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U.S. May OK Bail, Return to Southland for Artukovic

Times Staff Writer

Accused Nazi war criminal Andrija Artukovic may be released on bail from a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo., and be allowed to return to Southern California, a U.S. magistrate in Los Angeles tentatively ruled on Friday.

Emphasizing that his ruling is only tentative, Magistrate John R. Kronenberg said he is inclined to grant bail for Artukovic, 85, because of “the government’s apparent arbitrary decision to move him 2,000 miles away” from his family and attorneys.

The magistrate ordered Artukovic’s attorney and the government’s lawyer to return to his courtroom on Monday with an agreement on a bail figure and a plan for “reasonably maintaining” Artukovic here if bail is granted.

Ordered Extradited

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Artukovic, a Croatian exile, has been described by federal officials as one of the highest-ranking Nazi war criminals still living in the United States. He was ordered extradited to Yugoslavia in May to face trial there on charges of murdering thousands of civilians during World War II. However, U.S. Magistrate Volney V. Brown Jr. delayed the action until defense attorneys exhaust all appeals.

The U.S. Justice Department has been trying for more than 30 years to deport Artukovic, who served as a minister of interior and justice in Nazi-controlled Yugoslavia. The current Yugoslav government has accused Artukovic of complicity in the execution of 770,000 Serbs, Gypsies and Jews during the war.

Artukovic’s attorney, Gary B. Fleischman, argued at Friday’s bail hearing that Artukovic’s family has been denied visitation rights by prison officials in Missouri and that the elderly prisoner is “just gradually slipping away.”

“When you deprive an elderly person of the sensory relationship with his family, pretty soon he stops eating,” Fleischman said. “He has lost 10 pounds from his previous weight of 130. It seems that this man will die before an end to these (extradition) proceedings.”

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Fleischman said Artukovic suffers from a variety of potentially terminal illnesses.

“He could go any day,” he added. “He’s going to be dead before we’re done (with the extradition appeals).”

Assistant U.S. Atty. David Nimmer countered that Fleischman has been arguing since the case began last November that “Artukovic is at death’s door.”

Nimmer added that Artukovic’s condition had actually improved since he was imprisoned and that medical tests indicated that he did not suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, as his defense attorneys contend.

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Kronenberg, however, agreed with the defense’s contention, asking Nimmer: “Can you seriously question that (Artukovic’s) life or welfare is threatened” by his confinement in Missouri?

“This court is very concerned that (Artukovic) is of an advanced age--an age at which, with no particular ailments, his life expectancy is very low,” Kronenberg said.

Five More Years

He then consulted an actuarial table that “seems to show that at 85, you should be dead.” However, reading further in the table, he added that 85-year-olds “would seem to have a life expectancy of five years.”

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Answering Nimmer’s argument that Artukovic was moved to Missouri because the U.S. Bureau of Prisons did not have sufficient funds to provide 24-hour care for the prisoner at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Long Beach, Kronenberg pointed out that the Bureau of Prisons “is not hesitant to spend money to transport bank robbers to a prison near their homes.”

“I’m wondering if Mr. Artukovic was singled out because of the publicity in this case,” the magistrate said. “There’s no question in my mind that he could (die) tomorrow. Under the circumstances, his confinement approaches cruel and unusual punishment.”

At that remark, members of Artukovic’s family who were in the courtroom embraced each other.


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