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Dragan Vasiljković

Dragan Vasiljković
Dragan Vasiljković.jpg
Vasiljković (middle) with Savo Štrbac (right)
Native name
Драган Васиљковић
Nickname(s)Captain Dragan
Born (1954-12-12) 12 December 1954 (age 64)
Belgrade, Serbia, Yugoslavia
Allegiance Serbian Krajina
Years of service1991–1995

Dragan Vasiljković (Serbian Cyrillic: Драган Васиљковић; born 12 December 1954), nicknamed Captain Dragan (Kapetan Dragan/Капетан Драган), was a commander of a Serb paramilitary unit called the Knindže (or "Knin ninjas").[1]

He is accused by the Republic of Croatia of committing war crimes during the Croatian War of Independence, and subsequently issued an arrest warrant by Interpol. He was arrested in Australia in January 2006,[2] and ordered to prison by the High Court of Australia in anticipation for extradition to Croatia to face prosecution for his alleged crimes.[3][4] He was extradited to Croatia on 8 July 2015 after losing his thirteenth appeal and sentenced to 15 years in prison on 26 September 2017 by the County Court in the city of Split.[2]

Early life

Dragan Vasiljković was born on 12 December 1954 in a Serbian Orthodox family in Belgrade.[5] His father Živorad died in a motorcycle accident while Dragan was still young.[5] At the age of 3, his mother moved to Australia with her two children from a previous marriage, and Vasiljković ended up in an orphanage and later a foster home.[5] At the age of thirteen he joined his mother and two siblings in Australia under the name Daniel Snedden.[6]

As a juvenile, he ended up in trouble with the law several times: one time he was accused of robbery and selling stolen goods, a second time he was charged with forcing women into prostitution.[5] At the suggestion of a judge, he joined the army. He spent 4 years in the Australian Army's reserve unit 4th/19th Prince of Wales's Light Horse. After his military service, he served as a weapons instructor in Africa and South America. He was sailing around the world and stayed in Serbia in 1988 where he set up a boat and airplane charter business.[citation needed] He was convicted of criminal charges in relation to brothel ownership in Elsternwick, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia during the 1980s.[7] He also worked as a golf instructor in Australia.

War in Croatia

He returned to Belgrade in May 1990, as Croatia held its first democratic parliamentary elections.[8][9] In Belgrade, Captain Dragan met Saša Medaković, one of the leaders of the barricades in Krajina following the "Log Revolution" in August.[9]

Medaković was a friend of Knin chief of police Milan Martić, and was an employee of Krajina state security. Captain Dragan visited Krajina in the autumn 1990.[9] There, he met Martić and claimed that the defence of Krajina appeared "very disorganised".[9] He thus decided to help organise the Krajina defence. On his return to Belgrade, he attempted to gather support for his effort, and became a member of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement.[citation needed] He then returned to the United States to complete his aviator training.[9]

During the March 1991 Belgrade upheaval when the Serbian Renewal Movement's challenge to the government was met with tanks in the streets, Captain Dragan was compelled to return there. Srba Milovanov introduced him to several Serbian State Security personnel, among them Franko Simatović.[9] Simatović told him of his Krajina-related activities that if his bosses were to learn about it, he would probably be arrested and dismissed.[citation needed] On 4 April, Captain Dragan went to Krajina to work for Milan Martić.[10]

On 25 June 1991, Croatia proclaimed its independence; soon after, war broke out in Croatia. He served during the Croatian War of Independence under the newly created Republic of Serbian Krajina as a volunteer; International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia prosecutors claim that this service took place under Serbian police auspices, and media even reported that he claimed this during his testimony at the Slobodan Milošević trial in 2003.[citation needed]

He commanded special units known as Red Berets (not to be confused with the Special Operations Unit (JSO) founded in Serbia in 1996) or Knindže after the Krajina's capital of Knin and ninja fighters.[9] He trained units at Krajina's Golubić training camp for which he was allegedly paid by the State Security Service of Serbia;[11] he denied this at the Milosevic trial, despite his role as a prosecution witness. He added that the only time that the Serbian State Security paid him was for a 28-day stint in 1997 "to monitor exercises"; his fee was 2,200 dinars.[12] He was allied with Interior Minister Milan Martić in his power struggle with president Milan Babić, whom he described as "dishonest, a man who was not of his word."[13] Martić, in contrast, he considered to be "a man of honour and a man of his word."[13]

