The trial of a former top advisor in Croatia's wartime Interior Ministry, Tomislav Mercep, charged with war crimes, was postponed, as one of the judges will have to be excluded.
The trial was postponed on Monday as it was revealed that one of the trial judges, Jadranka Mandusic, had interrogated one of the witnesses during the investigation, contrary to Croatian law.
Croatian criminal law does not allow a judge who has attended a preliminary interrogation to also participate in the trial of the accused.
The presiding judge has decided to formally restart the trial on March 26, although two sessions have already been held so far.
Mercep has been charged, that as a commander of a police unit, he personally ordered the unlawful arrest, torture and killing of civilians from October 8, 1991 until mid-December 1991 in and around Zagreb and in the towns of Kutina and Pakrac in central Croatia.
According to the indictment, his police unit illegally captured 52 people, killing 43 of them, while three disappeared and six survived torture.
Among the victims named in the indictment are Mihajlo Zec, his wife Marija and their 12-year-old daughter Aleksandra, who were murdered on the night of December 7, 1991 in a forest near Zagreb.
The murder of the Zec family, who were Serb civilians living in the Croatian capital, far from the frontline, is considered by many to be one of the cruellest war crimes committed by the Croatian forces.
The killers, all members of the unit under Mercep’s command, were captured and confessed to the crime but they were released due to a procedural mistake and never stood trial.
Some of the perpetrators continued with their military careers and were honoured with a presidential medal. One became a member of the military's presidential guard.
After 1991, Mercep was appointed an advisor to the Croatian Interior Ministry.
Despite independent media reports about war crimes committed by his police unit, he remained at large and was a prominent political figure until recently. He led a political party and an influential war veterans' organisation and even ran for Croatian president in 2000.
He has been in custody since his arrest on war crimes charges in December 2010.
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