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Artukovic Extradited to Yugoslavia for Trial

February 13, 1986|JOHN KENDALL | Times Staff Writer

Within an hour of losing his "last hope" appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, accused Nazi war criminal Andrija Artukovic was extradited Wednesday, ending a 35-year legal struggle to avoid returning to Yugoslavia to face charges of ordering mass murders during World War II.

The 86-year-old Seal Beach resident, who is legally blind, suffering from a heart condition and sometimes mentally confused, was flown from New York's Kennedy International Airport to the northern city of Zagreb aboard a commercial Yugoslavian airliner.

Reuters news service reported from Belgrade that witnesses saw Artukovic on a stretcher as he was carried off a plane and driven away, reportedly to a hospital. No trial date has been announced.

The extradition of Artukovic, who served as minister of the interior and minister of justice for the Nazi puppet state of Croatia from April, 1941, to May, 1945, has been sought by Yugoslavia since the early 1950s.

He is accused of complicity in the murder of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies. According to Yugoslavian officials, 700,000 prisoners were killed in the Jasenovac concentration camp while Artukovic was in charge of Croatian police and security. He has been described as the highest-ranking Nazi war criminal to come to the United States.

Complaint by Defense

After his client's extradition, one of Artukovic's attorneys, Gary Fleischman, complained that the defense was never permitted to complete the appeals process.

"It is appalling that they removed him from the country without letting the old man say goodby to his wife and five children and consult with counsel," Fleischman said. " . . . I think this whole matter has been a travesty of repeated violations of basic due process, including the summary dismissal of our appeal."

Assistant U.S. Atty. David Nimmer, who headed a three-member prosecution team seeking Artukovic's extradition, defended the government's legal actions.

"Although none of the victims of Nazi genocide ever received any sort of due process, this country afforded Artukovic 15 months of hearings," Nimmer said. "The courts received all his evidence and considered all his arguments. Only then did each of the four levels of federal courts that reviewed this case conclude that Artukovic must face trial in Yugoslavia for thousands of acts of murder. The government's position has been vindicated."

Allan A. Ryan Jr., who was director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations when it reopened the case in 1979, called Artukovic "the highest-ranking Nazi war criminal ever to come to this country. . . . He was in charge of the secret police. He was in charge of the death camps."

Ryan called on the Yugoslav government to hold a "trial open to all the world. Let the world see what the evidence there is."

During his final hours in the United States on Tuesday and early Wednesday, the frail, white-haired Artukovic lost two attempts to avoid extradition. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist rejected his last appeal at 12:20 a.m. EST Wednesday.

Shortly before 1 a.m., according to government accounts, Artukovic walked aboard a Yugoslavian Airlines jet where an official from the Yugoslavian Embassy joined the traveling group, including U.S. marshals and a physician.

The quickly moving events began around noon Tuesday when two federal appeals court judges in Los Angeles denied Artukovic's request for an emergency stay of extradition.

No 'Serious Legal Question'

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Harry Pregerson and Alex Kozinski issued an order holding that Artukovic's appeal did not present a "serious legal question." They said Artukovic could defend himself at the trial in Yugoslavia.

Within two hours of the decision, Artukovic was removed from Terminal Island and left Los Angeles International Airport on a commercial flight at 4:15 p.m. PST. At the time, Artukovic's lawyers, Fleischman and Michael Dacquisto, were composing a three-page telegram to Rehnquist.

"Why did they take this old man?" Fleischman asked later . "It's interesting that a few weeks ago he thought he was in Yugoslavia. They removed his body, but physically they have not made any change in his emotional state. They are going to punish him, and he doesn't know they're doing it."

Artukovic entered the United States in 1948 under an alias and on a temporary visitor's visa. Years later, he successfully fought several attempts by U.S. officials to deport him. He has been in custody since November, 1984, when Yugoslavia renewed its extradition efforts and the U.S. Office of Special Investigations, the Nazi-hunting unit of the federal government, reopened the case.

In Los Angeles last March, U.S. Magistrate Volney V. Brown Jr. found "overwhelming probable cause" to believe that Artukovic ordered mass murder, and he ruled in favor of extradition.

A government certificate ordering Artukovic's return to Yugoslavia, signed Aug. 8, 1985, said he could be extradited for the murders of:

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