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End of a saga?

Frank Hofmann / lbhJanuary 23, 2014

After months of wrangling with the EU-Commission, Zagreb will extradite former secret police chief Josip Perkovic to Germany on the basis of a European arrest warrant.

Filmstill Josip Perkovic
Image: DW

He's standing in front of his lawyer's office in the Croatian capital of Zagreb: Josip Perkovic. For years his name has been on the top of Germany's most-wanted list. His extradition to Germany has already been foreshadowed, which is why he's offering his first television interview: He chose to speak to Deutsche Welle. Perkovic is a friendly man of 68 and could easily fit the role of a content grandfather. It's important to him, he says, that the conversation is limited to his activities in the international Croatian expatriate scene.

It's exactly these activities that garnered the attention of federal prosecutors in Karlsruhe - especially since the 2008 trial in the upper court of Munich for the murder of Croatian dissident and oil magnate Stjepan Djurekovic. The defendant, Krunoslav Prates, was found guilty as an accessory to murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Since then, however, little had transpired in the case until Perkovic was arrested earlier this year.

In 1983 Croatian exile Djurekovic was shot dead in a garage in Wolfsrathausen near Munich, where anti-Yugoslavic writings had been found. But Djurekovic was more than just any Croatian dissident. Prior to his immigration to West Germany, he worked as marketing director of state-owned oil company INA and was allegedly aware of corrupt business dealings of the Yugoslavian elite. At the time, Perkovic was a high-ranking officer of Yugoslavia's State Security Administration (UDBA). The Communist elites' secret police was constantly persecuting politically active emigrants and so-called enemies of the Yugoslav state. During the Munich trial the court determined that Perkovic as head of intelligence, was involved in the murder. Perkovic denies the accusations.

"I am not connected with any murders," he told DW. "I said long ago that I had nothing to do with the murder of Djurekovic or anyone else. I did classic intelligence work. I focused on protecting Croatian territory and Croatian citizens."

Portrait of Josip Perkovic, who was wanted by Germany in connection over a communist-era assassination Photo: EPA/DARIO GRZELJ
Josip Perkovic: I am not connected with any murdersImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The Djurekovic connection

But during the conversation he does admit that the convicted party in the Munich trial was one of his informal employees. Once per year Perkovic telephoned with the man to gain information for his intelligence division in Zagreb, which was responsible for the observation of Croatian emigrants abroad.

For years Perkovic spied on Croatian emigrants in former West Germany, with "non-violent intelligence methods," he said. There were many Croatian dissidents in former West Germany calling for Croatia's independence from socialist Yugoslavia. It was a broad spectrum: extreme right-wing nationalists with a dubious relationship to Croatia's fascist past as a Nazi-Germany ally. But there were also anti-communist activists using peaceful advocacy for Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia. Perkovic said he had many operatives working in Germany. He's always been the secret agent man behind the scenes, pulling all the strings.

Testimony against Perkovic

In 2006 Josip Perkovic did not testify when investigators in Munich summoned him because of "health reasons." However the court heard from a witness that severely damaged Perkovic's credibility: former Yugoslav intelligence officer Vinko Sindicic. Sindicic had been convicted of attempted murder in Scotland but allegedly lived near Milan at the time of the Munich trial. Last week he sent an affidavit notarized by an Italian official, retracting his testimony from the Munich trial. But the court may not recognize the retraction.

Sindicic's testimony was convincing, which is why the lead judge on the Djurekovic case told DW that the questions needed to be asked, "'Has there been doubt cast on the veracity of this testimony?' We came to the conclusion that the information we received from the witness was correct."

Portrait of Judge Bernd von Heintschel-Heinegg Copyright: Thomas von Heintschel-Heinegg
Judge Bernd von Heintschel-Heinegg believes Perkovic is guiltyImage: Thomas von Heintschel-Heinegg

Sindicic's notarized withdrawal of testimony went by mail to the attorney general in Zagreb, as well as Perkovic's lawyer. Perkovic denied that he had anything to do with the act. But it fits his profile: the mastermind behind the scenes. His influence was especially notable on Friday, June 29, 2013, when the Croatian parliament passed a law just three days before its entry into the EU, stating that the country would honor European Arrest Warrants only for acts committed after 2002. Officials in Brussels were outraged. For eight long years the EU Commission had negotiated with Croatia, defending it against other member states which feared corruption and were still reeling from bad experiences from Romania and Bulgaria's 2007 entry into the EU. It was a slap in the face, clearly meant to protect Josip Perkovic. At the time, Perkovic's son, Sascha, was working as an advisor to Croatian president Ivo Josipovic. Croatia later gave in to European demands.

Mastermind during Yugoslav war

Even before the onset of the war in the early 1990s, Josip Perkovic and others in the Croatian circle of Yugoslavian intelligence had apparently decided to support not only Croatia's independence but also Croatia's later President Franjo Tudjman.

"[Perkovic] put the passport in Tudjman's hand, which Tudjman used to fly to Canada in 1987," said Zagreb-based journalist Zeljko Peratovic, adding that Tudjman had sought to rally supporters for the Croatian cause. Tudjman later formed an alliance of Croats against Yugoslavia on one hand, and former communist operatives like Josip Perkovic on the other. The common goal? An independent Croatia. Since the saga began, Perkovic is once again in the spotlight.

Josip Perkovic, left, during his arrest in Croatia earlier this year Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Josip Perkovic, left, during his arrest in Croatia earlier this yearImage: STR/AFP/Getty Images

But there is one question very few dare to ask, but investigative journalist Peratovic proceeds anyways. What if Yugoslavia's deterioration had already been discussed in 1987 before the war? Could it be that the intelligence officials who are accustomed to pulling strings, wanted to secure their power in an independent Croatia?

It's important, says Josip Perkovic, that the conversation is limited to his activities in the international Croatian exile-scene.