MUNICH Germany (Reuters) - Two former Yugoslav intelligence chiefs went on trial in Munich on Friday, charged with masterminding the murder of a Yugoslav dissident in the southern German state of Bavaria more than three decades ago.
Croats Josip Perkovic, 69, and Zdravko Mustac, 72, top officials in the communist-era Yugoslav secret service, are accused of planning the murder of Stjepan Durekovic, also a Croat, who was found dead of gunshot wounds and head injuries in a garage in the town of Wolfratshausen in 1983.
“Durekovic belonged to a group of leading Yugoslav dissidents living in what was then West Germany, who were the targets of a systematic assassination program by the Yugoslav secret services,” prosecutor Wolf-Dieter Dietrich told a Munich court.
Prosecutors allege that Durekovic’s murder was ordered by a leading Yugoslav politician. Durekovic’s dissident activities may have appeared to be the motive for his murder, but the politician actually wanted to prevent Durekovic from disclosing his son’s illegal business dealings in the state-owned petrol company INA, according to the indictment.
Durekovic once ran the INA before leaving for the West.
Dietrich said Mustac had passed on the assassination order to one of his deputies, Perkovic, who then contacted an agent active in Germany.
That agent, the owner of the garage who had managed to win Durekovic’s confidence, was sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany in 2008 for his part in the murder. At the time, the court established that 22 Croats were murdered in West Germany, at the behest of the Yugoslav leadership.
If convicted, Perkovic and Mustac could face life imprisonment. Both declined to comment on Friday, but have previously denied the charges. They showed no emotion in court.
Croatia’s initial refusal to comply with Germany’s extradition requests for the men triggered a diplomatic dispute last year that threatened to overshadow the state’s accession to the European Union.
Shortly before joining the EU on July 1 2013, in a move that irked its EU partners, Zagreb changed its laws to prevent the extradition of suspects in crimes committed before 2002, when new EU extradition rules took effect.
The government said at the time that it wanted to protect veterans of Croatia’s 1991-95 independence war from facing potential prosecution elsewhere in the EU. It denied any connection with the Perkovic case and pointed out that some EU member states had the same 2002 time limit.
Perkovic helped set up Croatia’s national intelligence agency as it seceded from Belgrade in 1991, when Yugoslavia broke up in bloodshed, and held senior security posts through the 1990s.
But the government removed the time restriction in August after the European Commission warned that it could face legal action, including the possible loss of EU development funds.
Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Noah Barkin