Croatian taxpayers are footing the bill for the defence of former policemen indicted for war crimes, the Croatian newspaper Jutarnji List has revealed.
The defence lawyer for Tomislav Mercep, the top advisor in the wartime Croatian Interior ministry who is currently on trial for war crimes, has received 390,000 kuna [about €55,000] from the state budget so far, police spokesperson Dusan Miljus confirmed.
Paying for the defence expenses of former police officers is a legal requirement, the spokesperson explained.
"The law which regulates police roles and organisations, and which has been in force since July 1, 2009, stipulates that the Interior Ministry must provide judicial help to police officers under criminal investigation for excessive use of force and other acts while executing their police role," said Miljus.
The law applies to both active and retired police officers. No exceptions are in place, even for war crimes charges.
Mercep's defence has been paid for out of the state budget since March 2011 according to a decision of Croatian Interior ministry, because Mercep was "the advisor to the interior minister from August 28, 1991, until January 15, 1996," Miljus explained.
Tomislav Mercep was arrested in December 2010 on charges that he personally ordered the unlawful arrest, torture and killing of Serb civilians between October 8, 1991 and mid-December 1991 in and around Zagreb and in the towns of Kutina and Pakrac in central Croatia.
According to the indictment, his "Mercepovci" police unit illegally captured 52 people, killing 43 of them, while three disappeared and six survived torture.
The trial started on February 10 this year.
At least six more former Croatian policemen are currently standing trial for war crimes committed during the Croatian war for independence 1991-1995. The Interior Ministry did not reveal the total sum paid from the state budget for their defence in the court.
Apart from inductees defence at the Croatian courts, Croatia is also paying for the defence of Croatian indictees for war crimes at the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.
According to unofficial media calculations, at least €23 million has been paid so far from the state budget for the defence of Croats from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina indicted for war crimes by the ICTY.
The government has never revealed the exact sum paid for the defence of Croat ICTY indictees.