Andrija Artukovic was convicted today and sentenced to death for war crimes committed as interior minister of the Nazi puppet state of Croatia.
Artukovic, 86, sat impassively as his conviction and death sentence were announced in District Court. He made no attempt to speak and showed no emotion as the presiding judge, Milko Gajski, ordered two guards to "please take the accused out of the courtroom."
The execution, according to a court official, will be carried out by a police firing squad. If it is carried out, it will be the first execution in Yugoslavia of a person over age 70 since the wartime mass executions charged to Artukovic, the official said.
Artukovic's attorneys have not said so, but they are expected to make three appeals as permitted under Yugoslav law. The first, to the Supreme Court of Croatia, could come as early as next month, court officials said. If it fails, there will be a second appeal, to the federal Supreme Court in Belgrade. Finally, Artukovic can seek clemency from the eight-man presidency of Yugoslavia.
Artukovic, who had lived in the United States since 1948, was extradited in February to stand trial. He was found guilty on four specific charges of murder, involving in once instance an individual and in the others hundreds of men, women and children.
As required by Yugoslav law, the trial focused on the four specific charges, but in its verdict, the two-judge, three-juror court also found him responsible for running two dozen concentration camps where 700,000 to 900,000 Serbians, Jews, Gypsies and other prisoners were tortured and slaughtered in the years 1941 to 1945.
Artukovic's lawyers had sought to show that he was too ill and senile to stand trial, that the main witness to three of the four crimes in the indictment was unreliable, and that the 1929 criminal code of Yugoslavia contains a statute of limitations under which Artukovic was qualified for release.
Throughout the trial, Artukovic insisted that he was ignorant of what took place in the concentration camps. He said he had no recollection of any of the crimes charged to him. He acknowledged knowing of the camps but said he had been an administrator and had no knowledge of atrocities committed there.
Most of the leaders of the Nazi regime in Croatia fled at the end of the war, some of them with the help of sympathetic Roman Catholic clergymen. All except Artukovic are believed to have died or been assassinated in exile.