The Supreme Court of the RoC quashed the verdict of the Split County Court dated 9 June 2008 which, in the re-opened procedure against the defendant Mitar Arambašić, upheld the previous (legally valid) verdict in which the defendant was sentenced in 1997 in absentia to 20 years in prison for a war crime against civilians and a war crime against war prisoners.
The U.S.A. extradited Arambašić to Croatia in January 2006. He was arrested in South Dakota in 2002 on the basis of an international arrest warrant.
The defendant Mitar Arambašić and 38 other defendants were charged with committing a criminal act against the values protected by the international law – war crime against civilians referred to in Article120, paragraph 1 of the Basic Criminal Law of the RoC (hereinafter: the OKZ RH), while Rajko Radulović, Borko Radović, Željko Dragić, Milan Arambašić, Petar Krunić, Dragan Dragić, Stevan Četnik, Petar Arambašić, Dušan Stojsavljević, Mitar Arambašić, Dragan Arambašić, Milenko Ustić, Dragan Barišić and Dragan Petrović were also charged with committing a war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH.
The defendants were charged that in the period between 11 March 1991 and 4 August 1995, with the intention of expelling citizens of non-Serb ethnicity from several villages in Vrlika area according to a beforehand prepared plan, contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, they non-selectively shelled Croatian villages where there were no military bases and thus forced civilians to abandon their homes; they expelled people, intimidated and abused civilian population, looted their property, demolished and set on fire houses owned by Croats, tortured and killed war prisoners.
The defendant Mitar Arambašić was specifically charged with participation in setting up barricades on Vrlika roads; in the mining of Vrlika water-supply facility and telephone and electricity lines, whereby regular supply of civilian population with drinking water, electricity and telephone lines was cut off; he also participated in non-selective shelling of the following villages: Maljkovo, Potravlje, Satrić, Peruča, Hrvaci, the Peruča Hydroelectric Power Plant dam, Bitelić, Donji Jukići, Buljani, Rumin and Sinj, on which occasion the following persons were killed: Pavo Glavinić, Mara Vardić, Luča Cvitković, Jozo Budić, Petar Kudrić, Ivan Vidosavljević, Iva Mihaljević, Blaž Cvitković, Mara Cvitković, Iva Cvitković (the wife of Blaž), Ivan Knezović, Milica Jukić, Iva Jukić, Ana Jukić, Marijan Bešlić and Filip Bešlić; a total of 629 civilian facilities were demolished, while 1,468 were heavily damaged. The defendant was also charged with looting and setting on fire abandoned houses in occupied villages; the mining of the Peruča Hydroelectric Power Plant; torture and killing of the following war prisoners: Ivica Grubač, Bogoslav Lukić and Kažimir Abramović.
Split County Court
Case number: K-56/06
War Crime Council: Judge Spomenka Tonković, Council President; Judge Damir Primorac, D.Sc., Council member; Judge Bruno Klein, Council member
Indictment: legally valid verdict of the Split County Court, No. K-15/95 dated 26 May 1997, upheld by the verdict of the Supreme Court of the RoC No. Ikž-497/97 dated 1 June 2000 (indictment KT-121/95), an excerpt thereof filed under number K-DO-50/06
Prosecution: Michele Squiccimaro, Split County Deputy State’s Attorney
Criminal act: war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH and a war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH.
The defendant: Mitar Arambašić
Defence counsels: Jadran Franceschi, a lawyer practising in Split and Radovan Đujić, a lawyer practising in Knin, selected defence counsels of the defendant
Injured parties’ attorneys-in-fact: none
– killed civilians: Luca Cvitković, Jozo Budić, Ivan Vidosavljavić, Pava Glavinić, Mara Vardić, Petar Kudrić, Iva Cvitković, Iva Mihaljević, Blaž Cvitković, Mara Cvitković, Iva Cvitković (žena Blaža), Ivan Knezović, Milica Jukić, Iva Jukić, Ana Jukić, Marijan Bešlić and Filip Bešlić.
