judges in 2012 handed Seselj a two-year jail term in the contempt case.

The ICTY said Tuesday it had requested Serbia to hand over the three suspects to be flown back to The Hague to stand trial.

Judges also requested Belgrade to "immediately report... if they are unable to execute this warrant of arrest and indicate the reasons for such non execution."

Meanwhile Seselj was allowed to travel back to Serbia last year to undergo cancer treatment pending a verdict in his main case.

Since his release, Seselj has repeatedly lashed out at the tribunal, vowing not to return for his sentencing or to serve any time, as well as resuming his fiery nationalist rhetoric.

Serbia's minister in charge with cooperation with the ICTY, Rasim Ljajic, said Belgrade was "surprised" with the announcement from The Hague.

"The tribunal's move is completely unexpected and surprising to us... only two months after releasing Vojislav Seselj from the Hague tribunal someone demands the arrest of these people," Ljajic was quoted by Tanjug news agency as saying.

"We expected that Seselj's verdict would be announced some time this year and it was logical that these people were tried for contempt of the tribunal at that time," Ljajic said, adding that this was the reason Serbia had not acted upon the ICTY's order since January, Tanjug said.

burs-jhe/pdw


© 2015 AFP

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