Attorneys for accused war criminal Andrija Artukovic said Monday that they will seek to block his extradition to Yugoslavia on murder charges because they have discovered that Yugoslavia has a 25-year statute of limitations on the prosecution of capital crimes.
The only exception in Yugoslav law is the crime of genocide, they said. Although Artukovic has been accused of genocide in the mass murder of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies in Croatia during World War II, he is formally charged with murder in the Yugoslav extradition request.
However, the chief prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Atty. David Nimmer, called the motion "frivolous" and said there is no statute of limitations.
The latest defense move on behalf of Artukovic, 85, former interior minister in the Nazi puppet government of Croatia, was disclosed on the second day of a continuing extradition hearing in Los Angeles federal court.
Artukovic was brought to the hearing from Long Beach Naval Hospital, where he is being held, after Dr. David Hill, a Navy cardiologist, pronounced him competent to assist his attorneys in Monday's proceedings.
Hearing Cut Short
The hearing was cut short, however, after Dr. David Gottlieb, a defense psychiatrist, examined Artukovic in the courthouse shortly before the hearing was opened by U.S. Magistrate Volney V. Brown Jr.
Gottlieb, questioned by defense lawyer Gary B. Fleischman, testified that Artukovic was unaware of his surroundings and unable to assist in his defense.
The magistrate then questioned Artukovic himself.
"Mr. Artukovic, do you understand that you are in a United States District Court this morning?" he asked.
"It's not clear to me," Artukovic responded through a Serbo-Croatian court translator.
"Do you understand that as a result of these proceedings you could be sent to Yugoslavia . . . or that you might go home to Seal Beach?" Brown continued.
"I don't understand," Artukovic answered through the translator.
"This is not a good day for the respondent," Brown concluded after the brief interrogation.
Despite objections from Nimmer, Brown ordered the hearing postponed until Wednesday pending Artukovic's mental condition at that time. He also ordered the government to have its own psychiatrist present Wednesday to examine Artukovic in the event there is another disputed diagnosis.
Fleischman said the discovery of the Yugoslav statute of limitations was made by Artukovic's son, Rad Artukovic, a Los Angeles stockbroker who has been crusading for his father's release and helping defense lawyers interpret Croatian documents.
Rad Artukovic was sent to the county Law Library on Friday and found the 25-year limit on prosecuting offenses carrying the death penalty, Fleischman said.
Nimmer called it a frivolous defense motion. The Yugoslav extradition request is being made under the terms of a 1901 extradition treaty between the United States and the Kingdom of Serbia. Federal officials said the treaty contains a clause that the U.S. statute of limitations applies in any disputed cases.
Statute of Limitations
There is no statute of limitations on murder in the United States.
The reason why Artukovic is not formally charged with genocide by the Yugoslav government is that the 1901 treaty has no reference to such a crime, Fleischman said after Monday's hearing.
The issue of the 25-year limit by Yugoslavia on prosecuting capital crimes will be argued when the hearing resumes Wednesday. Brown calculated Monday that the last alleged involvement by Artukovic in the murders of Serbs and Jews took place in 1942. He said that if Fleischman is correct, the Yugoslav statute of limitations ran out in 1967.
In another development , Brown apologized to Fleischman for abusive treatment he received when he was leaving the courthouse Thursday. Fleischman, who is Jewish, was spat upon by members of the Jewish Defense League and had to be escorted to his car by U.S. marshals.
"I regret the rudeness with which you were treated . . . last week. We will do better in that area," Brown said.
After Monday's hearings, spectators, who included Jewish Defense League members, were barred from leaving the courtroom until Fleischman was safely out of the building.