White House Wants Trial Kickbacks Ended; U.N. Attorneys Share Fees with clients.(PAGE ONE)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

White House Wants Trial Kickbacks Ended; U.N. Attorneys Share Fees with clients.(PAGE ONE)


Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Bush administration said yesterday that it is urging the United Nations to crack down harder on kickbacks paid to war-crimes suspects by their U.N.-financed defense lawyers at international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that the practice was widespread at the U.N.-sponsored International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, where defendants routinely ask for as much as 30 percent of the fees of their court-appointed attorneys and threaten to dismiss lawyers who refuse to cooperate.

An internal U.N. investigation in March said the tribunals have tried to curb so-called "fee-splitting," but tribunal officials conceded that the arrangement "is not an easy practice to eradicate."

A State Department official, speaking on background, said yesterday that the U.S. government has urged the Rwanda and Yugoslavia panels to beef up the number of auditors and to strengthen the code of conduct for defense attorneys.

"We urge both tribunals to implement these steps as soon as possible, including the adoption of sanctions that may be applied to those who engage in fee-splitting, and to undertake more vigorous efforts to identify and bar lawyers engaged in fee-splitting," the official said.

The State Department official said the U.S. government, which pays 23 percent of the regular U.N. budget, "strongly" supported internal U.N. efforts to clean house.

The Washington Times reported that the Hague tribunal has become a kind of illicit welfare system for lawyers, defendants, and their relatives and friends back home.

In all but a few cases - former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is defending himself - the tribunals pay the defendants' lawyers a tax-exempt salary of up to $200,000 a year. Defense lawyers report that their clients threaten to dismiss them if they do not share some of the fee.

In one case, the lawyer defending Zoran Zigic, a Serb accused of war crimes at the notorious Omarska detention camp in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said Mr. Zigic is building a house with the money he extorted from two of his court-appointed lawyers.

Zika Rakonjac, author of a forthcoming book on the shady financial practices at the Hague tribunal, said in an interview that some 1,000 people, including family members of those on trial, have benefited from the money.

The author said the usual arrangement in Yugoslavia calls for defense lawyers to kick back 10 percent to 15 percent of their annual salary to their clients, as much as $30,000 a year, and sometimes the contribution is even higher. …

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