Serbia wants to end a diplomatic row with the United States amid public outrage caused by reports that the government has offered to pay $900,000 to an American who was beaten by a Serb in upstate New York, an official said Friday.
Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said that Serbia is trying to find a solution that would bring Miladin Kovacevic to justice after he allegedly assaulted his American classmate Bryan Steinhauer of Brooklyn during a barroom brawl last May.
Kovacevic, a 22-year-old former basketball player at Binghamton University, jumped bail and fled the U.S. last June with emergency travel documents provided by Serbian diplomats in New York.
Dacic refused to discuss Belgrade media reports that Serbia has agreed to pay $900,000 in compensation to Steinhauer, and an additional $100,000 as a bail to U.S. justice authorities, in order to make him and other witnesses take part in a trial in Belgrade.
Serbia wants to try Kovacevic here because its laws do not allow extradition. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and New York Sen. Charles Schumer, however, have insisted he be handed over to the U.S. for trial.
In the United States, Steinhauer family spokesman Jesse Derris declined to comment Thursday on the reports. Steinhauer has only recently emerged from a coma after the brawl.
Dacic, who is also Serbia's police chief, expressed his surprise how the government decision to offer the compensation _ which was declared a state secret _ was leaked to the media.
“We are trying to find a solution,” Dacic said.
“Someone has in the name of Serbia guaranteed that Kovacevic would not flee the United States,” he said. “Do you know how big the compensations are in the U.S.? The aim is to put an end to this case that has plagued our relations with the U.S.”
The U.S. State Department told NBC News that it regards any issue of money as a private matter, but wants Kovacevic returned to the U.S. to "face justice."
The reported compensation offer has triggered public outrage in Serbia. Independent Blic daily wrote in a headline Friday: “Citizens of Serbia to Pay for Kovacevic's crime.”
Human rights activist and lawyer Biljana Kovacevic Vuco said that instead of offering Serbia's tax payers' money, the government should hand over Kovacevic for trial in the U.S.
“The Serbian state should recognize its guilt in this case,” Kovacevic Vuco said.