Bosnia’s top judicial institution cannot allow any possibility of corruption in its work, the EU Special Representative in the country said on Friday amid an investigation into allegations of bribes being paid to Bosnia’s top judicial official.
Investigative news portal ‘Zurnal’ published this week an article alleging that the head of the body overseeing the work of Bosnia’s judiciary, the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC), Milan Tegeltija, took a bribe in return for abusing his influence to speed up a case at local courts.
The money was allegedly handed to State Police officer Marko Pandza who acted as a middleman.
Tegeltija adamantly denied any wrongdoing and the HJPC publicly expressed support for him.
Prosecutors have formed a case regarding the allegations and Security Minister Dragan Mektic called on Tegeltija to resign.
On Thursday, Zurnal published a secretly recorded video of a meeting between Tegeltija, Pandza and businessman Nermin Alesevic. It appears to be showing Alesevic handing the money to Pandza but does not contain footage of Tegeltija taking it over.
Alesevic told N1 he was the one who recorded the meeting and that he wanted Tegeltija to speed up a case at the Sarajevo Canton court.
Tegeltija cannot be heard asking for any money directly. He can only be heard asking for the case number and the name of the prosecutor.
After the video was published, Tegeltija told N1 that the footage actually proves his innocence.
Asked about the case, the head of the EU Delegation in Bosnia, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, told the local Fena news agency that EU officials should not comment on individual cases but that corruption is one of the most serious plagues that damages the entire social structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina and that the EU supports a number of projects aimed at preventing it.
Bosnia has requested EU candidate status and expects the European Commission to provide its Opinion on the request.
“What will be emphasised in the Opinion of the European Commission are also these topics which will point out the importance of successful results in prosecuting cases of corruption at the highest level,” Wigemark said.
This would show that nobody is above the law in Bosnia and Herzegovina, regardless of whether they serve a senior public office or not, he said.
Bosnia’s citizens deserve credible, responsible and independent servants in the judiciary, the EU statement sent to the new agency said, underscoring that this is a key characteristic of European standards that must be met by all states that aspire to join the Union.
“It isn’t easy being a judge or a prosecutor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially when talking about sensitive cases of organised crime and terrorism which we also have in our countries, so it is our common interest that those cases are being solved,” Wigemark said.
The US Embassy on Thursday called for the affair to be investigated thoroughly and quickly.
“We are aware of the allegations of corrupt activities of the HJPC President. Independent judiciary is the cornerstone of democracy. Leaders in the judiciary should especially be held to the highest standards. We expect these allegations to be investigated quickly and thoroughly.” the US Embassy tweeted on Thursday.
The OSCE previously also asked for the case to be thoroughly investigated, as did UK Ambassador in the country, Matthew Field.
The Head of the OSCE Mission in Bosnia, Bruce Berton, said on Friday that allegations against judicial officials additionally damage the already fragile public trust in Bosnia’s judiciary, as he again advocated for a swift investigation and added that all those allegedly involved have a right to be perceived innocent until proven otherwise.
Meanwhile, Bosnia’s State Police (State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA) has still not suspended Pandza. There is an internal probe going on and SIPA will make its decision public once it is finished, the institution told N1.