ZAGREB (Reuters) - A Croatian court ruled on Thursday that the head of former Yugoslavia's secret service can be extradited to Germany where he is wanted for the killing of a dissident in 1983.
Former spy chief Zdravko Mustac was arrested on January 1 along with a subordinate, Josip Perkovic, the day Croatia amended its extradition laws to end a dispute with the European Union that had clouded its accession to the bloc in July.
Zagreb irked its EU partners when, just before joining the bloc, it changed its laws to prevent the extradition of suspects in crimes committed before 2002, when new EU extradition rules took effect.
Croatia said at the time it wanted to protect its veterans of the 1991-95 war from prosecution abroad and denied any connection with the Perkovic and Mustac cases.
But after the European Commission warned that Croatia could face legal action, including the possible loss of EU development funds, Zagreb removed the 2002 time restriction.
Perkovic was handed over to Germany shortly after his arrest and following the approval from the local and the Supreme Court. His trial is expected to start in June.
But in Mustac's case, a county court ruled that he should not be extradited, citing a different interpretation of the amended law. The Supreme Court then reversed that ruling and sent the case to a second local court, which approved Mustac's extradition. Mustac can appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court.
Germany wants Mustac and Perkovic in connection with the 1983 murder of a Yugoslav dissident in Bavaria for which it blames the Yugoslav federal secret service, the UDBA. Both Perkovic and Mustac have denied wrongdoing.
Perkovic and Mustac helped set up Croatia's national intelligence agency as it seceded from Belgrade in 1991, when Yugoslavia broke up in bloodshed. While Perkovic held senior security posts through the 1990s, Mustac has not been publicly active.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)