MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man pleaded not guilty Monday to allegations that he entered the U.S. under false pretenses by concealing his military service and concealing crimes committed during the Bosnian war in the 1990s.
Zdenko Jakisa, 45, of Forest Lake, is charged with one count of possessing unlawfully obtained documents. He was allowed to be released Monday with conditions as his case proceeds in U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
A federal indictment unsealed last week said Jakisa obtained his permanent resident card illegally when he didn't disclose that he had served in the armed forces of the Croatian Defense Council in Bosnia-Herzegovina, that he had been arrested for breaking the law in Bosnia, and that he had "committed crimes of moral turpitude."
Michael Plotnick, a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, testified Monday that Jakisa's entry into the U.S. as a refugee from Bosnia in 1998, and his status as a legal resident, would have been impacted if he had been truthful about his past. Jakisa became a lawful permanent resident in 2002.
Authorities in Bosnia say he is wanted for questioning in an investigation into war crimes there. The prosecution office in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, told The Associated Press that Jakisa is suspected of "war crimes against civilians," and is one of several people under investigation. Mostar prosecutors did not provide details.
Plotnick testified that Jakisa killed his neighbor, a Serbian woman, in September 1993 by firing an AK-47 into her window. Plotnick said Jakisa then intercepted a Bosnian Muslim man who was trying to flee the house, took the man to his own house, forced him to undress, threw a knife at him and robbed him. After a standoff with police, Jakisa was arrested and threatened authorities with a hand grenade while he was being processed, the special agent said.
The murder case was pending when Jakisa came to the U.S. as a refugee, and Jakisa was convicted in absentia and sentenced to six months in prison, Plotnick said. Jakisa is also accused of threatening the judge on the case, and other crimes in Bosnia.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Janie Mayeron said the murder conviction and other allegations of violence give her great concern, but she allowed Jakisa to go free with conditions, saying agents have been investigating him since 2010 and didn't deem him a flight risk until now.
Jakisa's attorney in the United States, assistant federal defender Reynaldo Aligada, Jr., argued for Jakisa's release, saying he is connected to the community and co-owns a taxi business with his wife. His attorney in Bosnia-Herzegovina said she didn't know why Jakisa is wanted.
"No charges have been raised against him, so I would not know what he is suspected of," attorney Angela Puljic told the AP on Friday. "For now he is wanted by the prosecutor because he is under investigation and needs to be questioned."
Jakisa has a lengthy criminal record in Minnesota, including multiple convictions for driving while impaired, disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process. Plotnick testified Jakisa has resisted arrest in some of these cases and threatened to kill authorities.
A handful of supporters were in court to support Jakisa, including his wife, who left the courthouse Monday without commenting to reporters.
More than 100,000 people were killed during the Bosnian war, which also turned half of the country's population of 4.3 million into refugees.
Aida Cerkez reported from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.