Serb Seselj sentenced to 10 years, but UN judges say time already served

Updated 11 April 2018
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Serb Seselj sentenced to 10 years, but UN judges say time already served

The Hague: UN judges Wednesday found radical Serb Vojislav Seselj guilty on appeal of crimes against humanity, but the firebrand politician will remain a free man because of time already served behind bars.

"The appeals chamber reverses Seselj's acquittals for instigating persecution, deportation and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity," presiding judge Theodor Meron said at a hearing in The Hague, sentencing the firebrand politician to 10 years behind bars.

The judges however said that in line with the court's rules, "Seselj's sentence has been served" after he spent about 12 years in jail on trial at the former Yugoslav war crimes court.

Seselj snubbed the hearing and was not present when the verdict was read by judges at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT).

He had been acquitted in March 2016 of nine war crimes and crimes against humanity charges after a trial lasting more than eight years at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

A three-judge panel led by French judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said in 2016 that prosecutors had "failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt" or provide sufficient evidence that Seselj was responsible for the crimes he had been charged with.

The verdict had been heavily criticised by law experts and historians who said it had rewritten the history of the Balkans conflicts.

The five appeals judges agreed Wednesday, sharply overturning the original trial's findings.

Either the initial court had "ignored a substantial portion of highly relevant evidence and its own findings, or it erred in fact," Meron said.

"The appeals chamber finds that no reasonable trier of fact could have concluded that there was no widespread or systematic attack against the non-Serbian population in Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Wednesday's appeal was before the MICT, which is wrapping up the last cases after the ICTY closed in December.

During his marathon trial, prosecutors alleged Seselj was behind the murders of scores of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serbs between 1991 and 1993 in the conflicts that tore Yugoslavia apart, after the fall of communism.

The prosecution had sought a 28-year-sentence for the man they referred to as the "chief propagandist of the Greater Serbia". They said he had warned that "rivers of blood" would flow in Bosnia if his vision for a Greater Serbia was opposed.

Seselj denied the allegations and in particular making two speeches highlighted by prosecutors in the indictment.

In one address, prosecutors say he encouraged Serbs "not to spare a person" in the 1991 siege of the Croat city of Vukovar. In another a year later, he allegedly described Muslims as "excrement" in the Serbian town of Mali Zvornik.

"Lies," Seselj told AFP earlier this month, adding that he did not regret his role in the conflict.

"We will never give up the idea of a Greater Serbia," Seselj said, adding that his extreme right-wing Serbian Radical Party exists "to unite within the same state all the territories where the Serb people live".


President Donald Trump gets heat for urging Ukraine probe

Updated 21 September 2019

President Donald Trump gets heat for urging Ukraine probe

  • Democrats condemned what they saw as a clear effort to damage a political
  • It was the latest revelation in an escalating controversy that has created a showdown between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump urged the new leader of Ukraine this summer to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a person familiar with the matter said.

Democrats condemned what they saw as a clear effort to damage a political rival, now at the heart of an explosive whistleblower complaint against Trump.

It was the latest revelation in an escalating controversy that has created a showdown between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration, which has refused to turn over the formal complaint by a national security official or even describe its contents.

Trump defended himself Friday against the intelligence official’s complaint, angrily declaring it came from a “partisan whistleblower,” though he also said he didn’t know who had made it. The complaint was based on a series of events, one of which was a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to a two people familiar with the matter. The people were not authorized to discuss the issue by name and were granted anonymity.

Trump, in that call, urged Zelenskiy to probe the activities of potential Democratic rival Biden’s son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian gas company, according to one of the people, who was briefed on the call. Trump did not raise the issue of US aid to Ukraine, indicating there was not an explicit quid pro quo, according to the person.

Biden reacted strongly late Friday, saying that if the reports are true, “then there is truly no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country.” He said Trump should release the transcript of his July phone conversation with Zelenskiy “so that the American people can judge for themselves.”

The government’s intelligence inspector general has described the whistleblower’s Aug. 12 complaint as “serious” and “urgent.” But Trump dismissed it all Friday, insisting “it’s nothing.” He scolded reporters for asking about it and said it was “just another political hack job.”

