Published in Nacional number 456, 2004-08-10

Autor: Berislav Jelinić


For Nobilo, currying favour with Tudjman more important than Blaškić defence

Anto Nobilo, the Croatian attorney who defended Tihomir Blaškić before the Hague Tribunal, last week insulted and attempted to discredit President Stipe Mesić and his staff

Anto Nobilo, the Croatian attorney who defended Tihomir Blaškić before the Hague Tribunal, last week insulted and attempted to discredit President Stipe Mesić and his staff who had helped him in the Blaškić defense. Stipe Mesić and his staff were not the only people to help in the Blaškić case, but it would appear that they did play the most significant roles. However, it would seems as though Nobilo is trying to take all the credit in the Blaškić case, perhaps because not long before his triumph in the Blaškić case, he experienced a professional debacle in the Tisak case against Miroslav Kutle.

"Why didn’t Nobilo take those documents earlier, if he knew what they said? Why didn’t he tell Tudjman that he’d like to dabble in his archives, because he was interested in something about Blaškić?" commented President Stipe MesićFor years the media have been presenting Nobilo as one of Croatia’s most successful attorneys, and in several cases, he has proven himself to be a skilled, thorough and persistent lawyer. Accustomed to positive assessments of his work, the recent well deserved prison sentence for his client Miroslav Kutle was likely quite a blow to him. Kutle was the personification of the criminal tendencies of the Tudjman regime, and Nobilo wanted to defend him on completely off defense assumptions, as was clear in the end.

That is why Nobilo saw last week’s release of Blaškić as a new opportunity for his professional promotion. Likely offended by the affirmation of the credit of others in the Blaškić case, Nobilo gave an interview for the weekly Feral Tribune, in which he denied the claims made in last week’s Nacional by Željko Bagić, until recently, Mesić’s national security advisor and Chef du Cabinet.

In his interview for Nacional, Bagić explained how he had found the key documents for Blaškić’s defense in the presidential archives, by the direct order and approval by President Mesić. These documents included the HIS report on the Ahmići massacre and the transcripts of the conversations between late President Franjo Tudjman and Markica Rebić, his then national security advisor, who clearly described for Tudjman how he hid the SIS archive with the key documents for Blaškić’s defense. Among others, Bagić also gave Nobilo documents which supported the defense’s claims of a double line of command over HVO units in BiH, which was the basis of Blaškić’s defense. Bagić also commented for Nacional that after Nobilo received these documents, he did not hide his delight.

In his statement for Feral Tribune on 6 August 2004, Nobilo made the following comment on Bagić’s interview. “I have no idea what Bagić is talking about and why he would say such things, as I know very well how we came to the key documents in the Blaškić case. I had a friend employed at HIS, and I would prefer not to mention his name as he still works there, who succeeded in obtaining the reference and file numbers of important HIS documents on Ahmići, the names of those documents and the dates they were sent from HIS to the Office of the President. With that list, I went directly to President Mesić and asked him if his staff in the Office of the President could find those documents that I precisely listed. That was in March or early April 2000, soon after the first verdict in the Blaškić case. Mesić then called upon his then Chef du Cabinet, Damir Vargek and gave him my list. That was in the evening and by the next day, I already had received all the documents I had requested. There was no Bagić involved and I think that he wasn’t even employed in the Office of the President at that time. He only later delivered certain transcripts to me, which mentioned Blaškić and myself, but those were not of crucial important to the general’s defense. Which is why I cannot understand why Bagić would say such ridiculous things when he knows this is the truth.”

Based on Nobilo’s statement, Vjesnik on Sunday, 8 August 2004 continued to marginalize the role of the Office of the President in assisting General Blaškić. Vjesnik again repeated Nobilo’s statement, and the headline referred to a conflict between Nobilo and Bagić. Vjesnik claims that Nobilo does not want to share the glory in the Blaškić case with anyone, perhaps because he suspects that it was Željko Bagić who last year gave the Sarajevo weekly Dani a transcript from the Office of the President in which Markica Rebić told the late President Tudjman that the state administration had received the closed testimony by Stipe Mesić in the Blaškić case from none other than Nobilo.

Most likely based on Nobilo’s unofficial information, on the same day as the Vjesnik article, Večernji List published that the key documents, the HIS report on the Ahmići massacre had been found in the Office of the President by Vargek, based on the file numbers that Nobilo received from his secret accomplice in HIS. That information corroborates Nobilo’s statement in Feral Tribune.

