Croatia arrested yesterday (1 January) a former intelligence chief wanted in Germany, responding to an extradition row that overshadowed the Balkan state's accession to the European Union last summer.
A few days before Croatia joined the EU on 1 July 2013, it changed the law to effectively ensured that veterans of the independence war could not face prosecution elsewhere in the EU.
The government said the aim was to protect veterans of Croatia's 1991-95 independence war from facing potential prosecutions elsewhere in the EU. Croatia fought for its independence from the former Yugoslavia in a war which lasted from 1991 to 1995. Atrocities were committed by both sides during the fratricidal conflict.
The Commission threatened to invoke an article in Croatia's accession treaty known as the safeguard clause, which allows Brussels to impose punitive measures if EU rules are broken.
Last September, Croatia said it would amend its extradition law to avoid possible European sanctions.
Josip Perković was one of 10 people arrested, state news agency Hina reported, as an amended law took effect that brought the country's extradition laws into line with most of the rest of the bloc.
He is sought in connection with the 1983 murder of a Yugoslav dissident in Bavaria, allegedly orchestrated by communist Yugoslavia's secret services for which he then worked.
He has denied wrongdoing. His lawyer, Anto Nobilo, told state television HRT that Perković would oppose extradition, saying he did not expect a fair trial in Germany and because he had already been investigated and cleared of all charges in Croatia.
Shortly before joining the EU on 1 July, Zagreb changed its laws to prevent the extradition of suspects in crimes committed before 2002, when new EU extradition rules had taken effect (see background).
The government said it wanted to protect veterans of Croatia's 1991-95 independence war from facing potential prosecution elsewhere in the EU, and denied any connection to the Perković case. Some EU member states have the same 2002 time limit.
But the government removed the time restriction in August after the European Commission warned it could face legal action, including the possible loss of EU funds.
The amended law took effect on Jan. 1 and Hina said that in addition to Perković, police had immediately arrested a second Yugoslav era intelligence chief, Zdravko Mustac, and eight others.
"It is now a matter for the police and the judiciary. The new law is applied equally to everyone," President Ivo Josipović said.
Perković had worked for the communist-era secret service, the UDBA, and led the intelligence service in Croatia after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
His lawyer Nobilo said a local court should rule on whether Perković would be extradited within eight days.
Perković, who could not be reached for comment, said last month he was ready to testify before a Croatian court as soon as the new law took effect.