“I have conversations with many leaders. It’s always appropriate. Always appropriate,” Trump said. “At the highest level always appropriate. And anything I do, I fight for this country.” Trump, who took questions in the Oval Office alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom he was hosting for a state visit, was asked if he knew if the whistleblower’s complaint centered on his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy.

The president responded, “I really don’t know,” but he continued to insist any phone call he made with a head of state was “perfectly fine and respectful.”

Trump was asked Friday if he brought up Biden in the call with Zelenskiy, and he answered, “It doesn’t matter what I discussed.” But then he used the moment to urge the media “to look into” Biden’s background with Ukraine. There has yet to be any evidence of any wrongdoing by Biden or his son regarding Ukraine.

Trump and Zelenskiy are to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations next week. The Wall Street Journal first reported that Trump pressed Zelenskiy about Biden. The standoff with Congress raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump’s appointees are protecting the Republican president from oversight and, specifically, whether his new acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is working with the Justice Department to shield the president.

Democrats say the administration is legally required to give Congress access to the whistleblower’s complaint, and Rep. Adam Schiff of California has said he will go to court in an effort to get it if necessary. The intelligence community’s inspector general said the matter involves the “most significant” responsibilities of intelligence leadership.

House Democrats also are fighting the administration for access to witnesses and documents in impeachment probes. In the whistleblower case, lawmakers are looking into whether Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani traveled to Ukraine to pressure the government to aid the president’s reelection effort by investigating the activities of Biden’s son.

During a rambling interview Thursday on CNN, Giuliani was asked whether he had asked Ukraine to look into Biden. He initially said, “No, actually I didn’t,” but seconds later he said, “Of course I did.” Giuliani has spent months trying to drum up potentially damaging evidence about Biden’s ties to Ukraine. He told CNN that Trump was unaware of his actions.

“I did what I did on my own,” he said. “I told him about it afterward. Still later, Giuliani tweeted, “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job.” Democrats have contended that Trump, in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, may have asked for foreign assistance in his upcoming reelection bid.

Trump further stoked those concerns earlier this year in an interview when he suggested he would be open to receiving foreign help.The inspector general appeared before the House intelligence committee behind closed doors Thursday but declined, under administration orders, to reveal to members the substance of the complaint.

Schiff, a California Democrat, said Trump’s attack on the whistleblower was disturbing and raised concerns that it would have a chilling effect on other potential exposers of wrongdoing. He also said it was “deeply disturbing” that the White House appeared to know more about the complaint than its intended recipient — Congress.

The information “deserves a thorough investigation,” Schiff said. “Come hell or high water, that’s what we’re going to do.” Among the materials Democrats have sought is a transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy. The call took place one day after Mueller’s faltering testimony to Congress effectively ended the threat his probe posed to the White House. A readout of the call released from the Ukrainian government said Trump believed Kyiv could complete corruptions investigations that have hampered relations between the two nations but did not get into specifics.

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who in May called for a probe of Giuliani’s effort in Ukraine, said in an interview on Friday it’s “outrageous” the president has been sending his political operative to talk to Ukraine’s new president. Murphy tweeted that during his own visit it was clear to him that Ukraine officials were “worried about the consequences of ignoring Giuliani’s demands.”

The senator tweeted that he told Zelenskiy during their August visit it was “best to ignore requests from Trump’s campaign operatives. He agreed.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump faces “serious repercussions” if reports about the complaint are accurate. She said it raises “grave, urgent concerns for our national security.”

Letters to Congress from the inspector general make clear that Maguire consulted with the Justice Department in deciding not to transmit the complaint to Congress in a further departure from standard procedure. It’s unclear whether the White House was also involved, Schiff said.

Maguire has refused to discuss details of the whistleblower complaint, but he has been subpoenaed by the House panel and is expected to testify publicly next Thursday. Maguire and the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, also are expected next week at the Senate intelligence committee.

Atkinson wrote in letters that Schiff released that he and Maguire had hit an “impasse” over the acting director’s decision not to share the complaint with Congress. Atkinson said he was told by the legal counsel for the intelligence director that the complaint did not actually meet the definition of an “urgent concern.” And he said the Justice Department said it did not fall under the director’s jurisdiction because it did not involve an intelligence professional.

Atkinson said he disagreed with that Justice Department view. The complaint “not only falls under DNI’s jurisdiction,” Atkinson wrote, “but relates to one of the most significant and important of DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”