Secret recordings link dead dictator to Bosnia crimes

The Tudjman Tapes: Transcripts from Croatian leader's own archive reveal his role in war atrocities and how he stole £1bn from his own people

Paul Lashmar,Cabell Bruce,John Cookson
Wednesday 01 November 2000 00:00 GMT

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Louise Thomas

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Secret tape recordings made by the late President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia prove that he and his close circle were directly involved in perpetrating war crimes and stole £1bn from his war-racked country.

Secret tape recordings made by the late President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia prove that he and his close circle were directly involved in perpetrating war crimes and stole £1bn from his war-racked country.

The Tudjman tapes, whose existence was not known until now, were recorded at the Pantov presidential palace where the Balkan dictator had his office until his death last December. From the palace, in a forest outside Zagreb, Tudjman and his cronies masterminded Croatia's role in the Bosnian war. The president tape-recorded almost everyone who came to his office, including visiting politicians, diplomats and officials.

The recordings came to light after Croatia's new president, Stipe Mesic, gave Channel 4 News unprecedented access to the 100 tapes and 17,000 transcripts stored at the palace.

According to President Mesic, Tudjman was convinced that his was an historic and messianic role: "This is why he wanted everything he said to be on record... because he thought it would be important to history."

Some 85 kilos of the most sensitive transcripts were removed by Tudjman's henchmen last year, but thousands were left behind.

Croatians still see Tudjman as the father of the nation and the man who guided them through the Bosnian war. But the tapes reveal how deeply he was involved in atrocities against the Muslims in Bosnia.

President Mesic has now handed copies of the transcripts to the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. "The tapes implicate Tudjman's senior military commanders and generals in extensive atrocities and then the subsequent cover-up of these crimes," he said.

The Deputy Chief Prosecutor at the tribunal, Graham Blewitt, said that had Tudjman lived the tapes would have provided evidence of involvement in atrocities. "I'm confident we could have established his responsibility for the crimes that were committed," he said.

The tapes also show how the Tudjman regime plundered the country of £1bn, leaving workers unpaid, massive unemployment and a banking crisis.

One set of tapes show how Tudjman and his cronies skimmed $100m (£69m) off the top of a near billion-dollar sell-off of Croatia's telephone service. Some of the money went into a political slush fund.

On the afternoon of 13 October last year Tudjman met with the then deputy prime minister and finance minister Borislav Skegro. Mr Skegro said: "Mr President I've put the money aside for December because I think we need it. We have to prepare for the upcoming elections." He added: "It's in an Irish bank... 100 per cent safe. Only you and I know about this."

President Mesic is now pledging to find the missing millions. "Money leaves a paper trail and everyone responsible will be brought to account." Members of Tudjman's immediate family are under investigation.

The tapes also reveal that Tudjman and his apparent enemy Milosevic, then President of Serbia, ignored pledges to respect Bosnia's sovereignty. Even after signing the Dayton accord they were still plotting to carve up the region.

In one conversation Tudjman told an official: "Let's make a deal with the Serbs." He continued: "Neither history nor emotion in the Balkans will permit multinationalism. We have to give up on the illusion of the last eight years... Dayton isn't working. Nobody - except diplomats and petty officials - believes in a sovereign Bosnia and the Dayton accords."

But perhaps the most surprising revelation from the tapes is that the Croatian president covered up war crimes at the Bosnian hamlet of Ahmici where more than a hundred Muslim men, women and children were terrorised, and then shot or burned to death.

In March at The Hague General Tomas Blaskic of the Bosnian Croat army was sentenced to 45 years. Most of the sentence was for ethnic cleansing of Muslims including at Ahmici.

The Tudjman tapes and a Croatian intelligence report back up Blaskic's claims that the Ahmici killers were clandestine Croatian forces under Tudjman's command.

One of the Tudjman tapes, played on last night's Channel 4 News, suggests Blaskic was a fall guy in a conspiracy hatched by Tudjman. One of those subpoenaed by the Hague tribunal was Bosnian Croat General Milivoj Petkovich, a Tudjman favourite. He knew which troops were where.

On the afternoon of 13 April last year Tudjman met with his closest aides. "Mr President, General Petkovich has been called to the War Crimes Tribunal for testimony. Tudjman: "Testimony for what?" The official: "For the Blaskic case... To me this is a big trap." Tudjman: "OK... if he can go and testify there weren't any of our Croat units in the area then he can go... nothing else."

Blaskic is appealing his conviction.

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