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Serbian, Rwandan plead guilty to lying to immigration officials

Two men with possible connections to bloody conflicts in Serbia and Rwanda pleaded guilty in two separate courts to lying to U.S. immigration officials in an effort to enter the country.

Zeljko Zekic, 48, of Lawrenceville, GA, pleaded guilty Tuesday in an Atlanta federal court to lying to federal immigration officials about his place of residence and employment during the Bosnian War of 1992 to 1995, and about being a part of Serbian strongman Ratko Mladic’s military operations.

After a five-week trial and three days of deliberation, a federal jury in the District of Kansas found Lazare Kabaya Kobagaya, 84, of Topeka, KS, guilty on June 1 of one count of visa fraud. The jury in the case was unable to reach a verdict on another one count of immigration fraud, however. Kobagaya faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Zekic faces sentencing on Aug. 16, although extradition proceedings are already in an immigration court, according to ICE. If convicted in the U.S., he faces five years in prison and a fin of up to $250,000.

ICE said Kobagaya lived in Rwanda during the genocide there in 1994 that killed 800,000 people. Kobagaya lied on his immigration form when he entered the U.S., saying he was a resident of Burundi, according to ICE That lie, it said, prevented investigation of his activities in Rwanda during the conflict.

Zekic’s case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit. Kobagaya’s case was investigated by special agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Zekic has paramilitary ties to recently-captured Bosnian Serb Ratko Mladic. He claimed on his immigration paperwork that he was unemployed and living in the Serbian Republic during the war, but according to ICE, he was living in a Serbian-controlled town inside Bosnia and was an active-duty member of the Serbian paramilitary police during the period of armed conflict.

Zekic and his family applied for refugee access to the United States in 2002 in Belgrade. On applications forms, Zekic said that during the time of the Bosnian War he was unemployed and living in the Republic of Serbia, away from the conflict zone. Zekic was ultimately given a green card, became a permanent resident alien and settled in Lawrenceville, according to ICE.

In reality, according to ICE, Zekic was a master sergeant with a police force based in a key Serbian-controlled town inside Bosnia, inside the conflict zone. He lived and worked in this town during the entire period of the armed conflict, to include the time of the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys in Srebrenic.

"This man, who was part of the paramilitary apparatus controlled by recently captured war criminal Ratko Mladic, twice misled federal immigration officials into believing that he was only a refugee of the struggles that tore Bosnia and Herzegovina apart, rather than a member of the group that has been identified as a very substantial part of that war,"

Said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Sally Quillian Yates.

In statements on both cases, ICE said it places a high priority on targeting alleged human rights abusers through its Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center. ICE HSI has more than 200 active investigations, and is pursuing over 1,400 leads and removal cases involving suspects from approximately 95 different countries. The cases are predominantly focused on Central and South America, Haiti, the former Yugoslavia and Africa, it said.

 

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