Families Of Murdered Bosnians Fight For Canadian Justice

Families of murdered Bosnians fight for Canadian justice

By Sherri Zickefoose
Calgary Herald
May 22, 2010

CALGARY—Death spared Jela Oreskovic from knowing the truth about her sons murder.

She never knew the horrifying fate that would befall her only son, Vitormir Oreskovic. And she didnt face his badly burned body when it was discovered hidden at a Bosnian dump with two bullet holes blasted through the back of his skull.

The rest of his family wasnt so lucky. Since the murders of Oreskovic and another man in Bosnia in 1992, the family witnessed a judge convict a man for the murders in a case of black-market currency doublecross, in which the killer robbed and shot his partner and taxi driver execution-style, burned their bodies and kept bundles of money for himself.

Then, police say, the killer left the country during the chaos of the Balkan War and began a new life in Canada, where he started a family.

That man, Elvir Pobric, denies the killings, and says hes been railroaded by a sham trial. He is now in Calgary, facing a deportation hearing.

Pobrics new life in Canada was hardly a secret. Although he concealed his murder convictions and prison time in Bosnia from immigration officials, he never bothered hiding his identity or roots to his homeland from his new friends in Canada.

Word travels fast. Thats how Sinisa Bjelan learned through the grapevine that the man who killed his father, taxi driver Sveto Bjelan, was living as a free man with a new family in Canada.

From his home in New York, Bjelan alerted Hamilton police a fugitive was in their midst in February 2009.

Crimes cannot go unpunished . . . nor can sick minds who think they can take someones life and then act as a good citizen who pays taxes and works honourably, Bjelan said.

Justice will only be satisfied when a murderer is deported from your country.

The new life Pobric was building in Canada fell apart last spring when Calgary police tipped by Hamilton police and armed with an Interpol warrant arrested him at a traffic stop. According to the warrant, Pobric, 38, was a prison escapee and the subject of a 13-year international manhunt by Bosnia-Herzegovina authorities.

As a 21-year-old in Bosnia in 1992, Pobric was running a small saloon called Evropa as his unstable country was two days away from exploding into civil war.

The bars Russian waitress his girlfriend lived with him in his mothers house in the Bosnian village of Velagici.

On April 4, 1992, Pobric asked his girlfriend for her key to the basement suite, and told her to go upstairs and stay the night with his mother.

When Pobric returned the key to his girlfriend the next morning at 7:30 a.m., she looked curiously at his bloodied pant legs.

He told her he had some problems, according to court documents obtained by the Calgary Herald.

Alarmed, the woman looked inside the basement suite. She discovered a blood-soaked room with gore splattered the walls, floor and sofa.

Pobrics mother and girlfriend quickly cleaned the crime scene.

His mother washed his clothes and buried bundles of money behind the barn, according to the police report.

But Pobric, who went by the nickname Viro, wasnt just a simple cafe owner, according to police.

The man who struggled through school and was deemed unfit for the army at age 18 was actually a black market currency dealer, Bosnian police said.

Pobrics underground business dealings turned deadly.

Around 2:30 p.m. the day before, police said, Pobric and his partner Oreskovic set off to sell currency. Bjelan drove them to meet some buyers at a cafe.

Bjelan had 900 Deutche marks of his own he wanted to sell, according to a police report.

Pobric appealed to the buyers sense of fairness by asking to first take the dinars to a bank to ensure they werent counterfeit before handing over the Deutche marks. Prosecutors later proved the bank was closed for business that day.

Pobric instead lured Oreskovic and Bjelan to his house to count the money.

As Bjelan started sorting the currency, two bullets ripped through the back of his head, showering the couch, walls and floor with blood.

One slug from the handgun pierced the floor board.

The drivers lifeless body was shoved into his own taxi, driven to the woods and set on fire. Spent shell casings were tossed into the darkness.

Police questioned Pobric after Bjelans incinerated body was found.

Pobric originally pointed the finger at his 31-year-old partner as the shooter, saying Oreskovic paid him about $7,000 to keep quiet about the murders.

But when Oreskovics body was found half burned in a dump three days later, and witnesses reported seeing the trio together earlier, investigators again turned their focus to Pobric as the killer of both men.

