A Virginia man was arrested in Alexandria on Friday on charges that he obtained U.S. citizenship by lying on his application and failed to disclose his role in suspected human rights abuses in his native Ethiopia, officials said.
Mergia Negussie Habteyes, 58, was indicted Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria for falsely stating that he had never persecuted anyone because of their political opinion.
The indictment says that Negussie, who lives in Virginia and was admitted to the United States as a refugee from Ethiopia, had served as a civilian interrogator in what has been called the country’s Red Terror period. In the late 1970s, the military regime in Ethiopia tortured and killed at least tens of thousands of people, including dissidents and opposition groups, according to Human Rights Watch, though exact death tolls are contested.
Negussie is accused of helping to persecute “individuals imprisoned because of their political opinion” during his post in an Ethiopian prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a statement.
Prosecutors said that Negussie failed to disclose that he had committed a crime or offense for which he had never been arrested, another question on the application for citizenship.
He also allegedly lied about having never provided false or misleading information to immigration officials while gaining entry to and benefits in the United States. Negussie had secured legal permanent residency before becoming a U.S. citizen.
Neither Negussie nor his lawyers could be reached for comment.
If convicted, Negussie would have his U.S. citizenship taken away and could face up to 10 years in federal prison. In addition, he faces possible deportation to Ethiopia.