A Macedonian national has been found guilty of kidnapping his two daughters and whisking them halfway across the globe after his former wife was awarded custody of them.
After hearing three days' worth of evidence, a federal jury on Thursday took just over three hours to find Vojko Rizvanovic guilty on one count of international parental kidnapping. The jury acquitted Rizvanovic on two counts of making false statements on passport applications.
Rizvanovic is accused of fleeing the country in February 2007 with his 2- and 4-year-old daughters after a Utah juvenile court judge awarded their mother, Sabira Ahmic, custody of them. Federal prosecutors say Rizvanovic waited until a juvenile judge allowed his daughters to stay the night with him, then took them to the Salt Lake City International Airport and left on a flight bound for Australia. There, Rizvanovic and the two girls stayed for 3 1/2 weeks and then hopped on a flight bound for Macedonia, where Rizvanovic's mother lives.
Assistant U.S. attorney Trina Higgins told jurors in closing arguments Thursday that the flight fortunately had layovers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Vienna, Austria. Higgins said this gave U.S. authorities time to issue an international arrest warrant. When Rizvanovic landed in Vienna, he was arrested by law enforcement officials there.
Ahmic, a Bosnian refugee, was then able to fly from Salt Lake City to Vienna and retrieve her daughters.
Higgins said Rizvanovic prepared for the trip in advance by applying for new passports for his daughters, declaring that the original documents were lost or stolen when in reality, Ahmic had them. Because the applications had to have the signatures of both parents, Higgins suggested that Rizvanovic may have had a female friend go with him to the passport office and pose as his wife.
In court Thursday, Rizvanovic's attorney Ben Hamilton said his client doesn't deny he fled with the children out of the country but that he did so in order to save his children from physical abuse.
Under federal law, the only defense to international kidnapping is if the parent was taking his children away from eminent domestic abuse.
Higgins said it was Rizvanovic who was abusive to the children, not his wife. She pointed to a state court's ruling that found Rizvanovic had committed physical abuse against his children. Higgins argued that Ahmic had no such record of abuse.
However, Hamilton said Ahmic was schizophrenic and was taking medication to control it. There were instances when she became abusive to the children when she "went off her meds," Hamilton told jurors.
As for the passport applications, Hamilton said there was evidence that Ahmic, for whatever reason, accompanied Rizvanovic to the passport office and signed the applications with him. A passport employee says he recognized Ahmic on the day the applications were submitted.
"That makes no sense," Higgins countered. Why would a woman who fled her home with her children because of abuse and who took out a no-contact order against Rizvanovic, accompany him to get passports?
However, jurors determined there was not enough evidence to show Rizvanovic had forged his wife's signature on the applications, but they did find there was enough evidence to show he left the country with his daughters in defiance of a court order and not because of domestic abuse.
Rizvanovic faces up to three years in federal prison when sentenced in July. Higgins said her office plans to file motions seeking additional enhancements during sentencing.Because Rizvanovic became a U.S. citizen, he does not face deportation, Higgins said.