However, on the same day as the Feral Tribune article, President Mesić denied Nobilo’s claims. “The key documents for the Blaškić defense were found by Željko Bagić. Nobilo could have asked Vargek for whatever he wanted, but he would not have received those documents until we opened the archive. Why didn’t Nobilo take those documents earlier if he knew where they were and what was written in them? Why didn’t he tell Tudjman that he would like to dabble in his archive because he was interested in something to do with Blaškić?” stated Mesić for Nacional.

Other than Mesić’s statement, numerous other documents also suggest that Nobilo was not telling the truth for Feral Tribune. Among those is a letter from Nobilo’s law firm to the Office of the President dated 31 May 2000. In the letter, Nobilo tells then Chef du Cabinet Damir Vargek, “On 22 May 2000, I delivered a letter to you and kindly requested that you look for the transcripts of the conversations between Dr. Franjo Tudjman and the heads of the municipalities of Vitez, Busovača, Travnik and Novi Travnik. We stated that this meeting was held in the latter half of February or the first half of March. Upon investigation, we have narrowed down that this meeting was likely held on the 5th, 6th or 7th and at the very latest, the 12th of February. As we believe this conversation could include important facts for the defense of General Blaškić, we would again request that you attempt to locate the transcript of the conversation between Dr. Tudjman and the heads of the municipalities in Central Bosnia, Ivan Santić, Marko Vidak, Željko Pervan and Zoran Marić.”

Circles close to the Office of the President claim that this was also the only written request regarding a specific document that Nobilo sought from the presidential archives. Nacional is in possession of an internal document from the Office of the President which shows that the key documents for the Blaškić defense were handed over to Nobilo on 10 June 2000, and not one day after he meet in private with Stipe Mesić in late March or early May of that year. The official minutes made on that day in the Office of the President state, “On 10 June 2000, with the agreement of the President of the Republic of Croatia, Mr. Anto Nobilo was given a copy of the Report by the Croatian Information Agency (HIS) on the massacre at Ahmići, which was signed by Mrs. Đurđa Šušak on 21 March 1994.” This document was signed by Željko Bagić, then Mesić’s national security advisor and by his secretary Ines Kčira. Before compiling these minutes, Bagić sent an internal memo to President Mesić, entitled “Subject: Tihomir Blaškić”, on which he wrote the following message: “Dear Mr. President, in accordance with your decision, I handed over the documents on the Ahmići case to Anto Nobilo, and the notes are enclosed. I must note that Mr. Nobilo was pleasantly surprised that I found the notes he personally believed to exist but could not locate. I believe that this could be one of the key pieces of evidence towards proving Blaškić’s innocence. I promised him, in line with our conversation, that I would continue to seek out documents which could be of assistance to Tihomir Blaškić and that I would immediately inform him of any such documents I find.”

The contents of the HIS report on the Ahmići massacre does not only reveal why that document is key to the Blaškić defense, but also that the state administration and the heads of HIS and SIS are on the list of those involved in covering up the true killers and war criminals, including Đurđa Šušak, the widow of the late Defense Minister Gojko Šušak. That report states that the attack on Ahmići was carried out by the special purposes police unit called the Jokers, under the command of Vlado Ćosić and Paško Ljubičić, commanders of the regional military policy, and a group of prisoners released from that Kaonik prison. The operation was retaliation for an earlier conflict with Muslim forces, who had tried to cut off the road Vitez – Busovača near Ahmići, when 3 HVO members were killed and several wounded.

“According to the statement by one HVO member who participated in the cleansing operation, Zoran Krista – who claims to have personally demolished the mosque in Ahmići – they paid no attention to young or old, they just killed them one by one. According to the available information, the most out of control were Miroslav Bralo Cicko from Vitez and Ivica Antolović Sjano from Zepče. Both men were in Kaonik prison for earlier crimes (murders) and had been released only days before the action in Ahmići,” states the HIS report. The remainder of the report deals with the analysis of two articles. The first was published by Le Figaro in early March 1994, which accused Mario Čerkez of the Ahmići massacre.

