Charged in Will County with raping his adoptive sister over two years starting when she was in 5th grade, 20-year-old Benyam Bereket-Ab fled to his homeland of Ethiopia from Naperville in January 2006.
Bereket-Ab’s bond had initially been set at $4 million, but his attorney successfully argued that he wasn’t a flight risk because he didn’t have the resources or capacity to flee the country. The judge then lowered Bereket-Ab’s bond to $100,000 and required him to turn over a passport — but Bereket-Ab surrendered an expired Ethiopian passport, court records and interviews show. His adoptive parents posted the bond.
Bereket-Ab flew to Washington’s Dulles airport and continued on to a brief stop in Rome, landing the next evening in his native Ethiopia.
Federal agents and investigators from the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office said they couldn’t determine how Bereket-Ab paid for his airline tickets.
But the agents had no trouble tracking Bereket-Ab to the capital, Addis Ababa, where at the request of U.S. authorities he was questioned by Ethiopian federal police Deputy Commissioner Hassen Shiffa in April 2006, the Tribune found.
Bereket-Ab told Shiffa he was likely to get a 15-year prison sentence if he came back to Will County, and said he “would rather live in poverty for 15 years than return to the U.S.,” according to a law enforcement official involved in the manhunt. And with that, Bereket-Ab was free.
Ethiopia is an important U.S. regional security partner that in the decade up to 2009 garnered $4.7 billion in American government assistance, according to the State Department. But America does not have an extradition treaty with the country.
Will County prosecutors told the Tribune they were ready to “move quickly” to apprehend Bereket-Ab should he enter a country with a U.S. extradition treaty, however federal prosecutors dismissed their warrant for Bereket-Ab in February 2009 with a court motion explaining that “extradition is not an option.”
On Jan. 8, Benyam Bereket-Ab, 20, telephoned and said he was in Ethiopia, said Zemeheret Bereket-Ab, his adoptive father. His family was stunned by the news.
“He has become a fugitive now,” said his father, who sounded upset.
In October 2004, the younger Bereket-Ab was arrested by Naperville police and charged with predatory criminal sexual assault.
The alleged victim was younger than 13, and she became pregnant. DNA evidence allegedly has linked the teen to the crime, state prosecutors have said.
Benyam Bereket-Ab was not born in the United States. He is from Ethiopia, is adopted and is not a blood relative of the victim, his father said.
The young man has not been living at their Naperville home since he was arrested nearly two years ago.
In June 2004, the family came home and found Benyam Bereket-Ab in the basement, a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon nearby, his father said. The young man told them later he had tried to commit suicide, his father said. But he wouldn’t say why.
“Until that day, he was a normal young man,” his father said, adding his son never had been in any kind of trouble and earned good grades in school.
When the family consulted a doctor immediately following the incident, he said the teen should be checked by experts.
The teen allegedly told a doctor about the sexual assaults while at a local hospital, his father said. The doctor called police.
When the teen made the Jan. 8 call to his home, he told family members to pick up his car at O’Hare Airport, and the vehicle was parked there, his father said.
Zemeheret Bereket-Ab is a lawyer. As an officer of the court, he felt it was his duty to inform the Will County state’s attorney’s office of the news.
Bereket-Ab’s adoptive father Zemeheret Bereket-Ab had been an Ethiopian high court official before seeking political asylum in the U.S., and today he is a top state law enforcement official — an assistant attorney general in the Environmental Law Division of the attorney general’s office. He declined to comment.