The Panel of the Supreme Court of the RoC, at its session held on 24 March 2009, rejected the appeal lodged by the State Attorney’s Office as unfounded and upheld the verdict of the War Crime Council of the Bjelovar County Court which, in the repeated proceedings, acquitted Željko Iharoš and Luka Perak who were charged with committing a crime in Virovitica.
In the indictment No. K-DO-62/01 dated 15 January 2001, the defendant Željko Iharoš, the defendant Ivan Vrban, the defendant Anđelko Kašaj and the defendant Luka Perak were charged that, in the time period between 1 November and 17 December 1991, in Virovitica, during an armed conflict between the armed forces of the RoC and the JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) and associated paramilitary formations, with the intent of forcible bringing, torture and killing of civilians, contrary to Article 4, paragraph 1, item a of the 2nd Protocol Additional from 1997 to the 1st Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War dated 12 August 1949, the 1st defendant Željko Iharoš, as commander of a military police platoon, ordered military policemen to forcibly bring, inter alia, civilians Bogdan Mudrinić, Ranko Mitrić, Rade Svorcan and Đuro Svorcan. Having interrogated the injured party Bogdan Mudrinić, the 1st defendant handed him over to military policemen, the 2nd defendant Ivan Vrban, the 3rd defendant Anđelko Kašaj and the 4th defendant Luka Perak, who beat him up in front of and inside the prison, as a result of which beating the injured party sustained serious injuries and died, after which his body was removed. Ranko Mitrić was forcibly brought from his work post, subjected to interrogation, beaten up and abused on several occasions, after which ordeal he was taken out of the prison and killed, and his body was thrown into the waste pipe by the trunk route No. 16. Đuro Svorcan and Rade Svorcan were forcibly brought, without legal grounds, by the military policemen to the military prison where they were interrogated on several days, threatened to be killed and abused by masked military policemen; on several occasions they were hit all over their bodies with rifle butts, rifles, truncheons, hands and legs, due to which ordeal the injured parties sustained numerous injuries with permanent consequences, of which the 1st defendant Željko Iharoš was aware, but did nothing to prevent it.
Bjelovar County Court
Case: war crime against civilians, Article 120, paragraph 1 of the Basic Criminal Law of the Republic of Croatia (hereinafter: the OKZ RH)
Indictment: issued by the Bjelovar County State’s Attorney’s Office, No. K-DO-62/01 dated 15 November 2001
The defendants: Žaljko Iharoš et al.
War Crime Council: Judge Milenka Slivar, Council President; Judge Božidar Iverac, Council member, Judge Davorka Hudoletnjak, Council member
Prosecuting attorney: Darko Žegarac, Bjelovar County Deputy State’s Attorney
Defence counsels: Mirko Petraš, a lawyer practising in Virovitica, Boris Kozjak, a lawyer practising in Virovitica, Silvije Degen, a lawyer practising in Zagreb,
Stjepan Vošćak, a lawyer practising in Virovitica
– died as a result of abuse: Bogdan Mudrinić
– abused, then killed: Ranko Mitrić
– abused: Rade Svorcan and Đuro Svorcan
Summary of the proceedings:
The Bjelovar County State’s Attorney’s Office issued the indictment No. K-DO-62/01 dated 15 November 2001, against the defendants charging them with a war crime against civilians.
The Bjelovar County Court passed the verdict No. K-55/01 dated 24 January 2002, which convicted the 2nd defendant, the 3rd defendant and the 4th defendant and sentenced each of them to one year in prison, while the 1st defendant was acquitted of charges.
The Supreme Court of the RoC, in its ruling No. I Kž-238/02 dated 6 November 2003, quashed the aforementioned verdict and reversed the case for a re-trial due to erroneously and incompletely established facts.
The repeated proceedings commenced on 19 October 2005 and concluded on 7 March 2006.
At the court hearing held on 19 October 2005, monitors noted the following problems:
1. The defendants were not detained, despite the fact that they were charged with a war crime against civilians, which is contrary to the provision of Article 102, paragraph 1, item 4 of the Criminal Procedure Act (hereinafter: the ZKP);
2. Evidence procedure: contrary to the provision of Article 238, paragraph 1 of the ZKP, which stipulates that witnesses are heard individually and without the presence of other witnesses, two witnesses, M.M. and N.B., monitored the hearing of other witnesses in the courtroom before they provided testimonies about the same circumstances as the previous witnesses;
3. The court records from the main hearing did not record the absence of the 3rd defendant’s defence counsel from the last section of that day’s hearing, or who replaced the absent defence counsel, which is a direct violation of the provision of Article 306 of the ZKP. This particular case involves trial for a war crime, for which a prison sentence in the duration of at least five years or a prison sentence in the duration of twenty years is prescribed and where, pursuant to the provision of Article 65, paragraph 1 of the ZKP, the defendant must have a defence counsel;
4. Neither the Council President nor the Bjelovar County Deputy State’s Attorney reacted when the 4th defendant verbally attacked the witness M. K. during the evidence procedure;
5. Neither the Council President nor the Bjelovar County Deputy State’s Attorney attempted to stop the hearing of witnesses in a manner that was incriminating towards the victims and witnesses – injured parties, but such incriminations were entered into the court records;
6. There were no members of the judicial police in the courtroom who could react in case of need.
On 7 March 2006, the War Crime Council published the verdict in which the defendants Željko Iharoš and Luka Perak were acquitted of charges that they had committed a war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH.
The Panel of the Supreme Court of the RoC, at its session held on 24 March 2009, rejected the appeal lodged by the State Attorney’s Office and upheld the first instance verdict.
You can see the verdict of the Supreme Court here. (in Croatian)
OPINION ON THE REPEATED FIRST INSTANCE PROCEEDINGS AND SUMMARY OF THE PROCEEDINGS
In the repeated proceedings, charges against Ivan Vrban and Anđelko Kašaj were dropped because the Bjelovar County State’s Attorney’s Office abandoned further criminal prosecution in this case. The acquitting verdict was passed against the defendant Željko Iharoš and Luka Perak, which the War Crime Council explained with the impossibility to establish, without reasonable doubt and on the basis of evidence presented, command responsibility of the defendant Željko Iharoš, i.e. individual responsibility of the defendant Luka Perak. Neither the Council nor the prosecuting attorney insisted on re-hearing some of the key prosecution witnesses, which required international cooperation on war crime issues with Serbia. Apart from that, they did not warn or question the circumstances of possible pressure by the defendants’ supporters or by the defendants themselves (they defended themselves at large) on those prosecution witnesses who changed their testimonies claiming that they had been placed under pressure during the investigation – claims which the Council rejected.
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