U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today released new details proving that the Serbian government did give Miladin Kovacevic an emergency passport and help him flee the country despite the embassy’s staunch denials and will demand that CBP close the loophole that allowed him to slip out of the country undetected by any law enforcement. As details are emerging that Serbian officials may have aided Kovacevic’s flight, Schumer also demanded that the Serbian government immediately come clean about their involvement in the case or face possible sanctions.
“Every moment that passes is a moment Kovacevic evades justice,” Schumer said. “The Serbian Consulate must come clean about their role in this heinous affair and turn over Kovacevic immediately. We must find out who the bad actors at the Consulate were, and make sure that they are brought to justice.”
Schumer noted that the case was complicated by the fact that state and local law enforcement is not required to notify federal authorities when an individual has surrendered his passport. In this case, after Kovacevic surrendered his passport to authorities, the Serbian Consulate General’s Office in New York City (after posting Kovacevic’s $100,000 bond) helped him obtain a new passport, with a new number. He was able to slip through the cracks in the system because no notice of his being deemed a flight risk, and having surrendered his passport, ever made it to the appropriate federal authorities.
In order to prevent a similar situation from happening again, Schumer today called on the Department of Homeland Security to require that the name of anyone charged with a crime and who has had his passport confiscated be immediately blocked from leaving the country. Local law enforcement officials would be required to contact the federal government so any the name of any person charged with a crime can be immediately red flagged and the person blocked from flying. Once the name is flagged, the person would then be unable to flee the country, even with an emergency passport.
“It just doesn’t make sense that someone who’s had his passport taken away, and has been found by a court to be a flight risk, should be allowed to get on a plane. I’m now calling on DHS to get to the bottom of this loophole, and make sure that serious, suspected felons aren’t allowed to slip through the cracks.”
Schumer acted following the revelation earlier this week that Kovacevic, a former Binghamton University basketball player and Serbian national, fled the country after posting bail on June 6th for felony assault charge stemming from the May 4th beating of fellow BU student Bryan Steinhauer in a bar room fight. Steinhauer remains in a coma following the assault. Kovacevic surrendered his passport to Broome County before posting bail, however, three days later U.S. Customs Enforcement said Kovacevic had fled the US via Newark Airport, using a Serbian-issued emergency passport. It was then also uncovered that the Serbian Consulate had posted the $100,000 bail for Kovacevic in Broome County Court.
In response, the FBI and U.S. State Department issued a federal warrant for Kovacevic’s arrest overseas on June 13, allowing the FBI to look for Kovacevic outside of the US. Both agencies are also investigating the role of Serbian Consulate in the escape.
On Thursday, Schumer, along with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Congressman Maurice Hinchey also sent a personal letter to Secretary Rice asking her to demand that the Serbian government move to revoke the diplomatic immunity for Vice Consul Igor Milosevic and any other consular official found to be involved in the case.
Schumer said that right now local courts and DA’s offices are not required to notify CBP or transportation officials when they confiscate a passport because the accused is a flight risk and that allowed Kovacevic to use his emergency passport without raising a red flag and preventing law enforcement from realizing he had fled the country until two days after he left.