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UN Prosecutors Outline French Criminal History

Associated Press
August 23, 2007

U.N. prosecutors asked war crimes judges Thursday to reject a Croatian general's request for temporary release from custody, citing a little-known conviction for armed robbery in France. In their motion, the prosecutors said that Gen. Ante Gotovina was convicted by a French court in the 1980s and twice convicted in absentia in the 1990s, also in France, for attempted extortion and kidnapping.

Gotovina's lawyer, Luka Misetic, said he would seek to have the French papers removed from the prosecution document because no French official has vouched for their authenticity in court. He said he also will file a motion arguing that Gotovina was not involved in the crimes for which he was convicted in absentia and disputed the robbery conviction. "You can't just file these sorts of documents," Misetic said in a telephone interview. "You have to have a witness swear under oath that these documents are true."

The French documents were attached to the prosecution's response to Gotovina's motion for release from the U.N. detention facility where he is awaiting trial for alleged crimes during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s. No trial date has been set. Gotovina is charged with orchestrating the killing of 150 Serbs and the expulsion of at least 150,000 others during Zagreb's 1995 offensive to recapture lands seized by rebel Serbs. He has pleaded not guilty and many Croatians see him as a national hero.

Arguing that Gotovina should not be freed, prosecutors said his "past history demonstrates a determination to avoid standing trial." After being indicted in 2001, Gotovina fled Croatia and evaded arrest for more than four years until he was grabbed by Spanish authorities on the island of Tenerife. At the time of his arrest he was carrying two false passports with stamps showing he had traveled extensively during his time on the run. But prosecutors say his days as a fugitive from justice go back even to before the wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia. Gotovina was arrested in 1984 and convicted of armed robbery based on a warrant issued two years earlier, prosecutors said, citing French records. He also was convicted in absentia by French courts for attempted extortion allegedly committed in July 1989 and for unlawful confinement and abduction and aiding and abetting extortion in October 1990. He was sentenced to 30 months and two years imprisonment in the cases, but has served neither sentence, prosecutors said.

Referring to his four years as a fugitive from the Hague-based U.N. war crimes court, prosecutors urged judges not to release him pending trial. "After the intense international efforts dedicated to securing Gotovina's arrest, it would be contrary to the interests of justice to give him another chance to flee," the prosecution motion said.

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