NEW YORK (Feb. 12)
After more than 30 years, numerous legal proceedings and two formal extradition requests, accused war criminal Andrija Artukovic boarded a plane early Wednesday morning bound for Yugoslavia where he will face charges stemming from his activities as a senior official of the Nazi puppet state of Croatia during World War II.
Artukovic departed from Kennedy International Airport at approximately 12:30 a.m. after Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, without comment, refused to block his extradition. The Tanjug News Agency, the official Yugoslav news agency in Belgrade, reported that Artukovic had arrived. The news agency said “Artukovic was today transferred to Yugoslavia and turned over to court authorities.”
In Washington, the State Department said the accused war criminal was surrendered to Yugoslav authorities who returned him to Zagreb in northern Yugoslavia for trial on murder charges. A surrender warrant was signed June 3, 1985 by Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead, the Department said.
Two Jewish organizations who have closely monitored the legal proceedings involving Artukovic–the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and the World Jewish Congress–immediately expressed their gratitude to the Justice and State Departments for their persistent efforts leading to Artukovic’s extradition.
The 86-year-old Artukovic, of Seal Beach, a seaside community south of Los Angeles, is accused by the Justice Department of the wartime persecution or murder of 700,000 Serbians, 40,000 gypsies and 28,000 Jews while he was interior Minister of Croatia. Suffering from various physical and health related ailments, Artukovic had been confined to the detention facilities at the University of South California Medical Center since his arrest in November, 1984, on the second of two extradition requests from Yugoslavia.
Artukovic has lived in California since entering the U.S. in 1948 through the use of fraudulent documents, according to the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations. His deportation was ordered in 1952, at the same time Yugoslav officials were requesting his extradition for trial on 22 counts of murder stemming from alleged war crimes.
Artukovic has always emphatically denied the charges, and in 1959, a U.S. district court turned down the extradition request, holding that there was insufficient evidence of guilt. That same year, the deportation order was stayed by an immigration commissioner on the grounds that Artukovic would be persecuted if he returned to his native land.
In 1978, Congress amended the immigration Act to provide that such stays could not be granted to members of wartime German governments who are accused of atrocities. U.S. immigration authorities then renewed their efforts to have Artukovic deported, and the 1959 stay was ordered revoked.
Artukovic appealed, and in December, 1982, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Los Angeles ruled that before the stay could be lifted, the government would have to prove its case, thus providing a significant setback to prosecutors in the case. To avoid a drawn-out deportation battle, U.S. officials reportedly encouraged the Yugoslavs to file a new extradition request.
On November 14, 1984, Artukovic was arrested by U.S. Marshals and local police on a new extradition request. Among the charges brought by the Yugoslav government against him are that he commanded the extermination of thousands of persons, including the entire population of several villages in early 1942.
Just last week, an appeal by Artukovic against extradition was denied by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Manuel Real. Artukovic had ten days to file an appeal on Real’s ruling. Last Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Los Angeles denied a stay of extradition. That action was soon followed by the Supreme Court action. By that time, Artukovic was already on a plane from Los Angeles to New York.