Court upholds Captain Dragan extradition appeal

SYDNEY -- A Sydney court has upheld an appeal by Dragan Vasiljković, better known as Captain Dragan, against his extradition to Croatia, where he's accused of war crimes.

Dragan Vasiljković (Beta, archive)
Dragan Vasiljković (Beta, archive)

The Australian Federal Court upheld Vasiljković’s appeal on the grounds that there was no “realistic chance“ of him receiving a fair trial if he was extradited to Croatia.

Previosuly, in February, a Federal Court judge had turned down Vasiljković’s appeal against a first-instance court ruling on his extradition to Croatia.

The judges today ordered the former Croatian Serb commander to be released from custody, but the decision was deferred until Friday to give lawyers representing the Croatian state time to decide whether or not to appeal the Federal Court’s ruling.

Vasiljković, who has Australian citizenship, has been in custody since his arrest in 2006 at the request of the Croatian authorities.

The crimes he is accused of in Croatia carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

The Australian court’s decision has attracted little interest from the authorities in Belgrade, while, by contrast, the Zagreb government has expressed its consternation at the ruling.

Vasiljković, who commanded a special operations unit within a Serb paramilitary unit, is accused of torturing, abusing and murdering Croat prisoners-of-war in a prison in Knin in 1991 and, again, in Bruškaj kod Benkovac in 1993.

Vasiljković has acknowledged that he was a commander of Serb forces, but he has denied ordering his troops to kill civilians during the war in Croatia between 1991 and 1993.