PM Of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Entity Sentenced To Four Years For Corruption


A court in Sarajevo has sentenced Fadil Novalic, the prime minister of the Bosniak-Croat Federation -- one of Bosnia-Herzegovina's two entities -- to four years in prison after finding him guilty of corruption in a case regarding the purchase and importing of Chinese ventilators during the coronavirus pandemic.

Fahrudin Zolak, the head of the entity's civil protection service, and entrepreneur Fikret Hodzic were also found guilty on April 5 and were sentenced to six years and five years in prison, respectively.

Jelka Milicevic, the entity's finance minister, was found not guilty.

Novalic, who had been on trial for more than two years, did not appear in court for the April 5 sentencing.

The trial regarding the procurement of 5.4 million euros ($5.9 million) worth of ventilators earmarked for the entity's health-care system began in February 2021.

The ventilators were purchased in April 2020 immediately after a state of emergency was declared in Bosnia amid the pandemic.

The Sarajevo Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation after it emerged that 100 ventilators had been purchased without following the legal public-procurement procedure via direct negotiations with Hodzic's private company F.H. Srebrena Malina (Silver Raspberry), which deals in fresh produce.

The case was subsequently transferred to state prosecutors, who confirmed the charges by the end of 2020.

Novalic was charged with using budget funds to purchase the protection equipment in association with Solak and Hodzic with the aim of making a profit that would have then been divided among the three of them, while Milicevic was accused of failing to stop them.

Prosecutors said that Novalic, Solak, and Hodzic had taken advantage of the state of emergency and their powers to acquire the public funds needed to buy the ventilators and that the acquisition price was inflated.

Prosecutors and witnesses also claimed that the ventilators were not suitable for use in hospitals where serious cases of COVID-19 were being treated and were usable only in ambulances.

The defense countered that the ventilators had been certified for hospital use. Some hospitals, like the Clinical Center of the University of Sarajevo, used the ventilators, while others refused to do so.

The Prosecutor's Office and Western embassies in Bosnia have said political pressure was applied during the almost 700-day trial, with the embassies expressing support for the prosecutors.

The sentences can be appealed. Bosnia's appeals court has about a year to confirms, annul, or change the verdict.