ZAGREB, Croatia, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Croatia Friday handed over a former secret police chief to Germany to head off further worsening of relations between European Union leaders and the newest EU member.
Croatia resisted extradition of Josip Perkovic, 68, despite EU warnings of financial sanctions and isolation of Zagreb in the European community. But, on Friday, Croatian authorities handed him over to German officials at Zagreb airport, state television reported.
Perkovic was taken from his home earlier Friday, ending a diplomatic wrangle that soured relations between Croatia and Germany and overshadowed the newly inducted member country's ties with the EU as a whole.
Croatia's EU admission was controversial from the start amid fears its faltering economy might trigger a crisis and make a bailout necessary, similar to multibillion-dollar aid packages handed out to Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain. That hasn't happened yet, but Croatian economic indicators look grim.
Croatia was seen to be resisting Perkovic's extradition amid government fears of a backlash in the country's security service, police and the military. Perkovic, who has denied the charges, is suspected of involvement in a 1983 killing of Yugoslav dissident Stjepan Djurekovic in Germany.
Perkovic worked in the secret service of the former state of Yugoslavia, which broke up in the 1980s after an economic crisis, leading to the emergence of independent states and the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s.
The Yugoslav secret service of which Perkovic was a part is widely alleged to have been behind the killing of Djurekovic in the German town of Wolfratshausen and Perkovic is the alleged mastermind.
Perkovic fought extradition, arguing he could not expect a fair trial, a claim dismissed by Germany.
Last week the Croatian Supreme Court finally gave in, dismissed his claim and ordered his extradition.
Perkovic told German radio Deutsche Welle he is "not connected with any murders" and was mainly concerned with "classic intelligence work" as a former Yugoslav intelligence operative. But with information about his alleged involvement in the slaying seen as compelling, the EU refused to accept Croatia's last-minute legislative changes to disallow extradition of individuals accused of crimes reported to have been committed before August 2002. Croatia rescinded the law.
Perkovic was arrested on New Year's Day, but German news media say he may not be the last person wanted by EU law enforcement agencies. Germany is also seeking the extradition of Zdravko Mustac, Perkovic's predecessor, Deutsche Welle reported.
The Perkovic case is getting attention because his son Sasa Petrovic has been a security adviser to Croatian President Ivo Josipovic as well as to former President Stjepan Mesic.
"We have to respect the independent judiciary, and that's it," Josipovic said after the Supreme Court rejected Perkovic's final appeal.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly snubbed Croatia, declining to join celebration of Croatia's accession to the European Union.
The Petrovic affair made headlines in Turkey, a longtime candidate for EU membership, which received with dismay the EU's fast-tracking of Croatia's membership. Serbia has also asked to join the EU and expects to get in before Turkey.