In November 1991, Babić called Vojislav Šešelj to Knin to help him thwart what he believed to be a coup attempt being planned by Captain Dragan himself.[citation needed] According to Šešelj, "Captain Dragan interfered and started a rebellion among the army ranks", and organised a rally of military personnel. The rally, Šešelj said, proved a failure and Babic remained in power.[14] Šešelj also testified at the Milosevic trial that Captain Dragan had a training camp in Golubic. During the war, he founded the Fond Kapetan Dragan aimed at helping victims of war.[12]

Life in Serbia

After the end of combat in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vasiljković returned to Serbia where he lived for several years.[citation needed]Vasiljković was involved in the Serbian Renewal Movement.[15] He maintained his friendship with Franko Simatović, and in 2001 stated that he would defend him in court if necessary.[16] Simatović was arrested and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2003.[citation needed]

Vasiljković reemerged in the spotlight after he testified against Slobodan Milošević in 2004 at the ICTY, and subsequently moved back to Perth, Western Australia.[17]


In September 2005 an article in The Australian newspaper accused Dragan Vasiljković of war crimes as a Serbian paramilitary commander between 1991 and 1994.[18] Vasiljković made a short return to Serbia and held a press conference in Belgrade before returning to Australia.[19] He lodged a public defamation case against the publishing company Nationwide News for the article, but in December 2009 the court ruled against Vasiljković, and ordered him to pay them $1.2 million.[20]

Vasiljković was arrested on the basis of a Croatian warrant in January.[21] He is accused by the Republic of Croatia of being responsible for soldiers under his command allegedly torturing, beating and killing captured members of Croatian Army and Police between June and July 1991 in a prison on the fortress in Knin,[22] and also for making plans to attack and take over the Glina Police station, a near city village Jukince and the villages Gornji i Donji Viduševac in February 1993 at Benkovac (in agreement with the commander of the tank unit JNA).[23] It is alleged that during that, in violation of the Geneva convention, civil buildings were damaged and ruined, Croatian citizens' property was robbed and civilians were wounded and killed, including a German journalist, Egon Scotland.[24] Those accusations were made public after the newspaper The Australian reported a story about him.[18]

Dragan subsequently sued The Australian for defamation.[25] In July 2007, the Supreme Court held that 6 out of 10 imputations in that article were defamatory (The Australian – Majority rules Dragan defamed).[citation needed] However, in December 2009, a judge ruled that Captain Dragan "committed torture and rape" and that The Australian article from 2005 proved that Vasiljković participated and committed the allegations against him.[26][27]

Vasiljković gave evidence during Milosević's trial at the Hague in 2003 without immunity.[28] The ICTY Hague Tribunal named Vasiljković as a "participant in a joint criminal enterprise" against Croats and other non-Serbs in the judgement against Milan Martic, but did not request his arrest.[29]

All of the others named are either already on trial at the Hague or at large.[30] In 2005, ICTY spokesperson Florence Hartmann announced that Vasiljković had been under investigation, but that it had stopped due to the mandate on the tribunal to finish its work.[31]

Extradition hearing in Australia

In December 2006, Vasiljković's bid to prevent his extradition hearing from going ahead failed in the Sydney Magistrates Court.[32] His grounds of defense were that as a Serbian Captain, he believed that he would be facing a biased Croatian Court and that no evidence of the allegations are required under the Extradition Act 1988,[33] for an Australian citizen to be extradited.[32]

On 12 April 2007, authorities in Sydney granted Croatia's extradition request, with Vasiljković being held pending appeal at Parklea Correctional Centre in its maximum security section on protection. By April 2007, the Serbian community of Australia had spent over $500,000 on Vasiljković's defence.[34] An application for bail pending an appeal to the Federal Court of Australia was dismissed.[35]

On 3 February 2009 Vasiljković appeal against extradition to Croatia was rejected by the Federal Court.[36][37], Among those coming to the defence of Vasiljković was the Serbian Orthodox bishop of Australia and New Zealand, Irinej Dobrijević.[38]

On 2 September 2009 Federal Court of Australia ruled that "there was a substantial or real chance of prejudice" if he was extradited to Croatia, ordering release, pending appeal.[39][40] He subsequently walked free from Parklea prison in Sydney's west on 4 September 2009.[41]

