Snellville man charged with citizenship fraud, accused of war crimes in Ethiopia

Mezemr Abebe Belayneh, 65, of Snellville, is accused of concealing human rights abuses during Ethiopian Red Terror during his immigration and naturalization process. If convicted, his citizenship will be revoked.
Caption
Mezemr Abebe Belayneh, 65, of Snellville, is accused of concealing human rights abuses during Ethiopian Red Terror during his immigration and naturalization process. If convicted, his citizenship will be revoked.

Credit: AJC File

Credit: AJC File

A Gwinnett County man accused of human rights violations in Ethiopia in the 1970s has been arrested on charges that he fraudulently gained citizenship to the United States.

Mezemr Abebe Belayneh, 65, of Snellville, was arraigned Thursday on charges that he lied during his immigration and naturalization process as he became a U.S. citizen, according to the acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Kurt R. Erskine.

Belayneh is accused of concealing his position as a civilian interrogator at a makeshift prison, where he is thought to have participated in severe physical abuse of prisoners held on the basis of their political beliefs, Erskine said. If Belayneh is convicted, he will lose his U.S. citizenship.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office would not comment on how long Belayneh has lived in the U.S. or when he became a citizen. The naturalization process requires applicants to be permanent residents of the U.S. for at least five years, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Federal law prohibits immigration to the U.S. for those who have committed human rights violations or persecuted others based on their political beliefs, Erskine said.

The federal investigation into Belayneh’s involvement in Ethiopian Red Terror is being led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division with assistance from the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC). The HRVWCC was established in 2009 to help the government identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers inside the U.S., Erskine said.

Erskine’s office would not comment on the nature of the evidence presented against Belayneh or how the case was built.

ExploreGwinnett man convicted of immigration fraud, lied about deportation

The Ethiopian Red Terror was a violent campaign carried out by the Derg, also known as the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia, one of the political groups that jockeyed for control of the country during a civil war that began in late 1974, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

During the Red Terror, suspected members of opposing political groups were imprisoned and often executed “in one of the most systematic uses of mass murder by the state ever witnessed in Africa,” the HRW report said. Estimates of the death toll range from “at least 10,000″ in the HRW report to several hundred thousand, the BBC reported.

The leader of the Derg, Mengistu Haile Mariam, helmed the country as a dictator from 1979 until 1991, when he fled to Zimbabwe and lived in exile under the protection of President Robert Mugabe, according to the BBC. In 2007, Mengistu was found guilty of genocide by the Ethiopian supreme court, though he continues to live in Zimbabwe at age 84, the BBC reported.

“The laws of the United States are designed to provide refuge for the victims of human rights violation and to exclude those who commit them,” Erskine said in a statement. “The defendant’s alleged lies through his immigration and naturalization process subverted this system.”

ExploreGeorgia couple plead guilty to illegally importing male enhancement drugs

“Abebe’s lies and horrible past deeds have thankfully come back to haunt him. Now he will be held accountable,” said Special Agent Katrina W. Berger, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations operations in Georgia and Alabama.

Members of the public who may have information about former human rights violators in the United States are asked to contact law enforcement through the HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) or its online tip form at www.ice.gov/tips.