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Ex-Bosnian Ambassador out on bail

From CNN Sr. U.N. Correspondent Richard Roth and Senior Producer Dana Garrett

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Sacirbey addresses the U.N. Security Council about the situation in Kosovo during a special session in 1999.
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Bosnia and Herzegovina
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Muhamed Sacirbey
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Bosnia's former Ambassador to the United Nations, who is fighting extradition in an embezzlement investigation, has been released from prison after posting $6 million bail.

Muhamed Sacirbey faces possible extradition to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which issued a warrant for his arrest in January 2002 on "abuse of power" charges.

According to the arrest complaint, Sacirbey, who served as U.N. ambassador from 1992 to 1996 and then again from 1998 to 2000, used checks and bank orders in 2000 to withdraw more than $610,000 from his mission's bank account and deposited the funds into his personal bank account.

That left the U.N. mission without "sufficient funds to cover operating expenses," according to the complaint.

Sacirbey also allegedly depleted $1.8 million from an account controlled by his government's investment fund ministry.

The Sarajevo-born Sacirbey, a former refugee who became a U.S. citizen in 1973, has been held in the Manhattan federal jail since his arrest by U.S. marshals at his Staten Island home in March 2003.

Looking weary but relieved as he left the courthouse, Sacirbey's first words were "fresh air."

He said he had changed greatly during his confinement and had experienced a rebirth and a new sense of purpose.

Sacirbey has denied misconduct or pocketing the money and has suggested the allegations were trumped up by political enemies trying to destroy his credibility.

"Clearly it was part of a smear campaign to discredit me," he said.

The former ambassador said he wants the case against him to be resolved but he did not want the allegations against him to be dropped.

He criticized the United States for unfairly detaining him, maintaining he faces no charges in the United States and has not been formally charged in Bosnia.

Sacirbey will remain under house arrest at his home in Staten Island. He must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and can leave his house only in an emergency.

Federal officials finished installing the electronic monitoring system in his home Tuesday morning.

Paul Williams, a former State Department official and friend, vouched for Sacirbey's integrity at his extradition hearing held in December, saying he was the "go-to guy" for U.S. diplomats who dealt with Bosnia while the besieged public was a focus of international worry.

"There were no allegations, insinuations, indications of concern," Williams said.

He has accused current and former Bosnian leaders of using the money issue as a cover to punish Sacirbey for his support of the war crimes tribunal and his criticism of allies who failed to prevent the Serb massacre of 7,500 Muslims in Srebrenica, an internationally protected safe city until it was overrun in July 1995.

The former diplomat insisted his expenditures were authorized by former Bosnian President Ilija Izetbegovic, who received documentation for the most costly items, such as hiring war crimes tribunal lawyers -- a quarter of a million dollars at one point -- or a $200,000 contract with Jane's Defence Weekly for research on the Serbian military.

Izetbegovic's instructions were to "make do," Sacirbey said, during the chaotic early years of the new nation fighting for survival.

"The money just never came, regardless of what budgets were approved," he said in his December extradition hearing.

Sacirbey, a former investment banker, said he took no salary and put his own speaking fees and savings into running the underfunded U.N. Mission, where his expenses, including frequent international travel, were as much as $400,000 annually.

"The whole time it was an improvised situation," Sacirbey said. "There was only one functioning checking account."

The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York is attempting to extradite Sacirbey to Bosnia and Herzegovina in accordance with a 1902 treaty between the United States and the Kingdom of Serbia.

Cherif Bassiouni, an attorney for Sacirbey, has said the 1902 treaty is invalid because present day Bosnia was not part of that territory.

Bassiouni also said since Sacirbey has not actually been charged with the crime, the extradition request was premature.

"It's a terrible irony to see somebody who has done so much for bringing war criminals to trial in the former Yugoslavia ... is now being brought up on a charge that he may have embezzled funds in the account of the mission and only on the basis of a yet unconcluded investigation," Bassiouni told federal Judge Frank Maas, in December.

"This has to be a purposeful, political vendetta."

If Mass decides that the United States has met the legal threshold for extraditing Sacirbey, the ultimate decision to send him to Bosnia will rest with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"It's just an outrage that our State Department has allowed this," said Susan Sacirbey, his wife of 20 years who fears her husband would be killed in Bosnian custody.

"There is no evidence of self-enrichment. I can tell you, I'd like to see where all this money is that they would say would have been embezzled," she said. Sacirbey faces a minimum of three years in a Bosnian prison, if he is convicted.


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