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Artukovic, Under Death Penalty, Languishes in Yugoslavian Prison

November 16, 1987|JANE APPLEGATE | Times Staff Writer

It has been three years since federal marshals burst into Andrija Artukovic's Seal Beach home and arrested him as he sat in his pajamas, eating breakfast with his full-time nurse.

Ailing and blind, the 84-year-old Artukovic suffered a heart attack the day he was arrested, Nov. 14, 1984. After spending several weeks in a hospital, he was sent to Terminal Island federal prison to await extradition to Yugoslavia, where he would face charges that he ordered the deaths of more than 1,000 people in concentration camps during World War II.

Artukovic, who was minister of interior, justice and religion in the Croatian government established by Nazi Germany, fought for two years to avoid extradition, with the help of his son, Radoslav, of Seal Beach. Finally, on Feb. 12, 1986, the elder Artukovic was put on a plane and sent to Yugoslavia to stand trial.

Three months later, a Yugoslavian court found him guilty of war crimes committed during his tenure from 1941 to 1945. Artukovic was sentenced to death.

But last May, his execution was postponed indefinitely because Yugoslavian law does not allow a death sentence to be carried out while the condemned person is ill. Today, Artukov remains in the hospital ward of a Yugoslavian prison outside Zagreb.

"On the surface, it looks like this case is closed," said Radoslav Artukovic. "But it is not closed. I believe very strongly that we will be able to turn this thing around."

When he not working as a stockbroker or spending time with his wife and children, the younger Artukovic pursues his father's freedom with unflagging zeal.

"My goal is to have the United States government vacate the decision to extradite him and have the Yugoslavian government reverse itself," the younger Artukovic said. "As his son, I believe in his innocence. I feel that I'm totally right."

Although a panel of judges in Belgrade rejected Artukovic's appeal for clemency last June, his son said he is preparing new information aimed at discrediting the main witness against his father, a man who claims to have been Artukovic's motorcycle escort and witnessed his crimes.

The younger Artukovic said he met in June with Mark M. Richard, a deputy assistant in the criminal justice division of the U.S. Justice Department, and obtained a promise that the department would review whatever new historical material Artukovic submits.

"Obviously we are prepared to receive any submissions that anyone wants to make to us," said Richard, who confirmed that he met with Artukovic but declined to elaborate on what was said.

"But the man was extradited and that closes the case as far as we are concerned," Richard said. "He is no longer within our jurisdiction. Artukovic's remedy lies with the Yugoslavians."

Radoslav Artukovic, meanwhile, depends on attorneys in Zagreb to keep him posted on his father's condition. His father, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, remains confused about where he is, the younger Artukovic said.

He last visited his father in May, but he has applied to the Yugoslavian government for permission to visit his father next month. In September, his sister was allowed to spend 15 minutes with their father, who will be 88 on Nov. 30. According to court records, Artukovic entered the United States in 1948 on a false passport and lived in Orange County until his arrest three years ago.

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