BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Andrija Artukovic, who was extradited from the United States to stand trial for Nazi war crimes, faces a prison sentence of at least five years and possibly death by firing squad if he is convicted, a justice official said Thursday.
The 86-year-old Artukovic was deemed healthy enough to stand trial, according to Predrag Matovic, assistant federal secretary of justice.
"His health condition permits conducting of the proceedings," Matovic said.
Artukovic, who was a minister in the Nazi puppet state of Croatia in 1941-45, was flown Wednesday from Los Angeles to Zagreb after losing two final bids to avoid extradition and a battle to evade prosecution that lasted for nearly 35 years. Yugoslavia accuses him of presiding over the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews, Gypsies, intellectuals and others.
Artukovic, who was escorted from the United States after his last court appeal to block extradition was denied, was taken off the plane on a stretcher. He is legally blind and suffers from heart trouble and senility.
Matovic declined to say when Artukovic's trial would begin or how long it could last. And he refused to say where Artukovic was being held, but told a news conference that "he is detained in conditions which guarantee his health will not deteriorate."
Artukovic will be tried in Zagreb District Court in the Croatian capital on two charges: war crimes against the civil population and war crimes against prisoners of war, Matovic said. Each offense carries a minimum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum penalty of death, which is carried out by firing squad, Matovic said.
He said the trial would be conducted as a "regular criminal proceeding against any individual."
Under Yugoslav law no foreign defense lawyers may appear before a Yugoslav court. Matovic said two defense lawyers have been assigned to Artukovic.
Open to Public
Matovic said the trial will be open to the public but added that the court has the right to hold parts of the hearings behind closed doors.
Artukovic was arrested Nov. 14, 1984, at his home in Seal Beach. He had fled Yugoslavia on May 5, 1945, and arrived in the United States with a false passport. Yugoslavia declared him a war criminal in 1948.
Artukovic lost his appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, which came hours after a federal appeals court refused to stop the government from extraditing him.
Two U.S. marshals and a doctor accompanied Artukovic on the trip to Zagreb. Witnesses on the jetliner said Artukovic became aware of where he was headed when he read an inscription above his seat in both Croat-Serbian and English that said, "Fasten seat belts."
He was quoted as telling one of the marshals, "Yes, now I know where I'm going."