Dragan arrest bungle nearly let him flee again

* Lanai Vasek
* From: The Australian
* May 17, 2010 12:00AM

AN embarrassing mistake by the Australian Federal Police almost allowed accused war criminal Dragan Vasiljkovic to slip through its grasp after 43 days on the run.

Instead of raiding the dry-docked concrete yacht where "Captain Dragan" was hiding in Harwood, on the NSW north coast, 10 AFP officers descended on the sailing club next door, interrogating the elderly caretaker and his wife - who had no knowledge of Mr Vasiljkovic - for 90 minutes last week. Luckily for the AFP, Mr Vasiljkovic was apparently unaware of their presence.

It is believed he was working below deck on the yacht, less than 100m away, and did not attempt to flee the scene. The accused war criminal was arrested later, without incident.

Federal police said they had received information from Dutch authorities that eventually helped them locate Mr Vasiljkovic, an Australian citizen also known as Daniel Snedden, after he had spent 43 days on the run.

The caretaker of Harwood's Big River Sailing Club, who asked not to be named, said federal police surrounded the sailing club, which is also his home, at about 3pm on Wednesday and asked him if he was alone and if he knew Daniel Snedden.

"I told them my wife was with me but I had no idea who Daniel Snedden was," the caretaker said. "The leader of the group then flashed his badge and showed me a search warrant so fast I could hardly read it."

He said the AFP officers kept him and his wife at separate ends of the property and searched the premises twice. The caretaker said once they were unable to find Mr Vasiljkovic, the chief federal officer made a telephone call to see if they were able to obtain a search warrant for a cargo ship docked at the slipway.

"It seemed to me they really had no idea he was on the boat they eventually got him on," he said. "The guy could have easily looked over and seen what was going on and done a runner . . . he was probably, luckily for them, doing work inside the boat the whole time."

The caretaker said an AFP officer returned to his property later that night to apologise for the bungled raid. An AFP spokeswoman yesterday declined to provide details about the raid.

On March 30, Mr Vasiljkovic failed to attend the final day of a High Court hearing, which reimposed an order to extradite him to Croatia to face questioning on war crimes charges.

It is now up to the discretion of Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor whether to uphold the High Court order.

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