“With certainty it can be said that Mario Čerkez was not involved in the Ahmići massacre and that he had no influence over the events there. This is a man who has proved to be a poor commander and a coward by nature,” states the report, with the note that Čerkez was personally responsible for the deaths of 80 HVO members at Križančevo Selo and Buhine Kuće and that is why Blaškić removed him. The report in particular analyzes Čerkez’s close relationship with Darko Kraljević, whom HIS considered to be a possible source of information for Anthony Lloyd, a reporter for The Times. On 10 March 1994, Lloyd published an article on the possible commander of the Ahmići massacre, who was preparing to travel to South America. The report in detail reconstructs Kraljević’s criminal activities, and states that he threatened Blaškić’s life. In the end HIS concluded that both articles had accused people who were not directly involved in the Ahmići massacre.

On 7 August 2005, Doris Kosta and Željko Olujić, attorneys for Ivica Rajić, stated in Jutarnji List that this HIS report was phony, that they mention Rajić and that the report would be the main burden against Rajić for crimes outside of Stupni Dol, for which he has been indicted. Neither is the HIS report phony nor does it mention Rajić. His attorneys may in fact have seen some sort of a phony report and began a campaign directed against Blaškić’s release. In addition to being key in the Blaškić defense, the HIS report perhaps best illustrates how the entire state administration protected war criminals under the excuse that they were protecting Croatian national interests. It was known exactly who the killers were, but no one did anything to punish them.

Proof of this is in another document important for the Blaškić defense which Bagić handed over to Nobilo, and which to date has not been known. This is a HIS report dated 17 September 1998. It is classified as “Strictly Confidential”, and the document is entitled: “Subject: Ante Slišković applying pressure on defense witnesses of General Blaškić”. It was signed by then HIS director Miroslav Šeparović and delivered to Franjo Tudjman, Ivan Jarnjak (then head of UNS), Andrija Hebrang (then Defense Minister) and Markica Rebić, then Hebrang’s security assistant. The documents revealed that Nobilo had complained to HIS that Ante Slišković had been applying pressure on Blaškić and had asked him to change his statement, and that Slišković had attempted to frightened other witnesses who were supposed to have testify on behalf of Blaškić, and Nobilo had announced that he would sue Slišković for hindering the process if the state did not react and prevent him from continue his activities.

The HIS report further confirmed that SIS protected and covered up potential Hague suspects, which is best seen in this segment of that document: “According to the information received from SIS, Slišković was removed from the Vitez area after information that in early 1998 the Prosecution of the ICTY had prepared a secret indictment against him and several other members of the Vitez military district as those responsible for carrying out the action in Ahmići. It would seem as though Slišković fears that the defense of General Blaškić could turn attention to his role in the Ahmići case. However, it would appear that Slišković was potentially endangered independently of the case against General Blaškić. From March 1998, there have been indication that the Prosecution of the ICTY had been preparing a secret indictment against Slišković, the commander Paško Ljubičić and other persons as those directly responsible for Ahmići. During the Croatian-Muslim conflict, Slišković was the assistant to the HVO commander for Vitez for SIS. After the war, Slišković was appointed as head of the Centre for Intelligence-Security of HVO. Later he became Second in Command of ZP Vitez. At one time, Slišković was responsible for preparing witnesses and documents for the defense of General Blaškić. On several occasions, HIS showed the competent institutions that there was a possibility that the ICTY Prosecution could raise an indictment against Slišković. In March 1998, SIS reported that Slišković was removed out of danger that SFOR could arrest him and take him to the ICTY. Any kind of appearance by Slišković related to the processes against indicted Croats before the ICTY could threaten Croatian national interests.”

Anto Nobilo received that document exclusively because Stipe Mesić decided to open the presidential archives following his election victory in 2000, in an attempt to demystify the policies of Franjo Tudjman towards BiH, as well as the true role of the followers of his predecessor from the rigid right wing of HDZ. Proof that Nobilo was likely not telling the truth when he stated that he had a friend in HIS who told him what documents to look for in the Office of the President, is seen in the transcript of the conversation between Franjo Tudjman and Anto Nobilo on 1 August 1997. Also in attendance were Gordan Radin and Ivić Pašalić.

The contents of this conversation show that at that time, Nobilo did not dare to seek a single document from Tudjman that he had learned about from his mysterious friend at HIS, who he claims to still work there, even though HIS has formally not existed for months, as it was renamed the Intelligence Agency (OA). Furthermore, the transcript of that conversation reveals that Nobilo and Tudjman held a meaningless and pointless discussion on Tudjman’s literary obsession at the time – the book “A Conflict of Civilizations” by Samuel Huntington. Tudjman proposed that Nobilo use the author of the book as a defense witness in the Blaškić case, and that he could talk about the conflict of civilizations in BiH, in which Croats had the role of defending Christianity from the Muslim infiltration into Europe.

