Verdict: Life Imprisonment

The news on the murder of the former director of the big Croatian oil company “Ina”, Stjepan Djurekovic, was published by the press in Croatia some two weeks later, by mid-August 1983. Dr. Franjo Tudjmen, a Croatian President later on, found it in “Danas” weekly, a weekly with more publicity. On the following day, he entered in his personal diary that “yes, the writer wished to reject the statements of certain foreign media that the Yugoslavian secret police stands behind the murder” and adds “that trails lead to Yugoslavia, and asks the German Government for how much more it will tolerate such activities of Yugoslav authorities.”

Yesterday, on August 3 2016, the Provincial Court in Munich convicted Josip Perkovic and Zdravko Mustac for life imprisonment for the murder of Stjepan Djurekovic. The basic motive for these two, as evaluated by the Court, allegedly, was the removal of the political opponent of the regime. Not the terrorist, as stated in the verdict by the President of the Court Manfred Dauster, but a separatist and enemy of the government.

First criminal charges against Perkovic accusing him of, allegedly, as the chief of secret service in former Yugoslavia, organizing liquidations of Croatian emigrants, was filed in 1994 by one of the officials of the Croatian head intelligence service. State attorney of the Republic of Croatia announced three years later that based on such charges orders were issued for the initiation of investigation, that none of these investigations confirmed stated suspicions and that this caused the rejection of the criminal charges. It seemed that it will end at that. But, already in 2005 the German prosecutors reopened the case and pleaded Croatian services for help in receiving a series of different documents. Then the complications came, truth be told, not instantly, but they came. Requirement of certain documents, namely, implied that the Perkovic case is not only referring to judicial system, but to politics to some extent, as well.

Republic of Croatia was just about to enter the European Union when the Prime Minister at that time Zoran Milanovic presented a proposal of the Law on Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Proceedings with EU Member States. The real purpose of this legislative endeavor was covered on one of the Articles of the Law regulating that a European warrant for detainment of persons on the territory of Republic of Croatia cannot be valid for criminal offenses committed before 2002. In addition to the instant response of the European Commission that such exclusion cannot be allowed, Milanovic insisted.

By the end of June 2013 I was in Brussels. I was following the statement of the Croatian Prime Minister before the meeting of the Council of Europe and Croatian festivities regarding the full membership in the EU, where he explained that Angela Merkel knows absolutely nothing about Perkovic case, and thus, cancellation of the visit to Zagreb on her side regarding the big European celebration is only a matter related to the fact that the issue of expansion of Europe is not the most favorite subject in Germany. But, of course, it wasn’t anything like that. The Vice President of the European Commission Vivienne Redding insisted that Croatia must honor accepted international agreements, therefore, agreements confirmed in the process of EU negotiations, and especially the one related to the European warrant to detainment (arrest). In spite of it all, it seemed that the summer months intendent for rest and holidays, July and August 2013, will somehow push the disputed legal topic to the back. Until quite unexpected statement arose, forwarded by Redding through its spokesperson. The message to Milanovic’s Government was completely unambiguous and after it, there was no more room for further explanations. It was quite either-or. Redding said, I quote, that it is unacceptable that the criminals suspected of murders of Croatian dissidents in other countries of Europe, during the communist regime, still hide behind the borders of Croatia, that actions of Croatia represent serious violation of the legal order of the European Union, and that, pursuant to this, sanctions should be introduced against Croatia. Only a few days later, we are still in August 2013, Milanovic writes to the President of the European Commission at that time and pleads for protection, confirming at the same time, as did the Minister of Justice Orsat Miljenic in his simultaneous letter to Redding, that the Croatian Government will withdraw disputed parts of the Law and it shall harmonize it with the European legal order, as well as all accepted obligations in the EU membership negotiations. Perkovic was extradited to German judicial institutions in accordance with the European warrant to detainment.
Understanding of the yesterday’s verdict opens several sets of related questions. To start from the obvious and of most interest to the German Court and that is the method of decision making the Croatian secret service and, primarily, on the existence and the type of connection of the service management with the only ruling party in Zagreb at that time.

I have written about this before. This is why today I am interested in just a small portion of a vast verdict of the German court, that is, the one that is usually left aside, not interesting for lawyers and judges, the one remaining completely within politics. I am interested in the relationship between Josip Perkovic and later Croatian President Dr. Franjo Tudjman. Of course, they did not know each other at the time of the brutal murder of Djurekovic, but only a couple of years later they became very close associates.

Again, we must go a couple of years back. In the most unusual of times, in times we believed everything is possible, in the second half of the eighties.
Darko Hudelist, who wrote the biography of the late Croatian President, set an interesting evaluation that Tudjman, as early as 1986 or at least 1987 knew he would become the President of Croatia. Not only did he know, he had a detailed plan on how to achieve it. A part of this plan was the visit to Croatian emigration in Canada, Toronto. But, there was an obstacle. A passport was very difficult to come by. The procedure was ultimately complicated. In the entire operation of issuing documents to the long term dissident and political prisoner Tudjman the decisive role, allegedly, was played by his Partizan time buddy and senior Yugoslav official at that time Mika Spiljak as well as one of the bosses of National Security Josip Perkovic. He was the operating officer that opened, during the first plenum of the HDZ party, in the former country, the borders of the Zagreb airport Pleso, for a series of participants that certainly could not have received a Yugoslav entry visa. This is where Tudjman and Perkovic met. However, this was not the only reason Tudjman named Perkovic the chief of secret service in the independent state and charged him with a series of subordinated and related tasks. The real reason was the belief of the first President of Croatia that the transition was over with the Croatian independence. This is why he never allowed adoption of any law on lustration. All attempts of this kind were terminated by his party. Tudjman was convinced that the independence of the country was related to conciliation. Conciliation of all, as he wrote, on the historic path of forming own country.
The Perkovic verdict is still not final. As his lawyers announced, they will appeal in the weeks to come.