The Australian government appealed the ruling, and in March 2010, the High Court of Australia overturned the Federal Court decision and ruled that Vasiljković should be extradited to Croatia.[32][42] After the ruling, Vasiljković was nowhere to be found, prompting the Australian Federal Police to launch a nationwide manhunt.[43][44]

Final arrest and appeals

Vasiljković was captured by federal police in New South Wales on 12 May 2010, 43 days after his disappearance.[45] On 19 May, the Australian Court rejected Vasiljković's defence that Croatian courts would not give him a fair trial and that claims that Croatian courts had been more lenient towards Croats were "scanty" and "feeble".[32][46][47]

On 16 November 2012 the Australian Government decided to extradite Vasiljković to Croatia.[48] Vasiljković challenged the decision to the Federal Court but was unsuccessful.[49] Vasiljković appealed to the Full Court of the Federal Court, but on 12 December 2014 the Full Court rejected the appeal, clearing him for extradition to Croatia.[50][51][52]

On 15 May 2015 the High Court of Australia refused Vasiljković leave to appeal the December 2014 Federal Court ruling due to the unlikelihood of a successful outcome for him.[53] Following this decision, he had no remaining legal avenue to challenge his extradition.[54]


On the morning of 8 July 2015 Australia surrendered Vasiljković to Republic of Croatia police officers at Sydney Airport, his thirteen separate legal challenges against the extradition process having failed.[2][55] Upon arrival at Zagreb International Airport the following day he was transferred by high-security police motorcade to an isolated wing of a jail in Split.[56]

Trial in Croatia

At his first interview with prosecutors he stated that he did not feel guilty of the war crimes that they allege he committed, and dismissed his state-appointed attorney.[56] In July 2016 he entered a formal plea of not guilty to unspecified war crimes,[57] and the trial commenced on 20 September 2016. In September 2017 Vasiljković received a 15-year sentence by the Croatian court in Split.[58]


