Independent pays substantial damages to Croatian actor over front-page Nazi war criminal claim

A Croatian actor wrongly portrayed on The Independent's front page as a Nazi war criminal who served as a guard in a concentration camp has accepted substantial damages and a public apology.

Ljubomir Jurkovic sued the newspaper's then publisher, Independent Print Media, and its website publisher, Independent Digital News and Media Ltd, after the newspaper used on its front page a full-page photograph of him which wrongly identified him as Samuel Kunz, a Nazi war criminal who served as a guard at Belzec extermination camp, his counsel, Christina Michalos, told Mrs Justice Sharp at the High Court on Tuesday.

Ms Michalos said Mr Jurkovic had played a leading role as an officer in the Ustasa – the Croatian Fascist movement – in a critically acclaimed 2007 Croatian film titled "The Living and the Dead" (Zivi i mrtvi), directed by Kristijan Milic.

A photograph of Mr Jurkovic, from that film, appeared as a full page on the front of The Independent on November 23, 2010, identifying him as Samuel Kunz.

It was accompanied by an article headlined: "Wanted for the deaths of 430,000 Jews. Evaded Justice for 67 Years. Died a free man", which reported on Samuel Kunz's death in Bonn at the age of 89.

The photograph of Mr Jurkovic was captioned "A war-time image thought to show Samuel Kunz, who was third on the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's list of most wanted Nazi war criminals", Ms Michalos said.

But publication of the photograph was a mistake, as Independent Print Ltd accepted, she said.

"The photograph of the claimant should never have been used to illustrate the print story about Samuel Kunz," she went on.

"Mr Jurkovic is not and has never been a Nazi war criminal and had no connection of any kind with Samuel Kunz.

"The fact of this error was extensively published throughout the print and broadcast media both within the United Kingdom and Croatia, which
understandably caused distress, humiliation and upset to the claimant.

"On December 17, 2010, the defendants published an apology in the Independent newspaper, repeated on the website, stating that the image used was not that of Samuel Kunz."

Independent Print Ltd had agreed to pay Mr Jurkovic substantial damages, she said.

Matthew Nicklin, for Independent Print Ltd, told the judge: "I wish to associate myself on behalf of the first defendant with everything that has been said for the claimant and to repeat the first defendant's apology for this extremely regrettable mistake."

Ms Michalos added: "On behalf of the claimant, I wish to use this opportunity to make it expressly clear that the claimant has never committed war crimes, whether during World War II or during the Bosnian war, and has no connection of any kind with such activities and does not subscribe to any form of Nazi ideology."

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