Analysis 24 Nov 17

Trial Shows Croatian Money Fuelled Bosnian Croats’ War

The Hague Tribunal delivers its verdict on six Bosnian Croat ex-officials next week - but the trial has already revealed how Croatia funded the self-proclaimed Herzeg-Bosnia statelet’s forces while they fought the Bosnian Army.

Sven Milekic BIRN Zagreb
1990s Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. Photo: Beta.

On November 15, 1993, Croatia’s Defence Minister Gojko Susak wrote to his ministry’s financial department, telling it to send money to send to the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, an unrecognised self-proclaimed Croat statelet in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“I command the granting of a loan to the Croatian Defence Council [HVO] HZ HB [Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia] Mostar Defence Department in the amount of 11,713,616,450 HRD [Croatian dinars] from the Republic of Croatia Ministry of Defence funds,” Susak declared.

“The money transfer should be made IMMEDIATELY to the Privredna Banka Zagreb’s [commercial bank] giro account, which will issue the approval for the same amount to the HVO.”

The document shows how Croatia partially financed the war efforts of the Croat-led Herzeg-Bosnia and its armed forces, the HVO, amid its conflict with the Bosniak-led Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina - the official armed forces of the country at the time - between October 1992 and March 1994.

In the court records of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, this document is registered as exhibit number P06673, which was entered into evidence during the trial of six senior Herzeg-Bosnia political and military officials - Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoje Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic.

In May 2013, the ICTY found the six men guilty of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions against Bosniaks.

In the verdict, the court concluded that Croatia’s 1990s President Franjo Tudjman, and his Defence Minister Gojko Susak, has established a joint criminal enterprise aimed at creating “a Croat entity, whose borders would partially follow the borders of the Banovina of Croatia from 1939” by forcibly deporting Bosniaks from the territory.

The verdict said that the aim of the establishment of Herzeg-Bosnia was to “reunite the Croat people”.

The joint criminal enterprise wanted Herzeg-Bosnia to “either be united with Croatia in case of the disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, or remain within Bosnia and Herzegovina, “retaining close ties with Croatia”.

In other cases against Herzeg-Bosnia officials, the ICTY has found that Croatia had “overall” or “operational” control of HVO forces on the ground in Bosnia.

The court also found that the conflict in Bosnia had “an international character”, as Croatia was involved in it – a fact that Zagreb has tried its utmost over the years to deny, despite the documents that prove it.

The six Bosnian Croats are waiting to learn the outcome of their final appeal before the ICTY on Wednesday.

Susak's order from November 15, 1993 and a plea from HVO commander Mladen Naletilic for money for arms.

Regardless of the court’s ruling, numerous documents entered into evidence before the Tribunal show clearly how Croatia funded HVO during the Croat-Bosniak conflict between October 1992 and March 1994.

During the trial, the court registered as evidence documents that clearly show that Croatia financed the HVO from Croatia’s state budget, using the services of the state-owned commercial bank, Privredna Banka Zagreb, PBZ.

After the war, Croatia sold PBZ to an Italian bank, Banca Intesa.

Documents show how Susak gave orders for millions to be paid in the national currency - at the time called the Croatian dinar - to an account that the HVO had opened in a PBZ bank branch in the small southern Croatian town of Opuzen, a few kilometres from the border with Bosnia.

From September 21, 1992, when the account was opened, until October 30, 1993, Croatia’s government made 15 major transactions, each amounting to 83 million dinars – the equivalent of about 400,000 German marks at the time and about 200,000 euros at today’s valuation – or more.

These major transactions totalled over eight million euros, and they paid to finance the HVO and its war effort against the Bosniaks.

The people authorised to withdraw the money from these accounts were defendant Jadranko Prlic, who was Herzeg-Bosnia’s prime minister, and Neven Tomic and Zeljko Bandic from the Herzeg-Bosnia government’s financial department.

The ICTY also managed to obtain documents which show how some of these Herzeg-Bosnia officials crossed the border into Croatia and withdrew the money.

The HVO had another account opened at the PBZ in Opuzen for payments in foreign currencies. Croatia transferred two tranches to this account – on October 20 and November 30 1992 – of one million German marks (approximately 500,000 euros) each.

All in all, the ICTY managed to trace five accounts that the HVO held - at the PBZ in Opuzen, as well as in the Croatian town of Imotski, also near Croatia’s border with Bosnia, and in the town of Ljubuski, in western Herzegovina. Croatia transferred millions of euros to the Imotski and Ljubuski accounts as well.

Court exhibit P00910 shows how payrolls for particular HVO units were financed by Croatia. In the document, which dates from December 15, 1992, Susak orders that 306,909,700 dinars – approximately 750,000 euros – be transferred to the HVO’s ‘Bruno Busic’ regiment.

Another document, court exhibit P04876, shows how on September 8, 1993, the commander of HVO’s Convicts’ Battalion, Mladen Naletilic alias Tuta, asks Susak for the purchase of 12 German-made Heckler & Koch automatic rifles with silencers. In his request, Naletilic said that the transaction could be called “a loan” and concluded the message with the word “grateful”.

The Croatian Defence Council, HVO flag at a commemoration in Bleiburg in Austria in 2015. Photo: BIRN.

The ICTY sentenced Naletilic to 20 years in prison in 2006, finding him guilty of torture and the cruel treatment of Bosniaks, as well forcibly removing 400 Bosniak civilians from the villages of Sovici and Doljani.

Despite the existence of such documents, which have been entered into evidence by the ICTY and are thus publicly available, Croatian politicians still refuse to acknowledge their country’s role in the war in Bosnia.

A source who who studied the documents in the Herzeg-Bosnia case at the ICTY, and who agreed to speak if granted anonymity, insisted that the evidence of Croatia’s role in the war in Bosnia is overwhelming.

“Some Croatian officials and many Croats in public life routinely reject the notion that President [Franjo] Tudjman, Defence Minister Gojko Susak, and [chief of the general staff of the Croatian Army] Janko Bobetko… were handing down orders to or providing funding and other support for the HVO and its attempts to seize territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the source told BIRN.

The source explained that in denying Croatia’s involvement, these officials only use “broad-brush, generalised rhetoric”.

“These people avoid citing or challenging the details, because the devil is in the details, and they know it,” the source emphasised.

The source explained that documents show how the money was first withdrawn from Croatian Defence Ministry accounts, transferred to PBZ accounts in Opuzen, and then withdrawn by HVO officials.

According to the source, the documents show how HVO was established by Croatia.

“This fact supports the conclusion that Zagreb could exercise significant, effective control over the HVO. He who pays the piper calls the tune,” the source said.

The documents effectively prove that during the war, Croatia was aiding the HVO’s attempts to subjugate parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war, the source said.

“The fact is that these documents show that Croatia’s government made itself an accomplice, if not a partner, of Serbia’s government in undertaking a military effort to seize sovereign territory belonging to the internationally-recognised Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a member-state of the United Nations,” the source concluded.

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