Corruption ‘beyond dispute’ at time of Croatian Six

Duncan Murray |

Vjekoslav Brajkovic spent nearly 10 years in jail for an alleged plot to blow up targets in Sydney.
Vjekoslav Brajkovic spent nearly 10 years in jail for an alleged plot to blow up targets in Sydney.

Vjekoslav Brajkovic says the first time he saw the plastic bag of explosives used to convict him for an alleged terror plot was inside a courtroom.

Brajkovic spent close to a decade behind bars, along with five others, for allegedly planning to blow up targets across Sydney.

More than 40 years later, a judicial inquiry is probing the convictions of the so-called Croatian Six, including whether police fabricated evidence and extracted false confessions.

The other members of the group are Maksimilian Bebic, Mile Nekic, Anton Zvirotic and brothers Ilija and Joseph Kokotovic.

All of the men denied making confessions attributed to them by police, and four including Brajkovic claimed to have been severely beaten while in custody.

Vjekoslav Brajkovic
Vjekoslav Brajkovic claimed to have been severely beaten while in custody. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Acting Justice Robert Allan Hulme, who is heading the inquiry, said it was “beyond dispute” police at the time had a culture of fabricating evidence.

“I see this topic as relatively free of controversy amongst us in 2023,” he said.

“It might have been a controversy in 1980.

“It can happen … but the more critical point is did it happen in this particular case?”

During Brajkovic’s arrest at his home in Sydney’s Bossley Park, police claimed to have found a bag containing explosives and detonators which they presented at his committal hearing.

“It’s not my bag … I don’t recognise it by anything,” Brajkovic told the inquiry.

He also called a transcript of a supposed interview between himself and police a “complete fabrication”.

“It was like tying up the hands of the men who were arrested behind their backs and then telling them to go off and fight the trial,” he said.

Joseph Stipic, who was originally charged along with the Croatian Six, also appeared at the inquiry on Tuesday.

He was cleared of his charges after it was determined a detonator could not have been found inside a desk drawer at his home, as police claimed, because there was no desk in his room.

In ordering the inquiry, NSW Supreme Court judge Robertson Wright said there was “a doubt, or at least a question” over police evidence of confessions and the finding of explosives.

“The explosives said to have been found in a drawer in Mr Stipic’s desk in his room, when there was no such desk … caused me to have a doubt or question concerning the veracity and reliability of the evidence about the explosives found at the premises of five of the six men,” he said.

Disgraced NSW police officer Roger Rogerson.
An inquiry will examine the actions of disgraced NSW cop Roger Rogerson in the “Croatian Six” case. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

The inquiry will resume next year to examine the actions of police, including those of disgraced officer Roger Rogerson, who helped lead the arrests of the men.

Rogerson, who is serving a life sentence for murder, could be called to answer questions about his involvement in the case.

Counsel representing three of the convicted men, David Buchanan SC, pointed to a 1991 TV interview with the crooked officer in which he said police frequently “verballed” people, fabricated evidence and “loaded people up” resulting in their convictions.

Mr Buchanan said for a jury to have found the Croatian Six not guilty in 1981, it would have meant accepting 39 police officers fabricated evidence.

“This was a big ask,” he said.

Brajkovic said the judge in the original trial, Victor Maxwell, induced the jury to find the men guilty by comparing them to the police.

“I believe that the judge was saying the police had authority, they were pillars of society, and that by finding us not guilty the jury would be leading to the collapse of our way of life,” he wrote in a statement to the inquiry.