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The Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Hans Holthuis is investigating allegations by the United Nations (UN) that lawyers are fee-sharing legal aid with their clients.
The report by the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) into fee-splitting in the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) found that expensive gifts and money were handed to clients, and lawyers complained that their clients pressured them for money or for a cut of their legal fees. At the Rwanda tribunal, defence lawyers gave jailed clients expensive gifts, including computers, VCRs, DVD players and a gold watch. One lawyer said he gave thousands of dollars to a client's sister. Other lawyers hired the friends of Rwandan suspects as case investigators, although not a single investigator went to Rwanda to collect information. But evidence shows that corruption is much more widespread. Author Zika Rakonjac, soon to publish a book on the experiences of Yugoslav lawyers in The Hague, claimed that her research into the ICTY showed that some 1,000 people, including family members of those charged, had benefited from cash extorted from defence lawyers.
"Zoran Zigic, accused of crimes in the Omarska camp, is said to be building a house with legal aid funds"
Defendants, she claimed, usually demand 15-30 per cent kickbacks, but normally settle for 10-15 per cent. She alleged that fee-splitting had enabled defendants' families to open supermarket chains, shops and pharmacies. Three coffee shops are allegedly being built and Zoran Zigic, accused of crimes in the Omarska camp, is said to be building a house with legal aid funds. The allegations came as a surprise to old hands of the ICTY. Karim Khan, who used to work at the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICTY and who is currently a tenant at 1 Hare Court, said the ICTY's Office for Legal Aid and Detention Matters is notoriously effective at stamping out legal aid corruption. He said: "In one case, two Croatian defendants were painting pictures which were being displayed in galleries in Croatia. It was alleged they were receiving cash for the sale of pictures and their legal aid was cut. Later it was discovered they weren't, and legal aid was reissued." Head of the OIOS Christian Rohde said a line should be drawn between helping clients and fee-splitting. "In any system, it's the common approach of attorneys to help families of the accused," he says. "The defendant's family probably doesn't speak Dutch, so the attorney may help. Not many families from Bosnia or Serbia can afford flights to The Hague for a wife and four children, say; lawyers may help there, too. Other attorneys let their client's family stay at their apartment for a few days. I regard this as common courtesy. There may be floating borderlines, but this isn't one." The ICTY last year spent about $3.5m (£2.4m) to provide defence lawyers for poor defendants. About $5m (£3.46m) was spent at the ICTR last year.