News 01 Sep 17

Croatian WWII Victims’ Lawsuit Takes Bizarre Turn

Allegations of identity theft, a disappearing lawyer and threats to damage Croatia’s tourism industry have marred a US court case against Croatia claiming compensation for relatives of victims of the WWII fascist Ustasa regime.

Sven Milekic
Ustasa guards taking belongings from new inmates before they enter the Jasenovac concentration camp. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The district court in Chicago continued to hear the case of Lisabeth Lalich et al against Croatia on Thursday, although the plaintiffs’ lawyer Anthony D’Amato did not appear in court after threatening before the previous hearing to make revelations that would “destroy Croatia’s tourist business”.

The plaintiffs are demanding 3.2 billion euros in compensation from Croatia for seized property, as well as for the suffering of their relatives during the World War II, inflicted by the Nazi-aligned puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia, NDH, which was led by the fascist Ustasa movement, Croatian newspaper Vecernji list reported in March.

The suit was filed in May 2016 by descendants of Croatian Serbs, Jews and Roma - Lizabeth Lalich, Mladen Djuricich, Robert Predrag Gakovich, Veljko Miljus, Bogdan Kljaic, David Levy and Daniel Pyevich - according to the newspaper.

However, another US lawyer, Jonathan Levy, representing Lalich, Kljajic and Pyevich, has alleged that the lawsuit was filed without their consent, implying that their identities were stolen.

Kljajic and Lalich have both written to the court and the Croatian embassy in the US, calling for the case to be dropped and claiming that D’Amato is not representing them.

Claiming bad health, D’Amato asked to be present in court on the telephone at the first hearing on August 8.

Croatia’s lawyers from the Chicago-based Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP were present at the hearing, but D’Amato was only on the line for a brief period, after which he hung up and could not be reached by the court, according to court records.

The court could not reach D’Amato at all before Thursday’s hearing, so he now has until September 14 to report to the court or it will automatically void the lawsuit.

Ahead of the hearing on August 8, D’Amato send a proposal for an out-of-court settlement to presiding judge Jorge L. Alonso and Croatia’s lawyers.

However, he proposed to reach the 3.2-billion-euro settlement with “attorneys representing Croatia’s tourist industry”.

The tourist industry has no apparent connection to the lawsuit.

In his proposal, D’Amato said that if no settlement was agreed, he would go public with gruesome details of Ustasa killings that could hurt Croatia’s international image and “would destroy Croatia’s tourist business” - which represents around 18 per cent of the country’s annual GDP.

“Even those few who might otherwise want to tour Croatia would refrain from doing so lest they antagonise the Jews and Slavs who were the victims of Croatia’s incredible atrocities,” D’Amato wrote in his proposal.

Croatia’s lawyers however repeated that Croatia is not a legal successor of the WWII-era Ustasa-led Independent State of Croatia.

The lawyers acting for Croatia also demanded that D’Amato be sanctioned because of “[his proposal’s] improper purposes of embarrassing both the Republic of Croatia and members of the Croatian tourist industry and pressuring members of that industry to negotiate with Mr. D’Amato under threat that Mr. D’Amato will otherwise publicise allegations he believes will destroy Croatian tourism”.

On August 28, Croatia’s lawyers also asked the court to look into the possibility of identity theft and establish “whether … the process is used for vexation or fraud”.

D’Amato issued a similar lawsuit against Hungary last year, in the name of the Hungarian Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

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