End to Perković saga: Mastermind during war in Yugoslavia

What if Yugoslavia’s deterioration had already been discussed in 1987 before the war? Could it be that the intelligence officials who are accustomed to pulling strings, wanted to secure their power in an independent Croatia?

Author Frank Hofmann / DW, Date 23.01.2014

He’s standing in front of his lawyer’s office in the Croatian capital of Zagreb: Josip Perković. For years his name has been on the top of Germany’s most-wanted list. His extradition to Germany has already been foreshadowed, which is why he’s offering his first television interview: He chose to speak to Deutsche Welle. Perković is a friendly man of 68 and could easily fit the role of a content grandfather. It’s important to him, he says, that the conversation is limited to his activities in the international Croatian expatriate scene.

It’s exactly these activities that garnered the attention of federal prosecutors in Karlsruhe – especially since the 2008 trial in the upper court of Munich for the murder of Croatian dissident and oil magnate Stjepan Đureković. The defendant, Krunoslav Prates, was found guilty as an accessory to murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Since then, however, little had transpired in the case until Perković was arrested earlier this year.

Prates, Krolo, Tuđman, Mesić
During the proclamation of a new democratic Constitution, December 22, 1990 Franjo Tuđman met with a delegation of the Croatian National Committee, led Tomislav Krolo, and with him was also Krunoslav Prates (left with beard). Stjepan Mesić (right with beard) was then president of the Croatian government and a great friend of people from the Croatian National Committee. (ž.p.)

In 1983 Croatian exile Đureković was shot dead in a garage in Wolfsrathausen near Munich, where anti-Yugoslavic writings had been found. But Đureković was more than just any Croatian dissident. Prior to his immigration to West Germany, he worked as marketing director of state-owned oil company INA and was allegedly aware of corrupt business dealings of the Yugoslavian elite. At the time, Perković was a high-ranking officer of Yugoslavia’s State Security Administration (UDBA). The Communist elites’ secret police was constantly persecuting politically active emigrants and so-called enemies of the Yugoslav state. During the Munich trial the court determined that Perković as head of intelligence, was involved in the murder. Perković denies the accusations.

“I am not connected with any murders,” he told DW. “I said long ago that I had nothing to do with the murder of Stjepan Đureković or anyone else. I did classic intelligence work. I focused on protecting Croatian territory and Croatian citizens.”

The Đureković connection

But during the conversation he does admit that the convicted party in the Munich trial was one of his informal employees. Once per year Perković telephoned with the man to gain information for his intelligence division in Zagreb, which was responsible for the observation of Croatian emigrants abroad.

For years Perković spied on Croatian emigrants in former West Germany, with “non-violent intelligence methods,” he said. There were many Croatian dissidents in former West Germany calling for Croatia’s independence from socialist Yugoslavia. It was a broad spectrum: extreme right-wing nationalists with a dubious relationship to Croatia’s fascist past as a Nazi-Germany ally. But there were also anti-communist activists using peaceful advocacy for Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia. Perković said he had many operatives working in Germany. He’s always been the secret agent man behind the scenes, pulling all the strings.
Testimony against Perković

In 2006 Josip Perković did not testify when investigators in Munich summoned him because of “health reasons.” However the court heard from a witness that severely damaged Perković’s credibility: former Yugoslav intelligence officer Vinko Sindičić. Sindičić had been convicted of attempted murder in Scotland but allegedly lived near Milan at the time of the Munich trial. Last week he sent an affidavit notarized by an Italian official, retracting his testimony from the Munich trial. But the court may not recognize the retraction.

Sindičić’s testimony was convincing, which is why the lead judge on the Djurekovic case told DW that the questions needed to be asked, “‘Has there been doubt cast on the veracity of this testimony?’ We came to the conclusion that the information we received from the witness was correct.”

Sindičić’s notarized withdrawal of testimony went by mail to the attorney general in Zagreb, as well as Perković’s lawyer. Perković denied that he had anything to do with the act. But it fits his profile: the mastermind behind the scenes. His influence was especially notable on Friday, June 29, 2013, when the Croatian parliament passed a law just three days before its entry into the EU, stating that the country would honor European Arrest Warrants only for acts committed after 2002. Officials in Brussels were outraged. For eight long years the EU Commission had negotiated with Croatia, defending it against other member states which feared corruption and were still reeling from bad experiences from Romania and Bulgaria’s 2007 entry into the EU. It was a slap in the face, clearly meant to protect Josip Perković. At the time, Perković’s son, Saša, was working as an advisor to Croatian president Ivo Josipović. Croatia later gave in to European demands.

Special Forces Units of the Ministry of Defense, Military Police, Perković, Tuđman, Military Counter-Intelligence Service
Perković (left) at the meeting 1991 with Tuđman as Assistant Minister of Defense for Security. Perković’s competencies were Special Forces Units of the Ministry of Defense, Military Police and Military Counter-Intelligence Service (SIS). (ž.p.)

Mastermind during war in Yugoslavia

Even before the onset of the war in the early 1990s, Josip Perković and others in the Croatian circle of Yugoslavian intelligence had apparently decided to support not only Croatia’s independence but also Croatia’s later President Franjo Tuđman.

“Perković put the passport in Tuđman’s hand, which Tuđman used to fly to Canada in 1987,” said Zagreb-based journalist Željko Peratović, adding that Tuđman had sought to rally supporters for the Croatian cause. Tuđman later formed an alliance of Croats against Yugoslavia on one hand, and former communist operatives like Josip Perković on the other. The common goal? An independent Croatia. Since the saga began, Perković is once again in the spotlight.

But there is one question very few dare to ask, but investigative journalist Peratović proceeds anyways. What if Yugoslavia’s deterioration had already been discussed in 1987 before the war? Could it be that the intelligence officials who are accustomed to pulling strings, wanted to secure their power in an independent Croatia?

It’s important, says Josip Perković, that the conversation is limited to his activities in the international Croatian exile-scene.

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