Tudjman also commented on the testimonies of Ivan Zvonimir Čičak, Dobroslav Paraga and Stipe Mesić before the ICTY. In that context, Tudjman told Nobilo, “Please, I told my men here, with Čičak, Paraga and Mesić, this was not a verbal crime, but this was, let’s call them what they are, from the national and state perspective, and act of grand treason.” Nobilo responded, “Yes, but their words are hollow.”

Mesić gave his testimony to the ICTY in that case on 19 April 1997, one hundred days before Nobilo’s conversation with Tudjman. In his testimony, Mesić spoke of the double line of command in HVO BiH, which was later the platform which the documents from the Office of the President corroborated in the Blaškić defense. It is interesting that at the time he spoke with Nobilo, Tudjman had already had the HIS report on the Ahmići massacre in his archives for 130 days. In the continuation of that conversation with Tudjman, Nobilo stated that he would base Blaškić’s defense on the claims that HVO at the time was a military in formation, in which a clear line of command had not yet been clearly set. That suggests that at that time, Nobilo was either not even close to the defense strategy which seven years later would set his client free, or he lacked the courage to confront Tudjman with his theory.

Nacional is in possession of several other documents which could open a series of questioned into Nobilo’s role prior to the reading of the original verdict in the Blaškić trial, which ruled that Blaškić would have to spend the next 45 years in prison. The SIS document of 6 May 1997 suggests that Nobilo had given that agency the closed testimony of Stipe Mesić before the ICTY, which he gave as a protected witness. This document, file no. 512-18-01-97-541-40 is classified as “Defense – Military Secret – Strictly Confidential”. It was signed by then director Ante Gugić, and is entitled “Statement by Stjepan Mesić to ICTY investigators on 19 April 1997.” The document reads: “Enclosed with this letter is the list of the newest witness statements of 2 May 1997, received by attorney Anto Nobilo, and which includes the statement given by Stjepan Mesić to Mr. S. Leach on 19 April 1997.”

Even more interesting are the MORH documents from March and April 1998 which were compiled by Markica Rebić, then Assistant Defense Minister for security. They were all classified as “Defense – Military Secret – Strictly Confidential”. In these reports, Rebić describes the details of Mesić’s testimony in the Hague, “based on reliable sources of information”. Keeping in mind that one year earlier, Ante Gugić, the state administration forwarded him a copy of Mesić’s protected and restricted statement in the Hague received by Nobilo, perhaps Nobilo could offer a response as to who was Rebić’s “reliable source of information”.

These documents could best explain why in the past days, Rebić has been making confident statements for the press that Nobilo could end up in prison if he continues to make public accusations, as he will be forced to make classified state documents available to the public. Rebić will find it difficult to prevent his own responsibility for covering up the true criminals in the Ahmići massacre with his own documents. However, he likely wanted to send a message to Nobilo that certain documents could show that his cooperation with the state administration was ultimately naïve, as he forwarded the agencies confidential documents from the Blaškić case, which in the end proved fatal for his client in the first instance trial. Otherwise, the documents in possession by Nacional, and likely also Rebić’s threatening messages to Nobilo suggest that Nobilo broke the law when he made Mesić’s closed testimony in the Blaškić case available to the state institutions.

Some of the details in Mesić’s statement, which Rebić informed the state administration showed that he had never criticized the official, but only the secret Croatian policy in BiH. Furthermore, Mesić did not directly accuse Tudjman of war crimes. “In the phase of questioning by the prosecutor, the testimony of Stipe Mesić could be shows as Mesić’s claims that Franjo Tudjman personally, through HDZ, was managing all the events in BiH… In the cross examination in which the attorney posed very concrete questions, i.e., did Tudjman command ethnic cleansing or other internationally sanctioned criminal acts at his meetings with the leaders from Herceg Bosna, Mesić responded that Tudjman had not commanded anything of the like. When asked by the attorney on Croatia’s aid for the Muslim and Croat sides in BiH, Mesić confirmed that Croatia had made several aid donations to the Muslim side in BiH… In this testimony, Mesić assessed Croatia’s official policy on BiH as positive, and its secret policy as ‘negative’.