– killed war prisoners: Ivica Grubač, Bogoslav Lukić and Kažimir Abramović.
TRIAL MONITORING REPORT
The main hearing commenced on 22 March 2007. A total of 11 court hearings were held.
A total of 21 witnesses were heard on 29, 30 and 31 January 2008 via video-link at the Belgrade District Court: Marko Rnić, Slobodan Despinić, Rade Ustić, Petar Stojić, Nebojša Grajić, Dušan Arambašić, Petar Borković, Jagoda Dragić, Slobodan Zagorac, Dušan Borković, Đuro Toljagić, Dušan Rađen, Jovan Bilić, Zoran Petrović, Srećko Dragić, Drago Dragić, Slavenko Krunić, Đuro Vujasin, Milenko Ustić, Gojko Arambašić and Dragan Dragić.
During the evidence procedure, a total of five (5) witnesses were heard: Ankica Grubač, Stana Abramović, Petar Abramović, Marko Cvitković and Milan Stojsavljević.
The defendant pleaded not guilty and presented his defence at the end of the evidence procedure.
OPINION OF THE MONITORING TEAM
Representatives of the Centre for Peace, Non-violence and Human Rights – Osijek attended only some of the court hearings, therefore we are not able to provide opinion on the course of the entire procedure. The observations we are stating below in the text pertain to understanding of court practise related to re-opening of procedures in cases of in absentia trials.
When a defendant is sentenced in absentia, and the conditions have been created to try him in his presence, the Court will permit re-opening of the procedure and, at the same time, decide on forwarding the indictment to the defendant so that he could get acquainted with it, but not for the purpose of lodging a complaint because the complaint could have been lodged by the defence counsel upon receiving the indictment. The previously adopted verdict latently exists until a new verdict has been passed, which is why in the re-opened procedure the indictment is no longer subject to examination because, as such, it already became legally valid in the previous procedure. The defendant receives such an indictment exclusively to get acquainted with the criminal act with which he is charged and to prepare his defence.
The reason for stipulating the provision of Article 429 of the Criminal Procedure Act (hereinafter: the ZKP) as an exception, pursuant to which the defendant who was tried in absentia does not have to prove the existence of any of the legal bases referred to in Article 392 of the ZKP, is this: to render it possible to the convict to subsequently influence the result of establishing the facts which he was previously denied during the trial conducted in absentia. However, this also means that, if the convict, during the re-opened procedure, by way of amending his previous defence, as well as by his own initiative in the sense of amending the results of the evidence procedure, fails to bring into doubt the validly established facts in the previous procedure, the permitted repeating of the process must not lead to the change of the previous verdict, i.e. to its annulment (partially or entirely). When the defendant in the new procedure, conducted pursuant to a decision which permits re-opening of the criminal procedure, fails with his request to annul the previous verdict, either partially or entirely, the Court in that procedure is not authorised to alter the previous legally valid verdict in the decision on sentence, but such verdict must remain legally valid because, otherwise, the principle of legal validity would be violated.
On 9 June 2008, the War Crimes Council of the Split County Court pronounced a verdict No. K-56/06 by which, pursuant to Article 411, paragraph 3 of the Criminal Procedure Act it fully confirmed the verdict issued by the Split County Court No. K-15/95 of 26 May 1997, upheld by the verdict of the Supreme Court of the RoC No. Ikž-497/97 of 1 June 2000, by which verdict the defendant Mitar Arambašić was sentenced to a joint prison sentence in the duration of 20 (twenty) years due to a war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH and a war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH.
Detention against the defendant Mitar Arambašić was extended, and the time he had spent in the extradition detention from 5 September 2002 until 25 January 2006, the time he had spent serving the sentence from 26 January 2006 until 17 May 2006, as well as the time he had spent in detention from 18 May 2006 onwards was calculated into the pronounced sentence.
The Supreme Court of the RoC, at the public session held on 28 April 2009, quashed the verdict by the Split County Court and reversed the case for a re-trial.
You can see the ruling of the Supreme Court here. (in Croatian)
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