Ventilators recently imported by a fruit and vegetable producer who claimed he used his contacts in China to obtain the machines despite a shortage on the world market can be found on Facebook for less than they were allegedly paid for, N1 found out.
On Saturday, 80 ventilators arrived at the Sarajevo airport and customs will release them once more than one 1,078,000 BAM in VAT is paid, the spokesperson for the Indirect Taxation Authority, Ratko Kovacevic, told N1.
Another 20 ventilators will arrive later as they could not fit into the aeroplane.
The deal in which a 10,5 million Bosnian Marks government contract to purchase 100 ventilators from China was given to a company that runs a raspberry farm in the eastern town of Srebrenica is subject of police and prosecutor’s investigations after it outraged the public in Bosnia.
The Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office, as well as the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), are now probing whether there was any criminal activity in awarding the contract to FH Srebrena Malina and whether procurement rules were violated.
After being exposed to harsh criticism on social media networks and various media outlets, the owner of Srebrena Malina, Fikret Hodzic, told N1 on Monday that his company managed to purchase 100 respirators “during very specific and difficult circumstances on the market.”
“As everyone knows, ventilators are currently the most sought after products in the world and the biggest and most wealthy countries are also having problems in procuring them,” Hodzic said.
“It makes us even more satisfied that we managed to use our business relations with our partners in China and strengthened our health care system with this procurement,” he said.
How to buy an ACM812A ventilator
According to the tags on the boxes, the ventilators that arrived are ACM812A models and N1 found them on Facebook, available for sale.
N1 contacted several sellers, asking for the price and whether it is possible to send them to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Within 12 hours, three responses arrived naming three different prices.
The sellers told N1 that one ACM812A ventilator before the pandemic was going for USD 3,000 but that prices were drastically changing every week. The first person to respond said the price was between 40,000 and 50,000 USD, the second said 30,000 and the third said 44,000.
Local media reported that Hodzic obtained them for about 44,000 USD.
N1 also exclusively obtained more images of the boxes at the airport, where the print can be seen more clearly.
It says “Add: The Black Church, St.Mary's Place, Dublin 7, Ireland; WWW.well-kang.com”
The website belongs to the Dublin-based company “WELL KANG LIMITED.” The director is Edward Wang.
The address points to a company registering service, based inside a church in Dublin. The service offers clients help in registering a company in Ireland online and promising a two to three days procedure.
The director of the ‘Verlab’ verification laboratory, Almir Badnjevic, said on Tuesday that the model of ventilators on the images from the airport is mainly used in ambulance cars and not in intensive care units.
Only ten percent of all the ventilators Bosnia and Herzegovina already has are currently being used, he said.
“This begs the question – why we are spending money on more ventilators?” Badnjevic argued, adding that the model that arrived in the country is not FDA approved.
He also argued that, for a business to import or distribute medical equipment, it must be registered for it at Bosnia’s Agency for Medicinal Products and Medical Devices and then it must also register the piece of equipment it is importing.
Additionally, the company which is importing the device must also be able to service it and to procure parts for it.
He argued that any business not registered as a medical equipment retailer or at least not having a temporary license would not have been able to import the equipment.
Institutions “shifting responsibility”
Ivana Korajlic, from Transparency International in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that the Agency granted Srebrena Malina a licence only after the FBiH Civil Protection Authority already gave the contract to the company.
She called the entire procurement procedure “unbelievable,” adding that institutions are now trying to shift the blame in an effort to avoid being held accountable.
“It is unbelievable that a company that had no experience in trading medical equipment manages to procure that many ventilators,” she said, adding that institutions are now quickly trying to fix all irregularities and that she is “afraid this story will not have any epilogue.”
Even after the judiciary is done with the case, “we will still never find out who exactly was behind this entire affair,” Korajlic said.
According to FBiH Prime Minister Fadil Novalic, the FBiH Civil Protection Authority is solely responsible for procurement of such equipment.
“I think that what is being forgotten is that they were the first to procure ventilators in southeast Europe and I am proud of them for that. If there are any complaints or irregularities, the judiciary has the competencies to check and resolve them,” Novalic said.
The FBiH Health Minister said on Tuesday that his ministry was not involved in the procedure.
The Finance Minister of Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) region and Commander of the FBiH Crisis Headquarters, Jelka Milicevic, also argued that the procedure seems suspicious, saying that the issue should be investigated.
The FBiH Civil Protection Authority, however, said that all was done according to law and with Milicevic’s approval.
The Bosniak member of the tripartite Presidency, Sefik Dzaferovic, also called for an investigation.
“The most important thing is that the ventilators have arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina – products that nobody could get hold of throughout the past month. What kind of ventilators were purchased and how, I don’t know, but if anyone made a mistake, he should be held accountable,” told N1 in an interview.
In his latest statement on social media, Hodzic fired back at the media, saying that he is “sure that there will be more lies” and “paid articles” about the issue in the coming days. He urged prosecutors to investigate the case and his business.
“As the owner and the person responsible, I am prepared to bear any legal consequence for any irregularity that is found,” he said, adding that he is proud of what the company has done.