Ex-Yugoslav Leader Denies Sex Charge

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former aide to Milan Panic has brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Orange County businessman and former Yugoslav leader, claiming that he propositioned her repeatedly at the office--a charge an attorney for Panic disputes.

Colleen James, 39, alleged in a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court on May 25 that the mostly verbal harassment escalated into a physical attack in her office last year, when Panic grabbed her from behind and thrust himself against her in a sexual manner. She also charged that she was fired earlier this year after she threatened to make trouble over his unwanted advances.

Panic did not return calls for comment Tuesday. But his attorney, Bernard I. Segal of Los Angeles, said that Panic had never harassed James during her years at his company and that she was let go in February solely because of cost cutbacks at the firm.

"You have here a disgruntled employee who knows that she's dealing with a prominent figure and is trying to make the most of it through some gambit to coerce money out of the company," Segal said. "But the company is not about to be browbeaten."

Panic has been a force in Southland business circles for years, building ICN Pharmaceuticals Inc. into an industry giant and generating controversy over his marketing of a treatment for the AIDS virus.

But he burst onto a far larger international stage last summer when he was named prime minister of his war-ravaged homeland of Yugoslavia.

Nine months later, however, Panic returned to Orange County and his pharmaceutical business after receiving a no-confidence vote as prime minister and failing to unseat rival Slobodan Milosevic in a race for the presidency of Serbia.

James, who worked as a $51,000-a-year trade show manager at SPI Pharmaceuticals, a Costa Mesa subsidiary of ICN that is also headed by Panic, alleges in her lawsuit that Panic attacked her in her office six weeks before he was named prime minister in Yugoslavia.

But Segal, the attorney for Panic, questioned why James had never filed a formal complaint under the company's sexual harassment policy and raised the issue only after she was let go.

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