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Cablegate: American Citizen Acquitted of War Crimes

VZCZCXYZ0012
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHVB #0873 3541523
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 191523Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8871
INFO RUEHBW/AMEMBASSY BELGRADE 0032
RUEAWJL/DOJ WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RUEAHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC
RUEPINS/HQ BICE INTEL WASHINGTON DC
RUEAHLA/HQ CIS IAO WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000873

DOJ FOR OSI - STEVE COE, OIA - M. DITTOE/T. MCHENRY
DEPT FOR CA/OCS/EUR JOHN O. KINDER
S/WCI FOR AMB WILLIAMSON, LAVINE
EUR/SCE FOR STINCHCOMB, WESTLEY

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: NA
TAG: PREL, PGOV, CASC, CJAN, KAWC, HR
SUBJECT: AMERICAN CITIZEN ACQUITTED OF WAR CRIMES

REF: a) Zagreb 00717 b) Zagreb 00531 c) Zagreb 00488

1. (U) Mr. Zeljko Vrljanovic, an American citizen, was arrested in
Germany in 2007 on the basis of an INTERPOL red notice and
extradited to Croatia to stand trial for war crimes as a member of
Serbian rebel unit responsible for the murder of a Croatian military
officer, his wife and two small children. He was in custody for
nearly 15 months. Embassy officers were present in the courtroom
throughout the trial (reftels). Vrljanovic was tried with another
defendant; four others named in the indictment are believed to be in
Serbia and were not included in the current trial.

2. (U) During the trial, no witnesses placed Vrljanovic in the
vicinity of the crime, although one said that someone named Zeljko
and nicknamed "Vrci" was in the unit which allegedly perpetrated the
murders. In several cases, witnesses distanced themselves from
their original statements, which they say were made under police
pressure, but the judge rejected their claims of pressure and ruled
to accept their original statements. On the last day of trial,
Vrljanovic's co-defendant testified that Vrljanovic's nickname was
"Vrljo" and a different person in the unit went by the nickname
"Vrci." He also testified that Vrljanovic was only a member of the
unit for approximately one month in August-September 1992 and was
not in the unit at the time of the murders in 1993.

3. (U) Two hours after hearing closing arguments, the panel of three
judges issued their oral verdict. The presiding judge, ruling that
there was no evidence placing Vrljanovic at the scene of the
murders, found him not guilty. This is the first time this judge
has acquitted a Serb charged with war crimes. The co-defendant,
however, was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum sentence of
20 years despite no physical evidence tying him to the crime. Mr.
Vrljanovic was released after the verdict and returned to the United
States two days later. Prosecutors, following standard practice, are
likely to appeal the acquittal once the formal written verdict is
released.

WALKER

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