Balkans war criminal found in Clarence, sentenced in Croatia
A CROATIAN court has sentenced a former Serb paramilitary commander and Australian citizen to 15 years in prison for war crimes in the 1990s.
The municipal court in the coastal town of Split said Tuesday that Dragan Vasiljkovic, also known as Captain Dragan and Daniel Snedden, is guilty of the killings and torture of imprisoned Croatian civilians and troops while he was a rebel Serb commander during the 1991-95 Croatian war.
The 62-year-old Vasiljkovic, who was born in Serbia, went to Australia at the age of 15 but returned to the Balkans to train Serb rebels in 1991, when Serbs took up arms against Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia.
Vasiljkovic was discovered by Australian Federal Police while working on a yacht at the Harwood Slipway in the Clarence Valley after 43 days on the run. He was then extradited from Australia in July 2015, after fighting a 10-year legal battle against being handed over to Croatia's judiciary.
He became Australia's first extradited war crimes suspect.
The three-judge Croatian court panel found Vasiljkovic guilty of two of the three charges, which included torturing and beating imprisoned Croatian police and army troops and commanding a special forces unit involved in the destruction of Croatian villages. He was found responsible for the death of at least two civilians.
About 60 prosecution witnesses were questioned during the trial, including those who said they were tortured by Vasiljkovic.
Vasiljkovic, who was widely believed during the war to be working for Serbia's secret service, has claimed innocence throughout the one-year trial, saying the whole process was rigged.
"This is an oppressive fascist process," Vasiljkovic said during his closing statements last week.
"Not only did I not commit any crimes that I am charged with, I can only ask why I was brought here and charged in the first place."
The judges ruled that they will take into account the time Vasiljkovic served in detention in Australia and in a Croatian prison, meaning he has three and a half years of his sentence remaining. He has a right to appeal.