Scandal in The Hague: It's all in the money

It was revealed that lawyers, greedy for high fees at the Tribunal, give a part of their earnings to the indicted to keep them - regardless of how they defend them.


SUN, 09 JUL 2000

Belgrade, July 5, 2000 - "Money of the Tribunal Goes to the Indicted" is the title under which in the beginning of July the reputable Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad published a story about lawyers of the indicted for war crimes who share their fees with their defendants in the Hague. According to the testimony of Ante Nobilo, lawyer of the convicted Croatian general Tihomir Blaskic, certain lawyers both on the Serbian and the Croatian side give their clients between 10 and 20 per cent in money or in kind. As reported by Beta, Nobilo was the first to publicly speak up about monetary transactions which are whispered about by well-informed circles for a long time already.

From the viewpoint of lawyers, the specific nature of the job in the Tribunal lies in the fact that lawyers of the defence are not paid by those who have engaged them, but by the Tribunal itself, by the hour and at rates applied in the West. Lawyers do not earn as much as American lawyers who charge up to several hundred dollars per hour, but even about one hundred dollars - especially for the circumstances in Serbia - is an enormous sum of money. This is according to the statement of the president of the Lawyers' Chamber of Serbia, Branislav Tapuskovic, at the same time a profitable and certain business - the lawyers receive their fees regardless of whether they are in Belgrade, Zagreb or the Hague.

According to the rules of the Tribunal, each defendant can be defended by one lawyer only. However, a practice has developed of a lawyer collecting up to ten powers of attorney and distributing them to "his" men, either from the same office or another one, so that the business can remain without hindrance "in the family". On the other hand, the indicted can make from "their" share of the lawyers' fee more money than they would have ever earned had their been at large.

Concerning this scandalous information, Belgrade daily Blic stated the assumption that the idea about sharing the money had most probably occurred to dishonourable lawyers who made enormous sums of money by taking several cases at a time. When they realised that this could be questioned, they started offering a part of the money to the clients in order not to be replaced.

Reputable Belgrade lawyers, however, claim that the problem with the Hague lawyers had started a long time before the scandal about the shared fees was revealed. Just after its foundation, the Hague Tribunal sent a letter to lawyers' chambers in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Zagreb, asking for lists of lawyers who spoke English and French and who were experts in criminal law. However, the chambers did not send the Tribunal lists of all the lawyers who had applied having met the mentioned requirements and being interested to work in the Tribunal, but made a selection. "In Belgrade, the list of lawyers who could defend the indicted in the Hague was made by the Lawyers' Chamber of Serbia under supervision of the Republican and federal state security services and ministry of foreign affairs", says lawyer Rajko Danilovic.

The current president of the Chamber offers a different formulation: "In the beginning the idea was to make a list of the most experienced connoisseurs of criminal law who would best defend the indicted in the Hague, but this initiative was later skirted. Nowadays many young and inexperienced men are doing this serious job".

Known figures among Belgrade lawyers who have never defended anybody in the Hague claim that a part of the responsibility may be laid at the door of the Tribunal. "They knew who the regime was sending to the Hague to survey the indicted in the capacity of lawyers", says one of them who did not wish to have his name mentioned in this context. "The Tribunal has in a way accepted cooperation with the regime, and now it is faced with accusations that they have made a flea market of the Tribunal". "If information on sharing fees is true, the reason of the existence of lawyers of the defence is changed", says lawyer Nikola Barovic, stressing that he does not know the actual situation in the Hague Tribunal. "It would mean that it is all the same who and how defends the indicted and whether they are defended at all - which of course is not true, in any court".

After the revelation of the Dutch press, president of AKS Branislav Tapuskovic declared that before any possible initiation of disciplinary responsibility it was necessary to oprocure data from the Secretariat of the Tribunal. Although it is clear that in such cases it is very difficult to establish reliable information, spokesman of the Tribunal Jum Landail told NRC Handelsblad that "it is all being investigated".

Belgrade lawyers remind that this is not the only scandal which are also focused on dubious financial transactions between lawyers of the defense and the indicted. There is much talk on "ransom" of prisoners of Albanian ethnic origin from prisons in Serbia which might be carried out through various middlemen, but it seems very often through lawyers. Nothing, howver, has been done to investigate these ruours and punish the perpetrators.

Another scandal linked to the Hague Tribunal the protagonists of which are the former regime in Croatia and several American lawyers was revealed by Washington Post on July 1. According to what this newspaper writes, Tudjman's regime paid between 9.5 and 10 million dollars to Washington lawyer David B. Rivkin Junior for the advice what stand it should take concerning the demands of the Tribunal for information on war crimes of Croatian forces in 1991-1995 war in Bosnia.

For that money Rivkin advised them that cooperation was "the worst option" and that "diversive legal tactics" should be applied". After the change of the regime in Croatia, according to the Post, Rivkin entered into a sharp public debate with the new Croatian administration which, having expressed readiness for cooperation with the Tribunal, refused to pay the American lawyer another million dollars he had asked for his services in the first three months this year.

Having declared that Rivkin had created the image of a state which is not just, Croatian presidenbt Stipe Mesic specified that he "would not pay him nine dollars", least of all nine million. The daily from Washington estimates that Rivkin has little chance to charge the million dollars he still claims, but this is not the only case.

A Chicago firm Pedersen and Hout lodged an appeal against new Croatian administration for 500 thousand dollars they claim Tudjman's regime had promised them for legal jobs in the Tribunal, and Washington office Paton Boggs talks about a debt of 150 thousand dollars.

The Washington Post quotes Croatian deputy minister of justice Ranko Marjan who says that the total of 20 million dollars was paid to various American legal advisiong firms for lobbying and other jobs connected with the Tribunal, and that these sums of money were covered up by transfers via "strange transit stations such as the meteorological station in B&H which served as a false front for Croatian intelligence operations".

Original article