The majority of these documents cast a new light on Nobilo’s role in the Blaškić case, as it suggests that Nobilo did not prove himself to be such a skilled attorney. Furthermore, certain documents depict Nobilo as an associate of those Tudjman followers who put Blaškić in prison for 45 years in the first place. What is even stranger is that Nobilo became involved in condescending the efforts invested by President Mesić and his staff in the Office of the President to help his client, as well as the other ICTY prisoners indicted for crimes they likely did not commit, and for whom it is well known who the perpetrators are.


Last Friday, President Stipe Mesić spoke with Nacional editor-in-chief Sina Karli and reporter Berislav Jelinić on Nobilo’s statements in Feral Tribune. He also commented on the recent initiative by Pierre-Richard Prosper, the US Government’s man for war crimes, in the Gotovina case. He also spoke on his initiative in the Gotovina case last year, as well as Carla Del Ponte’s attack on Theodor Meron, president of the Hague Tribunal.

NACIONAL: How do you comment on Anto Nobilo’s claims that Bagić’s description of the role of the Office of the President in the Blaškić case was “ridiculous”?
The Office of the President opened the HIS, SIS and presidential archives. Without that, Nobilo would not have been able to come across a single one of the key documents. The key evidence for the Blaškić trial was found by Željko Bagić. Nobilo could have asked Vargek for anything he wanted, but until we opened the archives, he did not receive anything. Why didn’t Nobilo take those documents earlier, if he knew what they said? Why didn’t he tell Tudjman that he’d like to dabble in his archives, because he was interested in something about Blaškić?
NACIONAL: Are Nobilo’s claims correct that he gave your former Chef du Cabinet Damir Vargek a list of documents he wanted to find, and that were key in the Blaškić case?
That is not correct. Premier Račan and I agreed that we should open the archives in order to establish the real truth about the events in the 1990s. And the Hague also sought that material. We could not deny the existence of certain things. Then we decided to give the ICTY everything, that which could help and harm the indicted Croats. My motive was to get to the truth. Nobilo could have had 101 friends in HIS, but they could not have helped him if the archives had remained sealed.
NACIONAL: How do you comment on the initiative by Richard Prosper, who proposed a meeting with Ante Gotovina, and even included the possibility that he defend himself in Croatia while under house arrest if he decided to turn himself in? How does this coincide with your initiative in the Gotovina case, for which you were incessantly attacked by the media?
I proposed that the stance of the ICTY towards General Gotovina be the same as with all the other suspects. That means that he be given the right to speak about what he has been accused of. Other suspects were given that opportunity, and he says that he did not receive that chance. When the interview in Nacional came out, Gotovina clearly said, which no one has denied, that he respects the institution of the Hague Tribunal, that he recognizes the institutions of the Croatian state and that he is prepared to give his statement, which the former government did not permit him to do, and that he is prepared to answer any questions the Prosecutor might have. If the representatives of the Prosecution are dissatisfied, he is willing to go to the Hague. All Gotovina asked for was 5-6 days to speak with the investigators. However, there was no flexibility on their part. I later experience criticism, but I believe that I was right. When we look at the Blaškić verdict now, we see that the command responsibility has now been differently positioned. There has to be a cause-effect relation between an illegal act or crime. And Gotovina could now take advantage of that opportunity.
NACIONAL: Why is it that the American side has come out with this initiative?
I don’t know. Perhaps because of the Blaškić verdict.
NACIONAL: How do you comment on Carla Del Ponte’s statements in which she sharply accused ICTY President Theodor Meron of working against the Court Statute?
The Prosecutor is always working to have their indictment be confirmed. When they have already decided to prosecute, they want to justify their acts in court. That is understandable to me, as I was also a judge.
NACIONAL: As a former judge, do you consider it common practice for a prosecutor to openly attack the court president?
I think that it is not common practice.
NACIONAL: Is the entire Blaškić case embarrassing for Carla Del Ponte?
I think that she could improve her position if she stated that the indictment would have been different had the prosecution had all the documents earlier. That is why we need to wait and see how the Gotovina case will unfold. However, the Blaškić case will certainly be a precedent which will benefit others.
NACIONAL: Why do your statements on the controversial presentation by former POA director Franjo Turek on the media-intelligence manipulations in the Gotovina case differ from the statements made by Premier Sanader, who claims that there were no presentations at all?
I spoke openly about those presentations several times. I will repeat again that those presentations did not refer to any information on illegal wiretappings or other measures. The presentations outlined the contacts between our people with certain person considered to belong to the intelligence communities of other countries. That is all they were about. I don’t know whether the same presentation that I saw was held for the Premier and his associates.

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