Australia has approved the extradition of a Serbian war crimes suspect to Croatia over allegations of torture and murder during Zagreb’s war of independence from 1991 until 1995, officials said yesterday.
Dragan Vasiljkovic, known as “Captain Dragan,” was a paramilitary commander with a Serbian rebel group opposed to Croatian independence from Yugoslavia. The Belgrade-born Australian citizen denies war crimes.
Vasiljkovic’s fate fell into the hands of Australian Justice Minister Jason Clare after losing an appeal against a November 2010 court ruling that he could be extradited.
A spokeswoman for Clare’s office yesterday said that the minister had determined that the war crimes suspect should be surrendered to face prosecution, adding that Vasiljkovic could seek review of the decision.
Vasiljkovic was first arrested in Australia in 2006 after Zagreb requested his extradition and he spent nearly four years behind bars until the Australian Federal Court blocked his surrender over possible prejudice in Croatia’s justice system.
He was released on bail in September 2009, but went missing the following March after a court cleared his extradition to face Croatian justice.
He spent more than 40 days on the run before police tracked him down to New South Wales’ north coast and sent him to a prison in Sydney.
He has since been fighting his extradition in the courts.
His lawyer, Bruce Dennis, said Vasiljkovic, also known as Daniel Snedden, was “just devastated” at the news.
“Because he is someone who is a hero in Serbia, but a villain across the border in Croatia, it’s very difficult for him to get a fair trial,” Dennis told the Australian newspaper.
Australia has never extradited an accused war criminal.
In August, a 90-year-old man accused of being a Nazi war criminal won his fight to stay in Australia after the Australian High Court ruled he could not be extradited to Hungary because war crimes were not covered under Hungarian law at the time of the alleged offense.