- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia Lawyers paid by the United Nations to defend Yugoslav war-crimes suspects often face demands that they kick back a portion of their fees to the clients they are hired to represent.
As a result, the tribunal at The Hague has become a lucrative source of cash, not only for lawyers hired to defend soldiers and politicians accused of crimes against humanity, but also for the defendants and their families back home.
Officials at the U.N.-sponsored International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, as it is formally known, confirmed that they began investigating the practice this year. No details on their findings have been made public.
Such charges are likely to resonate in the United States, which pays 23 percent of the regular U.N. budget, from which the tribunal gets nearly $100 million annually.
In all but a few cases one exception being former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who is defending himself the tribunal pays defendants' lawyers a tax-exempt salary of as much as $200,000.
Hardly any lawyers can expect to get appointed unless they agree to share the fee with the client, said Zika Rakonjac, author of a forthcoming book on Yugoslav lawyers who practice at The Hague tribunal.
He said 1,000 people, including family members of those on trial, have benefited from the money.
"I know of families who used the money obtained from the lawyers to open up supermarket chains, luxury shops and pharmacies, and three coffee shops are currently being built," Mr. Rakonjac said in a recent interview.
"One of the lawyers told me that his client did not ask for a penny, but he had helped his [clients] family through various donations amounting to 80,000 deutsche marks," Mr. Rakonjac said.
The euro replaced the German mark earlier this year at a rate of two marks to one euro. When converted to dollars at the present exchange rate, the amount would be about $37,000.
Mr. Rakonjac said war-crimes defendants usually ask for a kickback of as much as 30 percent but in most cases settle for 10 percent to 15 percent.
"Everyone wants their cut Serbs, Croats and Muslims alike. The entire floor of the detention center in Scheveningen heard not too long ago when a Croat said to his counsel: 'If you don't give 10,000 deutsche marks [about $4,600] to my wife, I'll have you removed from the roster'" of appointed defense lawyers.
In May, Krstan Simic, a lawyer from Republika Srpska, the Serbian republic within Bosnia-Herzegovina, told a daily that Zoran Zigic, a Serb accused of crimes in the Omarska detention camp, is building a house with money from two of his defense attorneys.
Reports of financial arrangements between lawyers and defendants surfaced during the trial of Dusko Tadic, the first suspect to be tried by the tribunal.
In 1996, Mr. Tadic dismissed his attorney, Milan Vujin, accusing him in the courtroom of deliberately withholding evidence that was favorable to the defendant.
Mr. Vujin was subsequently fined and deleted from the tribunal's roster.
But Mr. Vujin's colleagues, who asked for anonymity, said the conflict revolved around money and that Mr. Tadic used the accusation as a means of revenge.
Mr. Vujin had refused to buy and equip a deli in Republika Srpska on Mr. Tadic's behalf, his colleagues said.
Privately, many lawyers in Belgrade concede that money has been at the heart of most disputes between attorneys and their clients. Some have begun to speak out.
Branislav Tapuskovic, chairman of the Administrative Board of the Chamber of Lawyers of Serbia, said that partly from his own experience he has no doubts the practice is widespread.
"Three years ago, when I defended Zdravko Mucic, one of the co-defendants on the case, Esad Landzo, changed his lawyer all of a sudden. This was then discussed at a special tribunal session.
"I was there when Landzo's lawyer, Mustafa Brackovic, stated in front of the tribunal that Landzo had fired him because he refused to share the honorarium with him," Mr. Tapuskovic said.
Mr. Brackovic confirmed the account.
"Landzo demanded that I 'support' him with 6,000 deutsche marks a month," he said. Six thousand marks is about $2,750.
"He even put that in writing as an indirect condition for me to continue representing him," he said. "I didn't want to even discuss it. The Trial Chamber overruled my dismissal, but I then resigned because the whole thing was morally unacceptable."
The "racket has been going on the whole time," Mr. Brackovic said.
"Everyone knows about it, but obviously those involved are not keen to talk about it in public."
Toma Fila, a Belgrade lawyer who represents a war-crimes suspect, flatly denied that the practice exists.
"I think the stories originate from less successful lawyers or those who are unscrupulous in their efforts to get paid. Those who have no integrity in Belgrade won't have any integrity in The Hague either," Mr. Fila said.
"I've been rumored to have offered half of my fee to my client Mladjo Radic, but the truth is that I have represented him for three years now and haven't given him a share of my fee.
"But there is something you need to understand: Every honest person would help the defendants' families to survive and to see their relatives in Scheveningen at least once a year.
"A visit to The Hague, including travel and accommodation costs, comes to 2,000 deutsche marks [about $900]. This is no concession to blackmail but rather an act of good will and a sign of a humane attitude," Mr. Fila said.
Nenad Petrusic, legal counsel to Gen. Radislav Krstic, a Bosnian Serb recently found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica, said he would never agree to work on a tribunal case if a defendant demanded kickbacks from him.
"Gen. Krstic is an extremely honest, fair and highly ethical man, and something like that, I'm positive, would have never occurred to him. But I'll be frank with you. I'm renting an apartment in The Hague, and when I'm not there, my client's family members have it at their disposal. They have no money to pay for a hotel, and I don't think I'm breaking any regulations by offering to let them stay there," Mr. Petrusic said.
Tribunal officials say lead counsels on even the least complex cases can expect to make around $77,000 in pretrial phases, $100,000 during trials; and as much as $50,000 during appeals. In the most complicated cases, the figures double, officials at The Hague said.
The Netherlands has exempted the fees from taxes.


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