Croatia hands over Yugoslav-era spy chief to Germany

ZAGREB Fri Jan 24, 2014 9:01am EST

Josip Perkovic waves to the media after being released from the Remetinec prison in Zagrab January 3, 2014. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Josip Perkovic waves to the media after being released from the Remetinec prison in Zagrab January 3, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Antonio Bronic

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ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia has handed over its communist-era intelligence chief to Germany, where he is wanted over the 1980s killing of a Yugoslav dissident, and ended an extradition row that marred Zagreb's entry to the European Union.

Josip Perkovic boarded a plane bound for Germany on Friday afternoon after the Constitutional Court rejected his request for the extradition to be delayed.

Perkovic was arrested on New Year's Day, along with nine other people, as an amended extradition law took effect to bring the country into line with most of the rest of the EU.

A Zagreb court ruled on January 8 he should be extradited to Germany and the supreme court confirmed the ruling this week.

"We have to respect the independent judiciary, and that's it," said President Ivo Josipovic, whose security adviser is Perkovic's son Sasa.

Also in January, police arrested a second former secret service chief from the Yugoslav period, Zdravko Mustac, who is also wanted by Germany for the same crime.

But a different Zagreb court ruled that Mustac should not be extradited because the statute of limitations had passed for a murder committed more than 25 years ago, a point disputed among legal experts.

Perkovic had worked for the Yugoslav federal secret service, the UDBA, when Croatia was part of the communist federation.

He helped set up Croatia's new intelligence agency as it seceded from Belgrade in 1991, when Yugoslavia began to break up in bloodshed, and held senior security posts through the 1990s.

Germany wants him and Mustac in connection with the 1983 murder of a Yugoslav dissident in Bavaria that it blamed on UDBA. Perkovic has denied wrongdoing and said he was ready to testify before a Croatian court.

Shortly before joining the EU on July 1, in a move that irked its EU partners, Zagreb changed its laws to prevent the extradition of suspects in crimes committed before 2002, when new EU extradition rules took effect.

The government said at the time that it wanted to protect veterans of Croatia's 1991-95 independence war from facing potential prosecution elsewhere in the EU. It denied any connection with the Perkovic case and pointed out that some EU member states have the same 2002 time limit.

But the government removed the time restriction in August after the European Commission warned that it could face legal action, including the possible loss of EU development funds.

(Reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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