A Forest Lake man accused of coming to the United States under false cover as a refugee while hiding war crimes he committed during the Bosnian conflict may have been involved in as many as three murders there, according to new documents filed in a federal case which could lead to his deportation.
Zdenko Jakisa, 46, was indicted by a grand jury in April on a charge of immigration fraud for allegedly lying on documents that allowed him and his wife, Anna, to emigrate to Minnesota in 1998 as refugees sponsored by a local church. He has since been free on $25,000 bond pending a Dec. 8 trial date and is living in a quiet Forest Lake neighborhood while helping run a taxi company owned by his wife.
Jakisa is alleged to have killed Nevenka Elezovic, a 62-year-old Serbian woman, in September 1993 as he sprayed her apartment with an AK-47 while she stood in front of her bedroom window in the war-scarred town of Capljina, according to an investigator with the Homeland Security Investigations unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Now, documents filed this week show that Jakisa was questioned for an alleged role in three slayings. However, seven witnesses said he was not involved in the killings.
Details on the alleged slayings are contained in hundreds of pages of prosecution documents not yet made public. The lengthy investigation into Jakisa's past, complicated by language differences, has turned up four criminal cases involving two Bosnian courts, documents show.
The April indictment alleges Jakisa did not disclose when applying for his permanent residency card that he was a member of the HVO, the Hrvatsko Vijece Odbrane, which is composed of brigades of shock troops under command of the Croatian Defense Council notorious for carrying out atrocities, including massacres in villages, during that 3½-year war.
He also failed to disclose that he was arrested, indicted and imprisoned for unspecified crimes in Bosnia and committing crimes of "moral turpitude" there. That legal term in U.S. immigration law encompasses a number of crimes that can be grounds for deportation.
Key witness is dead
According to defense motions filed this week on Jakisa's behalf, another man with Jakisa when Elezovic was killed implicated himself in her death. But that man has since died, while a police officer involved in the investigation also is suffering from serious mental health issues. The alleged murder weapon also has been lost.
Those issues, Jakisa defense lawyers assert, point to the problems created by the government's long — illegally long, they say — delay in investigating Jakisa. And it's the basis for their request to dismiss the indictment.
The FBI knew of Jakisa's alleged murder of Elezovic as far back as 2005, but five years passed before an investigation was launched and it took another three years for charges to be filed. Jakisa applied for refugee status in 1998, then sought permanent resident status — a "green card" — in 2001. That's when the clock began ticking on a five-year statute of limitations for filing false information, defense lawyers argue.
"Allowing this stale claim to proceed undermines the congressional intent of establishing a statute of limitations, it violates [Jakisa's] right to due process and significantly impairs his ability to mount a defense," the defense attorneys argue.
Prosecutors will respond to those arguments next week.
When applying as a refugee, Jakisa acknowledged his service in the Yugoslav People's Army, which was compulsory in the days of Communist rule. But he never admitted to later being a member of the HVO, or that he was convicted (in absentia) in Elezovic's death, or to crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s.
In addition to several drunken-driving convictions and arrests on assault and resisting arrest, Jakisa has a history of threatening behavior since arriving in Forest Lake, including instances where he told a police officer, a county sheriff's deputy, his probation officer and a bouncer at a local bar that he would kill them.
Prosecutors argued that was cause to detain Jakisa until trial, but he was released under strict conditions.