Good riddance…


Elvir Pobric and a trail of killings, from Bosnia to Calgary


Bosnian Elvir Pobric, facing deportation from Canada, blames a sham trial for his double-murder conviction in a case involving black-market currency doublecross.

By Sherri Zickefoose, Calgary Herald May 23, 2010
Bosnian Elvir Pobric, facing deportation from Canada blames a sham trial for his double-murder conviction. Sveto Bjelan, one of the victims, is pictured

Bosnian Elvir Pobric, facing deportation from Canada blames a sham trial for his double-murder conviction. Sveto Bjelan, one of the victims, is pictured

Photograph by: Photo Illustration – Rachel Niebergal, Calgary Herald

Death spared Jela Oreskovic from the awful truth about her son’s murder.

She never knew the horrifying fate that would befall her only son, Vitormir Oreskovic. Nor was she forced to view his badly burned body when it was discovered hidden at a Bosnian dump with two bullet holes through the back of his skull.

The rest of Oreskovic’s family was not similarly spared. Since the murders of Oreskovic and another man in Bosnia in 1992, the family has witnessed a judge convict a man for the murders in a case of black-market currency doublecross, in which investigators determined 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 emerged in Canada, where he started a family and quietly made a new life for himself.

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

Details obtained by the Herald shed light on the crime, and offer more insight into what the victims’ families have been struggling with for more than a decade.

The case also raise troubling questions. Is Pobric an elusive cold-blooded killer who fled to Canada to hide from authorities?

Or is he an innocent businessman driven from genocide in his war-torn country because he feared persecution for his religious beliefs?

As Slasvia Babic, the nephew of Oreskovic, tends to his uncle’s gravesite in Bosnia, he lights candles and prays. And he vows to keep letting the world know the man convicted as his uncle’s killer is a fugitive who needs to be brought to justice.

From his home computer, Babic plasters his story on forums and blogs that mention Pobric’s name.

“I believe that at least citizens of Calgary and citizens of Canada have the right to know who is living among them,” said Babic.

“To be honest, I started losing my faith that the justice will be done, especially when I saw on the Internet that Pobric has been quite active on Netlog and Facebook.”

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

Word travels fast. That’s 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, Sinisa alerted Hamilton, Ont., police a fugitive was in their midst in February 2009.

“Crimes cannot go unpunished . . . nor can sick minds who think they can take someone’s life and then act as a good citizen who pays taxes and works honourably,” Sinisa said.

“Justice will only be satisfi ed 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 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 from exploding into civil war.

The bar’s Russian waitress — his girlfriend — lived with him in his mother’s house in the Bosnian village of Velagici.

Pobric has his own version of what transpired on the day of the murders, but Bosnian police reports, exhibits and court documents obtained by the Herald reveal a chilling version of what was to come.

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, court documents state.

Pobric told her “he had some problems.”

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

Pobric’s mother and girlfriend quickly set about cleaning 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, wasn’t 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.

Pobric’s underground business dealings turned deadly that afternoon.

At about 2:30 p.m., police say, Pobric and his 31-year-old partner, Vitomir Oreskovic, set off to sell Deutche marks for dinars. Taxi driver Sveto Bjelan drove them to meet some buyers at a Han Kola 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 weren’t 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 7.65-millimetre handgun pierced the floor board.

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

Pobric was investigated by police after Bjelan’s incinerated body was found.

Pobric originally pointed the finger at Oreskovic as the shooter, saying Oreskovic paid him 500,000 dinars ($7,000) to keep quiet about the murders.

But when Oreskovic’s 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.

Pobric refused any further comments to police.

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

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

Police charged Pobric with two counts of first-degree murder.

During his Jan. 26, 1993,

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

He 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.

He says the money was supposed to be used for buying weapons for the Bosnian Muslims, but Orsekovic 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 Oreskovic’s body onto a tractor to dump it and burn the evidence.

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

That’s 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.

The judge didn’t buy it and convicted Pobric on two counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Despite the judge’s verdict and a failed appeal, His family says he was not involved in the black market. His mother, Sevla Pobric, maintains her son’s innocence to this day.

“I was in the house with the waitress. I would have heard the shots. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t believe he did it,” she told freelance reporter Ermin Zatega of the Center for Investigative Reporting, an independent media organization based in Sarajevo.

“He couldn’t 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 blames a false conviction on a corrupt Serbian court, his lawyer said, calling it a “sham, a charade which was carried out in order to justify putting him in a concentration camp.”

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 Grimsby. He became a self-employed aluminum siding contractor and expanded business to Calgary three years ago.

“I want to say I don’t want hurt nobody. I just wanna live my life and work. I like Canada. That’s 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 don’t want to work with me because problem with newspaper. Two builders don’t want to talk to me. Another builder doesn’t want to pay me.”

Since his arrest, Pobric has faced a deportation hearing. Pobric’s 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 does not agree.

The arrest warrant was issued by Bosnia-Herzegovina, not the Republika Srpska, or Serbia, Bosnia’s wartime enemy.

“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,” states an IRB report.

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 Immigration and Refugee 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 says he felt under no obligation to mention a false conviction.

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

“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,” the IRB wrote.

Now, after spending a year in custody, Pobric, 38, is stripped of his refugee and permanent residency status. Officials at the Bosnia-Herzegovina embassy say they will issue travelling documents within two weeks of being asked.

Pobric has declared himself on a sporadic hunger strike. He told his lawyer he’d rather die here than go back.

On the eve of his deportation, Pobric has one last tactic — his former lawyer filed an appeal to the federal court over his stripped refugee status.

However, he is two months late for filing submissions.

Bjelan’s son Sinisa says the delay is frustrating, but justice is in sight.

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

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