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08BELGRADE700 2008-07-17 19:09:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Belgrade
Cable title:  

SERBIA: KOVACEVIC ASSAULT CASE: AMBASSADOR APPEALS TO

Tags:   CJAN PREL PGOV ODIP EAID SR 
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1. (SBU) During a second meeting with Embassy representatives, the
lawyer for Miladin Kovacevic, the Serbian basketball player accused
of brutally assaulting U.S. citizen Bryan Steinhauer, stated that he
will advise his client not to return to the U.S. for trial. He
requested that Kovacevic be tried in Serbia. We made it clear that
voluntary return was the only solution under discussion, and that
Kovacevic would be a fugitive for life if he did not return to the
U.S. for trial. The Ambassador gave a television interview on July
16 to provide accurate information on the gravity of Bryan
Steinhauer's condition and to underscore the Serbian government's
obligation to ensure that Kovacevic stand trial in the U.S. News
that Kovacevic had signed a contract to play professional basketball
in Serbia was followed by reports that the Serbian Basketball Union
would not recognize the contract while criminal proceedings were
underway against him. End summary.

Second Meeting with Lawyer


--------------------------





2. (SBU) Embassy Resident Legal Advisor (RLA) and Consular Chief
met on July 14 for a second time with Veselin Cerovic, the lawyer
for Miladin Kovacevic (reftel). During the meeting, which took
place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cerovic said that he would
advise Kovacevic not to return to the U.S. He said that as a matter
of lawyers' ethics he could not advise his client, who is "free in
Serbia and protected by Serbian law," to return to the U.S. where he
could be sentenced to 15 or 20 years in prison. Cerovic asked the
RLA to convey a request to Washington that Kovacevic be tried in
Serbia.



3. (SBU) The RLA told Cerovic that the meeting's only topic of
discussion was voluntary return, reminding him that U.S. laws had
been broken, U.S. courts deal with violations of U.S. law, and that
all the evidence, witnesses, and the victim were in the U.S. Only
Kovacevic was in Serbia, in violation of U.S. law. The RLA
underscored the fact that Kovacevic will be a fugitive for the rest
of his life if he chooses not to return voluntarily.



4. (SBU) The RLA explained the charges against Kovacevic, the
possible sentences they carried, and the relevant aspects of the
U.S. judicial system. He informed Cerovic that it had been
confirmed that Kovacevic had access to a privately-hired lawyer
within 48 hours of his arrest. He also said that he had passed
Kovacevic's allegations of mistreatment to the appropriate
authorities, who investigated and found them to be unsubstantiated.
Cerovic promised to convey the information to the Kovacevic family.


Ambassador's Interview


--------------------------





5. (U) In order to counter the vast amount of misinformation that
Cerovic and others have given the Serbian media, the Ambassador gave
an interview to B-92 television on July 16 in which he said that the
U.S. expects Serbia to ensure the presence of Miladin Kovacevic at
his trial in the U.S. "We request his return to the U.S. and expect
that the Serbian government will fulfill the commitment made by
their representative. This is very important not only because of
the terrible injuries that Bryan Steinhauer suffered, but because a
representative of the Serbian government helped Kovacevic to avoid
justice. U.S. law has been violated here; therefore justice can
best be served in the U.S. Kovacevic's voluntary return to the U.S.
is in the best interest of Miladin and Serbia," said the Ambassador.




6. (U) In the interview, the Ambassador also emphasized the fact
that Bryan Steinhauer is the only victim in this case and described
the extent of his injuries. He stated that claims made by the
family that Kovacevic was mistreated are unsubstantiated, and that
if Kovacevic is innocent, as his family claims, he should make his
case before the court. He stressed that the U.S. will continue to
use all available legal means to seek Kovacevic's return, and has
initiated an Interpol warrant that is valid in over 180 countries.



7. (SBU) Post notified Cerovic of the interview before it was
aired. He expressed appreciation for the call and said he hoped to
meet with U.S. representatives again in the future to keep the lines
of communication open, as "one never knows what changes may occur in
the future."

Basketball Contract


--------------------------





8. (U) According to press reports, Miladin Kovacevic signed a
contract with the local KK Vrbas basketball team on July 15. Team
captain Bojan Markovic was quoted as saying the team is "on
[Kovacevic's] side." There are unconfirmed press reports that the
local government in Vrbas is seeking to fire Markovic for signing
Kovacevic. Serbian radio on July 17 also quoted Dragan Kapicic,
head of the Serbian Basketball Union, as saying that the contract
would not be valid as long as there were criminal proceedings
against Kovacevic.

Comment


--------------------------





9. (SBU) Although Kovacevic's lawyer seemingly remains adamant that
his client will not return to the United States, post will continue
to press the case in the court of Serbian public opinion and with
the Serbian government. In this sports-crazed culture, the stance
of the basketball association is helpful. End comment.

BRUSH