860H.00/1–747: Telegram

The Chargé in Yugoslavia (Hickok) to the Secretary of State

top secret

17. Most Important and Urgent. Mytel 16 of Jan 6.2 All defendants were convicted of carrying on political warfare by giving state and military secrets and false news to foreign i.e., American spies (prosecutor repeatedly named Pridonoff, Shantz and Kasunich3 in this connection) which could have effect of provoking intervention “of another country” i.e., America, breaking off diplomatic relations and economic warfare.

Appeals by defense were filed today to National Presidium for clemency for those condemned to death. Decision of Presidium will [Page 745] probably be given tomorrow and will almost certainly be negative. Appeal for Stefanovich is on basis he is father of three, was not paid for work but acted for ideological reasons, political opponents are not executed anywhere, did not work against country during occupation, was not accepted for employment by own government therefore worked for Americans, never previously convicted.

Trial proved that Stefanovich and Jovanovich brought Pridonoff and Sushin, discontented ex-partisan captain and Commissar, together for talks about minor military and political “secrets” like information on anti-aircraft around Belgrade, make of war planes at Zemun airdrome, list of OZNA members, biographical details on Yugoslav Ambassador in Moscow, and also supplied Pridonoff, Shantz and Kasunich with numerous written and oral reports of general information gained with aid of Ilich and Kostich.

Trial also proved Zdravkovich political report seen and slightly modified by Trifunovich and handed Pridonoff by Trifunovich’s son-in-law, Stankovieh. Prosecutor alleges this report contained false news and could have provoked intervention, etc. Stevanovich and Trifunovich groups are connected only by having both given reports to Pridonoff.

Trial showed that Pridonoff was active in seeking secret information through Stefanovich group and paid 3,000 dinars ($60) to Sushin for what he received. In this sense Pridonoff was shown to have acted in manner of spy. Nothing like this was shown regarding any other Embassy official.

As Stefanovidh’s defence, Alexich,4 bravely pointed out, this was primarily political trial in which persons dissatisfied with regime gave Americans information on internal situation. He said “we have here problem of two political ideologies, western and eastern democracy.” In trial we think govt obviously wanted to hurt Embassy and standing of US here. As prosecutor said, “there is still small group of people working against results of new liberation struggle and trying to bring about intervention by another country and change in govt. Trial will have result of causing the people to pay more attention to this small group”.

Stefanovich never admitted during trial he served foreign spies, and told court he was forced to sign statement on which indictment was based by being kept standing thirty hours under guard and being told they had other means of persuading him if he refused.

We think Dept should urgently address note to Marshal Tito5 disavowing acts of Pridonoff as having had an entirely personal, unofficial, [Page 746] unauthorized and unimportant character and asking in interest of our future good relations that the sentences of three condemned men be commuted. To avoid execution before Dept can act we are addressing note to Marshal Tito saying Dept’s message is under way and asking stay of execution.6

Also we think we should be authorized issue statement to press clearing Embassy and especially Shantz of any responsibility or desire to be involved in such matters, stating we have been shocked by all aspects of trial, especially extent to which name of our ex-Chargé d’Affaires was drawn in without evidence and pointing to hope that our mutual relations will improve.

We think we cannot without taking this or similar action continue to hold our heads up as respresentatives of a great nation in Yugo, and that especially to save the condemned would go far towards removing much of the adverse effect of trial as regards US and also do a fairness to these men so undeservedly and harshly condemned.

  1. Not printed; it reported on the sentences handed down by the Serbian Supreme Court in the Belgrade espionage trial of December 31, 1946–January 4, 1947. Eight persons had been accused of espionage against Yugoslavia involving employees of the American Embassy. Of those accused, Miliutin Stefanovich, a translator for the American Embassy, was sentenced to death by hanging, Zelkjo Sushin, a former Yugoslav partisan officer, and Branko Jovanovich, a journalist, were sentenced to death by shooting, former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milos Trifunovich, Alexander Ilich, a former employee of the Yugoslav diplomatic service, and Sinisha Zdrakovich, an engineer, were sentenced to eight-years imprisonment, Grgur Kostich, a journalist and perfume merchant, was sentenced to seven-years imprisonment, and Konstantin Stankovich, an engineer and son-in-law of Trifunovich, was sentenced to four-years imprisonment. (860H.00/1–647) The executions were carried out on January 14, 1947. Chargé Hickok submitted a detailed report on the trial in despatch 592, January 13, from Belgrade, not printed (124.60H3/1–1347).
  2. Eric L. Pridonoff was an economic analyst in the American Embassy during 1945. Harold Shantz was Counselor of Embassy in Belgrade in 1945 and 1946. Lt. John D. Kasunich was Assistant Naval Attaché and Assistant Attaché for Air in the American Embassy in 1945. For previous documentation regarding the accusations by Yugoslav authorities of the involvement of these and other American Embassy personnel with an alleged espionage organization working against the Yugoslav Government, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. vi, pp. 954, 962, 968, and 975.
  3. Bogoslav Aleksich was defense-lawyer for Stefanovich.
  4. Marshal Josip Broz-Tito, Yugoslav Prime Minister and Minister for National Defense.
  5. The text of Chargé Hickok’s message of January 7 to Marshal Tito was transmitted to the Department in telegram 18, January 17, from Belgrade, not printed (860H.00/1–747).