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

SOURCE: THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION

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.

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