More than a dozen persons who served in the Republic of Srpska Army (VRS) during the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been sentenced in Phoenix for lying about their military service. When they applied for refugee status in the United States following the end of the war, they failed to disclose they had been soldiers in the VRS.
A federal investigation into refugee fraud resulted in the arrest of 16 former soldiers living in the Phoenix area. All were charged with failing to report their service in the VRS.
“These defendants lied to obtain lawful status in the United States,” said Dennis K. Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona. “Failure to report their military service was no oversight by any stretch of the imagination. It was a crafty abuse of this nation’s refugee policy.”
The Phoenix defendants were indicted separately and pled guilty to lying about their military service. Five of the 16 were deported from the United States and returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Upon arrival in Bosnia and Herzegovina, three of them – Mladen Blagojevic, Zdravko Bozic and Goran Bencun – were arrested and brought before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a domestic court that includes international judges and prosecutors.
Mladen Blagojevic was convicted in the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina of crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. Bozic was acquitted and Bencun was later released from custody. The other two deportees, Nenad Dragic and Rajko Ninkovic, were not arrested.
The remaining 11 defendants, Milenko Gujic, Rajko Hercegovac, Risto Hercegovac, Momcilo Krstic, Radenko Spiric, Vitomir Spiric, Nikola Stankovic, Savo Tojcic, Dragan Ubiparipovic, Radenko Ubiparipovic and Cvijan Vidacovic, pled guilty to felony charges of knowingly making a false statement.
The Bosnian war began in 1992 with the dissolution of Yugoslavia. During the Bosnian war, in July 1995, VRS units attacked and occupied the town of Srebrenica, which had been declared a U.N. safe area. In the weeks after the fall of Srebrenica, around 8,000 men and boys who had been living in the town were killed, or taken prisoner. In 2004, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) located at The Hague, ruled the massacre constituted a crime of genocide.
“We will not allow those who abuse the system by fraudulently gaining legal status in the United States to avoid the consequences of their actions,” said Matt Allen, Special Agent in Charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Arizona. “These men purposefully deceived immigration officials of the fact that they were assigned to units involved in the Srebrenica Massacre, and knew that the authorities were investigating this atrocity.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted the investigation jointly. The prosecution was handled by Lisa Jennis Settel, James R. Knapp, and Camille Bibles, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District of Arizona, Phoenix. (kvoa.com)