Member of Lukic Defence Gets 12 Months for Contempt
The ex-case manager for convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal Milan Lukic was sentenced this week to 12 months in prison for paying potential witnesses in exchange for false statements.
In a last-minute deal, the defendant, Jelena Rasic, pleaded guilty to all five counts of contempt on January 31. (See Ex-Case Manager Pleads Guilty in Lukic Contempt Case.)
She originally pleaded not guilty in September 2010, and the case was to have gone to trial on January 23 this year.
At the sentencing hearing held on February 7, presiding Judge Howard Morrison said the chamber had found the crimes committed by the defendant to be “grave”, with “far reaching consequences”.
The trial of Milan Lukic was already well under way in October 2008 when Rasic travelled to Sarajevo and met a Bosniak man called Zuhdija Tabakovic. Rasic pleaded guilty to showing Tabakovic a prepared witness statement and asking whether he would “confirm, sign and verify the statement in exchange for 1,000 euro”.
“The statement was false, as [Tabakovic] had no knowledge of any of the events described in the statement,” the indictment against Rasic stated.
Rasic also offered Tabakovic a “reward” to find two other men willing to sign prepared statements, which Tabakovic subsequently did. These two men, referred to in the indictment as X and Y, eventually signed false statements and each received 1,000 euro from Rasic.
Tabakovic pleaded guilty to contempt in March 2010, after admitting that he had signed the false statement, accepted payment from Rasic, and recruited X and Y. He was sentenced to three months in prison and released soon thereafter, in view of time he had already served.
According to the plea agreement reached in that case, it was Tabakovic who in December 2008 went to the tribunal field office in Sarajevo and notified the authorities there about the scheme, providing them with the false statements and other documentation.
The statements were meant to provide a fake alibi for Milan Lukic, a former reserve policeman who was subsequently found guilty in July 2009 of personally killing at least 132 Bosniak civilians in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad, more than 100 of whom were trapped in two barricaded houses and burned alive.
Lukic was sentenced to life in prison. His cousin and co-accused Sredoje Lukic was given a 30-year sentence. The case is currently on appeal.
Rasic’s actions represent a “direct intervention in the course of justice, [and] therefore need to be met with an appropriate sanction”, Judge Morrison said. “We find that the seriousness of Jelena Rasic’s crimes fully merit the imposition of a 12-month sentence of immediate imprisonment.”
Rasic will serve the sentence at the United Nations Detention Unit in The Hague.
Judge Morrison also stated that the chamber had determined that Rasic was conscious of the nature of her actions and of the possible consequences.
“She actively went to the alleged witnesses and was persistent in her actions,” he said, adding that this was an aggravating circumstance, but also an alleviating one.
“It was clear that she, as a young, inexperienced person, was not and could not have been the person who had arranged the whole deal,” he said.
The judge also said that while Rasic did plead guilty, she did so after initially denying any responsibility, thus not having been entirely truthful with the investigators. However, given her guilty plea, “the fact that she did not tell the truth on several points material to the prosecution’s investigation, thereby refraining from co-operating with the prosecution, is not an aggravating factor and has not been so considered by the chamber”.
“Members of defence teams are obligated to act conscientiously with full respect of the law and applicable rules, something which certainly also holds true for any professional involved in the proceedings before the tribunal. As officers of justice, they must at all times be aware of their duties and must never allow themselves to affect others, such as prospective witnesses, in a criminal manner,” Judge Morrison continued, adding that Rasic did “just that”.
However, because she will be the only woman serving a sentence in the Hague detention unit – which would result in “quasi-solitary confinement” and could have a “negative impact on her well being”, eight months of the sentence will be suspended, provided she does not commit any other crime in the next two years.
According to tribunal rules, a detainee is eligible for early release after serving two-thirds of his or her sentence. Since Rasic has already spent 78 days in the detention unit since September 2010, she should be eligible for early release immediately, her lawyer contended in a request filed on February 8. The president of the tribunal, Judge Patrick Robinson, will decide on the matter.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.