  1. ^ "The Real Captain Dragan". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Captain Dragan: Serbian war crimes suspect Dragan Vasiljkovic extradited from Australia". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. 8 July 2015. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  3. ^ "High Court orders Australian to Croatia". The Sydney Morning Herald. 30 March 2010.
  4. ^ Ansley, Greg (14 May 2010). "War crimes suspect hunted down". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d "Tko je Dragan Vasiljković, poznatiji kao 'Kapetan Dragan'?". 8 July 2015.
  6. ^ Selma Milovanovic, Sydney (8 July 2015). "'Captain Dragan' extradited from Australia to face Croatian court over alleged war crime".
  7. ^ Selma Milovanovic, Sydney (7 May 2009). "Ex-Serb soldier claims to be hero". The Age.
  8. ^ "Captain Dragan: Serbian war crimes suspect Dragan Vasiljkovic extradited from Australia". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 October 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "ICTY Transcript". International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 19 February 2003.
  10. ^ "ICTY". United Nations. 5 March 2007.
  11. ^ "ICTY: Prosecutor vs. Milan Martić (pg. 51–52)" (PDF). United Nations. 5 March 2007.
  12. ^ a b "ICTY". United Nations. 5 March 2007.
  13. ^ a b "ICTY Transcript". The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 20 February 2003.
  14. ^ "Icty – Tpiy :". United Nations. 5 March 2007.
  15. ^ "Kapetan Dragan: Od imigranta do komandanta".
  16. ^ The Bloody Red Berets, Time
  17. ^ "Dragan Vasiljkovic at Trial Watch". Archived from the original on 24 October 2007.
  18. ^ a b War crimes accused teaching in Perth, Natasha Robinson and Paige Taylor, The Australian, 8 September 2005."Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 May 2009. Retrieved 29 April 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ Vijesti,; accessed 30 November 2016.
  20. ^ "War crimes accused Dragan Vasiljkovic to pay $1.2m defamation court costs". The Australian. 28 September 2012.
  21. ^ "Captain Dragan: Serbian war crimes suspect Dragan Vasiljkovic extradited from Australia". ABC News. 8 July 2015.
  22. ^ "Captain Dragan's Victims Testify of War Crimes". 29 April 2009. Archived from the original on 23 November 2009.
  23. ^ Trial: Dragan Vasiljkovic Archived 11 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "Australian justice delayed denies war victims of Dragan Vasiljkovic". The Australian. 5 July 2014.
  25. ^ "Dragan Vasiljkovic extradition order to Croatia set aside by judge". The Australian. 22 November 2013.
  26. ^ "Captain Dragan Vaslijkovic 'committed torture and rape'". The Australian. 28 September 2012.
  27. ^ Kim Arlington. "War criminal fails in defamation case". Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  28. ^ Kim Arlington (25 October 2005). "Perth man prepared to face war crime claims". ABC.
  29. ^ "Milan Martić sentenced to 35 years for crimes against humanity and war crimes". The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 12 June 2007.
  30. ^ "ICTY: Martić sentence summary". United Nations. 5 March 2007. Archived from the original on 15 December 2007.
  31. ^ Hag odustao od Kapetana Dragana, B92
  32. ^ a b c d Republic of Croatia v Snedden [2010] HCA 14, (2010) 241 CLR 461. judgment summary. High Court.
  33. ^ "Memorandum submitted by the Home Office". section 10.
  34. ^ Serbians pushing for Vasiljkovic stay, The Sydney Morning Herald
  35. ^ Snedden v Republic of Croatia [2007] FCA 1902 (12 December 2007), Federal Court (Australia).
  36. ^ Snedden v Republic of Croatia [2009] FCA 30 (3 February 2009), Federal Court (Australia).
  37. ^ "Trial Watch: Dragan Vasiljkovic (Kapetan Dragan, Captain Dragan" Archived 19 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine,; retrieved 5 March 2009.
  38. ^ No proof of Vasiljkovic's Serbian war crimes: bishop, The Australian; accessed 30 November 2016.
  39. ^ Snedden v Republic of Croatia [2009] FCAFC 111 (2 September 2009), Federal Court (Full Court) (Australia).
  40. ^ Taylor, Rob (2 September 2009). "Accused Serb commander can appeal in Australia". Reuters.
  41. ^ Taylor, Rob (4 September 2009). "Suspected war criminal leaves Sydney jail".
  42. ^ Australian police lose track of Serbian 'war criminal',; accessed 30 November 2016.
  43. ^ AFP unable to find war crimes suspect Captain Dragan Vasiljković, The Australian; accessed 30 November 2016.
  44. ^ "Police hunt for accused war criminal". Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  45. ^ Needham, Kirsty; Milovanovic, Selma (13 May 2010). "War crimes accused arrested after manhunt". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  46. ^ Kirsty Needham (20 May 2010). "Court rules to extradite Vasiljkovic for war trial".
  47. ^ "High Court rejected key Dragan Vasiljkovic evidence". The Australian. 28 September 2012.
  48. ^ "Australci će izručiti Kapetana Dragana Hrvatskoj". Večernji list (in Croatian). 16 November 2012. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
  49. ^ Snedden v Minister for Justice of the Commonwealth [2013] FCA 1202 (15 November 2013), Federal Court (Australia).
  50. ^ Snedden v Minister for Justice for the Commonwealth of Australia [2014] FCAFC 156 (12 December 2014), Federal Court (Full Court) (Australia).
  51. ^ "Dragan Vasiljkovic 'Captain Dragan' faces Croatia extradition". The Australian. 12 December 2014.
  52. ^ "Dragan Plea Too Little Too Late". The Australian. 29 November 2012. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  53. ^ Snedden v Minister for Justice for the Commonwealth of Australia [2015] HCATrans 120 (15 May 2015), High Court (Australia).
  54. ^ "Alleged war criminal Daniel Snedden faces extradition to Croatia after last chance appeal fails". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. Retrieved 15 May 2015.
  55. ^ "NAKON DEVET GODINA Dragan Vasiljković u rukama hrvatske policije!". 8 July 2015.
  56. ^ a b "Kapetan Dragan na ispitivanju: 'Nisam kriv!'". 10 July 2015.
  57. ^ Miranda, Charles (14 July 2016). "Former Serbian paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic pleads not guilty to war crimes". Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  58. ^ Magnay, Jacquelin (21 September 2016). "Dragan Vasiljkovic war crimes hearing begins in Croatia". The Australian. Retrieved 30 November 2016.


External links