CLEVELAND (WJW) — A Parma Heights man is charged in the U.S. with lying about war crimes committed in the 1990s, while he was a Serbian army operative, according to a federal indictment unsealed Thursday.
The 55-year-old Jugoslav Vidić, born in Croatia in 1968, was a specially trained officer in a unit supporting ethnic Serbs during the Croatian War of Independence, a bloody conflict that lasted from 1991 — when Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia — to 1995, according to Vidić’s criminal complaint.
At the time, Vidić worked at a meat-processing factory in the town of Petrinja, in central Croatia, prosecutors said. In August 1991, the plant was visited by newly elected Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, whom TV news cameras saw shaking hands with plant worker Stjepan Komes.
The following month, when ethnic Serb military forces who opposed Croatian independence attacked Petrinja and seized the plant, Vidić allegedly escorted Komes at gunpoint from a group of detained workers. Komes was never seen alive again. His body was later exhumed from a mass grave in the town and identified by his children, according to the complaint.
In 1994, Vidić was charged in a Croatian court with Komes’ murder in Petrinja years earlier. He was convicted of a war crime in 1998, though he did not appear for trial. He immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee in 1999.
He’s accused of lying about his military experience to a U.S. immigration officer in Romania that year. While seeking permanent residency in the U.S. over the following years, he allegedly lied numerous other times about his military experience, as well as when asked if he had participated in any ethnic or politically motivated killings, according to the complaint.
His green card application was approved in 2005.
He also allegedly lied to U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigators who interviewed him in 2017 at his North Royalton home.
Vidić now faces counts of fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents and making false statements to law enforcement. If convicted on both charges, he faces a combined 15 years in prison.
Vidić pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Thursday, Jan. 26, before Magistrate Judge Jonathan Greenberg in Ohio’s Northern District federal court in Cleveland. He’s set for a detention hearing on Feb. 2.
Homeland Security and the FBI are investigating the case, and working with the federal Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center and the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit. Branches of the Croatian government were also “instrumental” in the investigation, the release states.
Anyone who has information about human rights violators living in the U.S. is urged to contact Homeland Security investigators at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) or via a tip form found on the ICE website.