Ten men who advocate Croatian independence from Yugoslavia have been portrayed as ”conspirators” by the prosecution and as ”patriots” by the defense in a Manhattan trial on charges involving murder, arson and extortion.
The 10 men, all Croatian exiles, are the defendants in the unusual trial, which opened last week in Federal District Court. Judge Constance Baker Motley told the jury that the trial was likely to take several weeks to complete.
According to the prosecutors, Stuart J. Baskin and Paul L. Shechtman, the defendants were the leaders of a ”criminal enterprise” responsible for many violent acts ”in the name of Croatian independence.”
The basic charge in the indictment is a racketeering count that accuses the 10 defendants of forming a criminal group that participated in a pattern of criminal activities, including murder, arson and extortion. If convicted, each defendant could face up to 20 years in prison on the racketeering charge and a related conspiracy charge. Attacks on Political Opponents
In the prosecution’s opening statement, Mr. Shechtman told the jury that the group had carried out murders, bombings and arson attacks on political opponents in the United States. He said the group’s headquarters were in Chicago, with offices in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities.
The defendants also operated an extortion scheme against Croatians in this country, demanding money to finance their cause and attacking those who refused to pay, Mr. Shechtman said. He added that ”they declared war on almost every moderate Croatian group.”
One defendant, 37-year-old Ante Ljubas of Chicago, was described by the prosecutor as ”the field general of this organization.” In opening statements for the defense, a team of lawyers told the jury that the criminal enterprise cited by the prosecution was ”a mythical organization.”
The lawyers described the defendants as dedicated Croatian nationalists who were the victims of violence by ”the Yugoslav secret police.” Information From ‘Traitors’
Martin Light, the defense lawyer for Mr. Ljubas, told the jury that the prosecution’s case was based on information from ”traitors, double-agents and the secret police.” The lawyer vehemently denied the charges against Mr. Ljubas, adding that ”he is guilty of being anti-Communist and pro-Catholic.”
Three other defendants from the Chicago area are Mile Markich, Ivan Misetic and Milan Bagaric. Federal agents have described Mr. Markich as ”the de facto leader of Otpor in the United States.”
Otpor, also called the Croatian National Resistance, was described as a legal organization with 300 members. When the defendants were indicted last June, Federal agents called them ”the hierarchy of a Croatian nationalist organization named Otpor.” The organization is not charged with a crime.
Three of the defendants live in California. They are Ranko Primorac of Long Beach, Mile Boban of Hillsborough and Miro Biosic of San Clemente. Across the Country
The only defendant from the New York area is Andjelko Jakic of Mamaroneck, N.Y., who was accused of running an operation here that plotted murders and received weapons. The other defendants are Vinko Logarusic of Cleveland and Drago Sudar of Toronto.