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Minister says body of Bosnian man Juso Sinanovic is now in Kuwait after mix-up with the body of Private Jacob Kovco.

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Thursday 11 May 2006

Minister says body of Bosnian man Juso Sinanovic is now in Kuwait after mix-up with the body of Private Jacob Kovco


MARK COLVIN: The Defence Minister Brendan Nelson says it's now up to the authorities in Kuwait to return home the body of a Bosnian man who was mixed up with Australian Private Jake Kovco. 


The family of Juso Sinanovic has reportedly threatened to sue the Australian Government over the delay in having his body brought home.  


But Dr Nelson says Mr Sinanovic's body is now in Kuwait, and it's no longer Australia's responsibility. 


Barney Porter has the story. 


BARNEY PORTER: It was the first major problem for a defence minister only months into his new portfolio. 


Private Jake Kovco, from the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, died while on a tour of duty in Iraq on April 21st, from a single shot to the head, the circumstances of which are still being investigated. 


Private Kovcos' family was expecting his casket to arrive in Melbourne on Thursday the 27th, but instead learned that day his body had been accidentally left behind at a mortuary in Kuwait.  


In his casket was the body of 46-year-old Juso Sinanovic, a Bosnian contract worker who died from a brain haemorrhage in mid-April. 


Private Kovco's funeral was held on May the 2nd, and Mr Sinanovic's body was returned to Kuwait days later on the 4th. 


However, a new blame-game may have broken out in a saga that won't go away quickly. 


Earlier today, Dr Nelson suggested procedural matters in Victoria delayed the identification and subsequent repatriation of Mr Sinanovic's body.  


BRENDAN NELSON: I'm advised that the Victorian coroner, who of course appropriately took complete control of Mr Sinanovic once he arrived in Victoria, required thorough and complete identification of him, before he would be returned, as I'm advised, to Kuwait.  


BARNEY PORTER: When pressed for reasons for the apparent delay in identifying the body, Dr Nelson was adamant.  


BRENDAN NELSON: That is entirely a matter for the Victorian coroner. As you could appreciate, these matters are handled by the coroners in the jurisdiction where the bodies are repatriated to Australia, so that's a matter you'd need to put to the coroner. 


BARNEY PORTER: However, a spokesman for Graeme Johnstone, the Victorian Coroner, says the identification process was expedited because of Mr Johnstone's concern for the family of Mr Sinanovic.  


The spokesman said Mr Johnstone came in on a day off to begin the formal process, which was completed late on Monday, May the 1st, without any delays. 


He says the following morning, the coroner released the body to the care of a funeral director, acting on behalf of the Australian Defence Force, which he understands accepted the responsibility of repatriating the body. 


A spokesman for Dr Nelson tonight said the funeral director organized a flight back to Kuwait on the evening of Thursday, May the 4th, the first available.  


Meanwhile, Dr Nelson says the investigation into how Private Kovco's body was left in Kuwait is continuing. 


BRENDAN NELSON: I won't comment on the disturbing and appalling error of the inappropriate dispatch of the casket to Australia.  


I do understand that the internal inquiry that has been conducted in Australia, is well progressed, also that Brigadier Cosson, an independent medical specialist who attended Kuwait, returned late last week.  


That report will be provided to the Chief of defence, and he will then provide it to me. The first people who will be informed of the reasons for this disturbing and appalling error, will of course be the Kovco family, and then through the Chief of Defence and also myself the Australian community. 


MARK COLVIN: The Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, ending that report by Barney Porter.