Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

For Accused Collaborator, Stay in Costa Rica May Be Ending Soon

November 7, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Costa Rican authorities are awaiting the arrival of an extradition request for an accused Nazi collaborator who was indicted on war crimes charges this week.

Bohdan Koziy, a Ukrainian national who has lived in Costa Rica since 1987, was indicted this week by a court in Katowice, Poland, at the request of prosecutor Ewa Koj, of Warsaw’s Institute of National Memory, on charges that as a Nazi collaborator he killed a family and a young child.

Officials at the Polish Embassy here said the formal extradition request for Koziy, 81, should be presented in the next two or three weeks, but Costa Rica’s public security minister, Rogelio Ramos, said the arrest order from Poland already has been entered in the International Police Database, known as Interpol.

In the past, Koziy has rejected the charges against him. But he has refused to speak to foreign reporters since being discovered in Costa Rica and has not spoken to local reporters since the late 1980s.

Koziy’s 18-year residence here has been a thorn in the side of an otherwise successful social integration for Costa Rica’s small Jewish community. The community of about 2,500 is mainly of Polish descent, and for years has hoped to see Koziy expelled.

By now, however, the situation has dragged on for so long that community leaders appear more subdued than jubilant at the news from Poland.

“Let’s see if this gets him out of here,” Gustavo Priefer, president of the Costa Rican Israeli-Zionist Center, the local Jewish community center, said when informed of the arrest warrant.

“I will feel relief when he is before the courts of justice in Poland,” local B’nai B’rith leader Moises Fachler said.

However, Efraim Zuroff, Jerusalem director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Koziy’s lead investigator since 1981, sounded uplifted by the news.

“Twenty-two years is an awfully long time to pursue a case, but Koziy’s innocent victims deserve no less. He murdered them in cold blood just because they were Jews, and we never gave up because we believe in making killers of human beings — Jews and non-Jews — pay for their crimes,” Zuroff said. “I just hope that there will not be any last-minute delays or obstacles.”

There are doubts about Koziy’s exact location in Costa Rica. By all accounts, he has moved out of his long-time home, and Fachler said local monitors have not seen him in months.

Privately, public security officials insist they know where to find Koziy, though they have not publicly responded to local media reports that he has gone missing.

There are no records of Koziy’s death or any indication he has left the country. No country is known to have issued him a passport since his denaturalization by the United States in 1982.

Koziy has been in Costa Rica as a dependent of his wife, who became a legal resident after the couple arrived from the United States. That status allows him to stay — but not enter or leave the country — without a passport.

Koziy long has shown an ability to avoid detection. After World War II, he immigrated to the United States and gained citizenship under a presumed name. It was not until the early 1980’s, by which time he owned a motel in Florida, that his true identity was revealed by Nazi hunters.

The U.S. Justice Department obtained a court order to deport Koziy in 1984, but he fled the country.

After moving here, Koziy hoped to live a quiet life in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in the hills overlooking Costa Rica’s picturesque Central Valley.

However, in 1987 he faced extradition to the Soviet Union to face charges that he helped the Nazi occupation of territories that were part of pre-war Poland and now fall within Ukraine.

Koziy would have been extradited, but then-President Oscar Arias, the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner, blocked it by playing on local anti-Communist sentiment. Arias had been under intense pressure from the powerful Catholic archbishop, Roman Arrieta.

After that, Koziy’s stay in Costa Rica was tranquil until 1994, when the World Jewish Congress launched a campaign to have him expelled.

The country rebuffed those efforts until 2000, when Ramos ordered Koziy’s expulsion. Until now that has been a largely symbolic step, since Costa Rica can’t expel Koziy unless another country is willing to take him.

Koziy is believed to be the only war criminal to have made his way to Costa Rica, a country that declared war on Nazi Germany a day before the United States did, and which long has been an ally of Israel.

Recommended from JTA