17 July 2008 Guest: Cameron Munter, Journalist: Senka Vlatković. U.S. Ambassador in Belgrade Cameron Munter spoke to B92 News about the case of a fugutive Serbian student that has stirred spirits on both sides of the Atlantic.
U.S. ambassador: Beating victim now weighs less than 100 pounds
'Serbian honor on the line' in Kovacevic case, Munter says
Munter: I'd like to set the record straight, if I could, because there's a lot of information in the press, but there are some facts that are very important that I'd stress, so please let me make some points. Mr. Miladin Kovačević is accused of brutally attacking Bryan Steinhauer, a student who is less than half of his size. This was not just an ordinary bar fight. As he lay on the floor, Steinhauer was kicked many times repeatedly to the head, to the point when he had multiple fractures in the both sides of his head and his skull. His eye sockets and his teeth were destroyed. So with this multiple bruising, he suffered bleeding in his face and in his skull. When he was in the hospital he was already in a coma - at the time he went there and he remains in a coma two and a half months later. When he came to the hospital he weighed 155 lbs., now he weighs 98 lbs. He's not able to eat, he's not able to speak, and he's not able to breathe on his own.
The problem is, of course that Mr. Kovačević, who is accused of this, was read charges against him in the presence of his mother, in the presence of a Serbian consular officer, that is representative of the Serbian government, and his attorney, and he was ordered to remain in the United States. He, instead, chose to run, in violation of the U.S. law, with a help of a Serbian consul. If as his family claims, he's innocent, then he has every right to a fair trial and he should make his case before the court. The right to a free and fair trial is one of the principles on which our country was based. The claims made by the family that Kovačević was mistreated or not afforded legal rights under U.S. law is simply not true. These claims are totally unsubstantiated. There is only one victim here, that victim is not Mr. Kovačević. The victim is Bryan Steinhauer, who is lying in a coma right now in New York City. We'll keep looking for his return.
The United States wants his return, because this is serious matter. Not only because of the horrible injuries that were suffered by Mr. Steinhauer, but because a Serbian government official helped Mr. Kovačević to flee justice. So the issue here now is that the U.S. law was broken and justice can be best served in the United States. We have asked Mr. Kovačević's family to consider voluntary return, which we believe is in his best interest. An Interpol warrant, that is valid in over 180 countries has been issued. We expect the Serbian government to act on that notice and to fulfill the obligations that were undertaken by their representatives, by the consul and vice consul in New York when he signed the bail document committing to produce Kovačević in court. Let me emphasize: the representative of Serbia put Serbian honor on the line. He promised in the name of the Serbian government that he would produce this man in court (see bail bond receipt Click Images above). We expect the government to honor that pledge. We will use all legal means available to us to secure his return and if he does not return to the United States to defend himself in the court of law, he will remain a fugitive for the rest of his life.
See INTERPOL international wanted poster for Miladin Kovacevic, click here
B92: Our law says that we cannot make extraditions. And it's our Constitutional act. So what do you expect our government to do?
Munter: The optimal solution is that Mr. Kovačević would go voluntarily, to seek legal help, and to defend himself in court. That would be the best for him, that would be the best for Serbia, that would be the best for justice and for our bilateral relations. If the government stands by its commitment, and chooses to return him, that is something your government can do. Your government can choose to return him to America, based on its promise. We're exploring all legal options at this point. At present we're asking the government to fulfill its obligations undertaken by their representative, when he signed the bail document in New York. Other options are on the table.
B92: There is one option, and that is to have a process in Serbia, with all the documents. What do you think about that?
Munter: We believe, since the crime was committed in the United States, the United States court system is best equipped to make a judgment on that case. And since the government of Serbia promised that he would stay in the United States to face that, we think that its the best way for Serbia, for the man himself, for Mr. Kovačević and for justice. That's our position.
B92: The latest news is that our prosecutor has started proceedings against the consul and vice consul. What is your comment on that?
Munter: We believe that it is very important that the Serbian government takes their part in this affair very seriously and the fact that they are pursuing criminal investigation against those people is very important. And we support that. But the issue here is that it can't be enough. The issue here is that Mr. Kovačević must face justice in the United States.
See Broome County bail receipt of 6/06/08, signed by Serbian Consulate offical Igor Milosevic, Consulate General of the Republic of Serbia, 62 W45th St, 7th floor, New York NY 10036 and partial Binhamton police report at this link, click here.
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