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Yugoslav spy trial in Munich

Frank Hofmann / glb
October 17, 2014

Former intelligence agents Zdravko Mustac and Josip Perkovic, both Croatian, are on trial for the murder of an exiled dissident in Munich three decades ago. This is the first trial of its kind in Europe.

Image: BR/DW

Ex-agents Zdravko Mustac and Josip Perkovic went on trial in Munich, south Germany on Friday. The two Croatians face charges of involvement in the 1983 murder of Stjepan Djurekovic (pictured above), a Croatian dissident who, at the time, was living in exile in Wolfratshausen near Munich.

The prosecution is basing its case on the testimony of one main witness. Nonetheless, the proceedings are seen as groundbreaking for the way in which authorities deal with the 29 murders allegedly committed by former Yugoslav intelligence agents in Germany.

A first for European law

Perkovic und Mustac are the first Croatian ex-spies to be extradited to Germany, based on a European arrest warrant.

Zagreb attempted for years to hinder the extradition. Just three days before joining the European Union, the Croatian parliament passed a law that would prevent extradition within the EU for cases pre-2002.

Mord in Titos Namen – Geheime Killerkommandos in Deutschland – Fahndung Perkovic Mustac
Perkovic and Mustac face charges of complicity to murderImage: BR/DW

Croatia's government defended the law with the argument that "war crimes trials," from the Yugoslav civil war in the mid 90s, should take place within the country. In reality, the law was intended to protect former Yugoslav spies who had joined sides with the supporters of an independent Croatia - "turncoats" as they were known in several former socialist states in Eastern Europe.

No legal foundation

The Munich trial will delve into the murder of Stjepan Djurekovic, with prosecutors tasked with clarifying a case that, until the present day, remains nebulous.

In 2008, another former Yugoslav spy, Krunoslav P. [last name withheld], was sentenced to life in prison - also in a Munich court - for complicity in the Djurekovic murder. During the proceedings, it emerged that Djurekovic had intentions of publishing information about a corruption scandal concerning Yugoslav intelligence. It is assumed that Yugoslav authorities detected Djurekovic via his connection with Germany's federal intelligence agency, the BND.

Cocktail Empfang unter jugoslawischen Top-Agenten
The Djurekovic murder is just one of 29 in Germany allegedly committed by former Yugoslav agentsImage: BR/DW

What's certain is that Croatia, along with the other former Yugoslav states, has no legal precedent for such cases, nor for the handling of classified information gathered by former Yugoslav spies.

Prosecutors are being given 50 days in court to present their case. A verdict isn't expected until late next year.