A man who gained refuge and later citizenship in Canada after fleeing Bosnia 10 years ago has been accused by U.S. immigration authorities of being...

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A man who gained refuge and later citizenship in Canada after fleeing Bosnia 10 years ago has been accused by U.S. immigration authorities of being a war criminal.

An immigration judge in Tacoma has ordered Bozo Jozepovic, 41, deported to Canada and barred permanently from the U.S. Officials here say they plan to bring this status to the attention of the Canadian government.

Jozepovic is a Croat who was born in Bosnia and fled that country with his pregnant wife and child, obtaining status as refugees in Canada in 1997.

Canada granted him citizenship three years ago.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials say they have evidence he’s a former member of the Croatian Defense Council, the HVO, which was involved in ethnic cleansing during fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s.

Specifically, they link him to the 1993 killings of seven Muslim men in the village of Poljani.

Jozepovic’s attorney, Len Saunders of Blaine, said his client is not a war criminal and that the U.S. government’s own documents on him show he was not in the armed forces and is not being sought by the Bosnian government.

Several top military and political leaders of the HVO have been tracked down and indicted on war-crime charges.

“My client is concerned that if he’s accused of war crimes, people would believe it,” Saunders said. “There’s nothing that I’ve seen that says my client has committed these crimes.”

As a long-haul truck driver for the past 10 years, Jozepovic entered the U.S. on numerous occasions.

But twice last year — in May and June — he was denied entry at separate border crossings in Washington state based on information in an international database that flagged him as a potential human-rights violator.

In the June stop, Jozepovic was ordered to appear before a U.S. immigration judge, charged with human-rights abuse, fraud and attempting to immigrate to the U.S. without a visa.

Saunders said his client had entered the U.S. several times between those stops in May and June, without incident. He has no interest in immigrating to the U.S., and in fact when he was stopped in June, he was on his way to pick up apples to take back to Ontario.

As a Canadian living in Canada, Jozepovic didn’t have to appear before a U.S. immigration judge — but did — because he wanted to clear his name, Saunders said.

At his hearing in Blaine in October, Jozepovic was detained by ICE after officials said they learned that an international warrant for his arrest was imminent. He was transported to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, where he’s being held.

“Here was a person who had committed some serious atrocities,” said Dorothy Stefan, chief counsel for ICE. “It’s not someone you want to have slip through the cracks.”

The international warrant has never materialized.

At his immigration hearing in Tacoma, Stefan said expert witnesses linked Jozepovic to the brutal killings in 1993.

Saunders said his client has kept the Canadian government informed of the proceedings and doesn’t plan to fight deportation.

“My client is from Canada,” Saunders said. “All he wants is to go back for Christmas to be with his family.”

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com