If allegations that a Minneapolis man is a Nazi war criminal who concealed his past to gain entry to the United States prove true, "that is a relatively clear case of citizenship fraud," says a University of Minnesota law professor.
Consequences for Michael Karkoc could include deportation.
"The U.S. would first have to revoke his citizenship. That, of course, could be challenged in court," said Prof. Fred Morrison. "That could go on for a substantial amount of time. Then he could be deported, if that is upheld."
Morrison suggested that deportation proceedings could take "a year to two years, probably." Karkoc is 94.
The Associated Press reported last week that Karkoc, 94, had led a Ukrainian military unit under Nazi command during World War II and had lied to U.S. immigration authorities about his past. For six decades he has lived in a Ukrainian neighborhood of Minneapolis.
If Karkoc were deported to a country that wanted to prosecute him — presumably Poland or Germany — the United States would have "a number of obligations under mutual legal assistance treaties," Morrison said. But those obligations probably would not amount to much, Morrison said, because any evidence of Karkoc's complicity in war crimes would be in Europe, not the United States.
"He had tried, I think, to put that whole chapter of his life behind him when he came to the United States," he said. "He didn't do much more here that would be in any way relevant to that. The relevant facts are either in Poland, where the acts happened, or potentially also some in the Ukraine, I gather, or in Germany, because he was doing it as part of a German military unit."
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"It would be difficult to get the facts," Morrison said. "I doubt that there are any people still alive who would know about the facts. But there are really two issues here: Could you find people who say, yes, he did it, or yes, he ordered this or that inferior soldier to do it, or that he issued a command order to everyone in the unit to do it? That would make him directly liable.
"But there is also a concept that is used in some of the European countries," Morrison said, "called command responsibility — that the commander of the unit is essentially presumed to be responsible for actions that are war crimes if he didn't take action to stop them."
Morrison agreed that there is a "substantial possibility" that a 94-year-old man won't reach end of the process. But he said there may be value in pursuing the process, regardless.
"I think there is a strong feeling in Europe, there is a strong feeling among some people in the United States, that there needs to be some kind of accountability," he said. "Whether that accountability leads to a prison term or ... simply leads to an adjudication of an old man as a war criminal is a different question."
Over the weekend, as Karkoc's neighbors expressed surprise at allegations about his wartime past, his son issued a denunciation of the news agency that broke the story.
Karkoc's son, Andrij Karkoc, denounced the Associated Press, calling the report slanderous and unsupported by any evidence.
Shocking as the allegations seem, this is not the first time a suspected Nazi war criminal was found to be living in Minneapolis. In 1988, a 79-year old man living near lake Nokomis in south Minneapolis was sued by the Justice Department for hiding his background when he immigrated to the United States. The suit claimed that Edgars Inde, a native Latvian, had persecuted and killed Jews as a member of a police unit in Latvia during the war.
Inde died before his case could be resolved.
And just last year, a former Cleveland autoworker named John Demjanjuk died in Germany awaiting appeal of a conviction of having served as a guard in Nazi death camps. Like Inde, Demjanjuk was sued by the Justice Department for having concealed his past to immigration authorities.
In breaking the story last week, the AP relied on a memoir reportedly written by Karkoc himself: "In a Ukrainian-language memoir published in 1995, Karkoc states that he helped found the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion in 1943 in collaboration with the Nazis' feared SS intelligence agency, the SD, to fight on the side of Germany — and served as a company commander in the unit, which received orders directly from the SS, through the end of the war.
"It was not clear why Karkoc felt safe publishing his memoir, which is available at the U.S. Library of Congress and the British Library and which the AP located online in an electronic Ukrainian libary."
According to the AP, the U.S. government maintained a secret "blacklist" of organizations whose former members were prohibited from entering the United States after the war. Karkoc had been a member of two such groups, the AP reported.
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, last week called on the U.S. government to investigate the story and begin deportation proceedings if the allegations are confirmed.