When single mum Sarah Renno* attended a concert in Melbourne with girlfriends in 2015 she had no idea her life was about to change forever.
The singer headlining the event – Bosnian “superstar” Halid Muslimovic – would pick the Ashburton woman from the crowd and seduce her.
“He grabbed me by the arm and wanted a photo with me,” she told A Current Affair.
“That’s how it started.”
What followed was a whirlwind long-distance romance that would cost Sarah hundreds of thousands of dollars and almost lead to the mum-of-two losing her life.
“He’s a monster. An animal,” she said.
While Muslimovic’s fame peaked decades ago, the singer still enjoys legions of female fans.
His soaring ballads and over-the-top music videos have earned him comparisons to fellow European musician Andre Rieu.
Sarah claims the celebrity put his acting skills to good use over the course of their three year relationship, as they travelled Australia and the world.
When they weren’t together, the couple would communicate constantly via text message.
“I was in love with him,” she said.
It didn’t take long for Muslimovic to start asking Sarah for money to help fund building projects and revitalise his music career.
“To me, I was helping this man. I thought it wouldn’t be a problem,” she said.
With travel costs and dozens of international money transfers through Western Union, Sarah estimates she handed over as much as $400,000 during their relationship.
She says Muslimovic had always promised to pay the money back.
“I was comfortable that he was telling me the truth, his solicitors were telling me A to Z exactly the same story that he was telling me,” she said.
Sarah didn’t know it at the time but she had fallen victim to a love scam: when someone pretends to be in love with another person only to take their money.
The Melbourne mum started drowning in debt.
She lost her job as a mortgage broker as a result.
“As a mortgage broker you have to have a clean CRA and I haven’t got that any more, so I’ve had lenders chasing me for money,” she told A Current Affair through tears.
When Sarah realised she wasn’t going to get the cash back, she decided to fly to Bosnia and confront her lover.
It was a decision that she said would almost cost her life.
“He hit me with a fist right across my face. I started losing consciousness at that stage and he grabbed my arm and took a big bite out of the side of my arm,” she said.
Sarah says Muslimovic also threw her to the ground.
Police charged the singer with assault and endangering life.
He’s likely to plead not guilty when he fronts court at the end of this month, with the scandal causing a stir in the European tabloids.
Sarah reported Muslimovic to Western Union, alleging she’d been scammed by the singer.
The financial institution investigated her claims and agreed, stating in a letter: “Please be advised, that after completing our investigation, we have decided to refund the principal amount of your money transfer as well as the associated fee.”
Sarah received that notification in April, however has still yet to see the funds.
Now, she’s worried she won’t be able to fly to Bosnia to testify against the man who she claims almost killed her.
“I need justice, I need closure. This man has to pay for what he’s done,” she said.
Western Union tells A Current Affair it’s urgently looking into Sarah’s case to determine why she hasn’t been paid – despite the written assurance she would be.
*Sarah’s name has been changed on request.