Despite all the steps taken to cover his tracks, the forensic evidence was damning, according to the police report. The murder victims blood was found in the basement and the couch, along with bullet casings.

The half-buried cash found also offered some clues: bloody fingerprints.

During his January 1993 trial, Pobric changed his testimony, offering a far different story.

Pobric said three men, wearing Bosnian Muslim resistance army uniforms and armed with short barrel American rifles, showed up at his house the day of the murders.

The money was supposed to be used for buying weapons for the Bosnian Muslims, he said, but Oreskovic wanted too high a cut and was killed over it.

He said the men killed Oreskovic, a Croatian, in the house, and took Bjelan, a Serbian, away.

Pobric said he was forced to help load Oreskovics body onto a tractor to dump it and burn the evidence.

He said the men threatened to kill him and his family if he ever testified against them.

Thats why, Pobric explained to the judge, his original testimony was false.

When he learned his family was safe at a different location, Pobric said he decided to tell the truth.

A judge convicted Pobric on two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

Despite the judges verdict and an failed appeal, Pobrics family still claims he was not involved in the black market.

His mother, Sevla Pobric, maintains her sons innocence to this day.

I was in the house with the waitress. I would have heard the shots. Maybe Im wrong, but I dont believe he did it, she told freelance reporter Ermin Zatega of the Center for Investigative Reporting, an independent media organization based in Sarajevo.

He couldnt have done it. I used to have a whole bunch of chicken and he never wanted to help slaughter those so sensitive he was even to the chicken.

Pobric arrived in Montreal as a fearful Muslim escaping the bloody civil war erupting around him in Bosnia in 1999.

Clutching a letter from the Red Cross documenting his internment camp release, Pobric asked Canadian immigration officials to save him from religious and ethnic persecution at the hands of Serbians by granting him refugee protection.

He got it. Soon, Pobric earned permanent resident status. He married an Ontario woman and fathered two children in Hamilton, eventually settling his family in the nearby community of Grimsby, Ont. He became a self-employed aluminum siding contractor and expanded his business to Calgary three years ago.

I want to say I dont want to hurt nobody. I just want to live my life and work. I like Canada. Thats why I came to Canada, he told Global TV last spring before he was taken into custody.

Police had pulled Pobric over once before for driving without insurance. Another charge for cheque fraud was dropped.

After reports of his immigration hearings hit the newspaper, Pobric complained his image as an innocent man was tarnished.

I have a problem now because of newspaper. My contractors dont want to work with me because problem with newspaper. Two builders dont want to talk to me. Another builder doesnt want to pay me.

Since his arrest, Pobric has faced a deportation hearing. Pobrics lawyer argued he has made no misrepresentation, either directly or indirectly, because he never faced a judicial process operating in any way under the rule of law. The charge of homicide was entirely fabricated, the so-called trial and appeal were a sham, and the resulting incarceration was in fact incarceration in a concentration camp for political, ethnic, and religious reasons.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada disagreed.

The arrest warrant was issued by Bosnia-Herzegovina, not Serbia, Bosnias wartime enemy, board officials said.

There is no basis to suppose or conclude that those ordinary civil authorities . . . would seek the arrest and return because he is Bosniak or a Bosnian Muslim, board officials ruled.

The Interpol warrant, initially from Sarajevo, is credible and trustworthy evidence, about which there is no taint of political, ethnic or religious motivation.

And, according to the board, when Pobric filled out his refugee claim, he checked no that he had never been convicted of a crime or served time in prison.

He said he felt under no obligation to mention a false conviction.

But if Pobric had come forward and told immigration officials that he had been the victim of wrongful persecution, he would have made a more compelling case, officials said.

If it were true that the authorities has accused Mr. Pobric of a serious crime in order to be able to put him in a concentration camp . . . then there would be no reason not to disclose all those circumstances, which if true would only have strengthened his claim, board officials wrote.

Now, after spending a year in custody, Pobric is stripped of his refugee and permanent residency status. Officials at the Bosnia-Herzegovina embassy said they will issue travelling documents within two weeks of being asked.

Pobric is using his one last tactic: his former lawyer filed an appeal to the Federal Court over his stripped refugee status.

But he is two months late for filing submissions.

Bjelan said the delay is frustrating, but justice for his father is in sight.

Even though this was a long wait, it will be worth it, he said.