Journalists reporting on the suspicious import of Chinese ventilators, which has been at the centre of attention throughout the week, are now facing a lot of pressure from officials involved in the deal but they will not stop until the truth behind it is revealed, the journalist who broke the story, Semira Degirmendzic, told N1 on Thursday.
“There is a lot of this pressure,” the Fokus journalist said, adding that some of the statements those involved in the case are making are turning journalists into targets.
Reports about the multi-million contract authorities in the Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) region granted to FH Srebrena Malina, a fruit processing company, to import 100 Chinese ventilators caused public outrage and prompted an investigation into the procurement procedure by police and prosecutors.
The Head of the Civil Protection Authority, Fahrudin Solak, signed off on the deal and found himself at the centre of public attention.
But he accused the media on Wednesday of “biased and false allegations” regarding the Chinese ventilator deal and urged the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office to investigate those reports.
“Throughout the past few days, falsehoods have been reported in the media,” Solak claimed, adding that there was an “inappropriate campaign” ongoing against the FBiH Government and its Civil Protection Authority.
“What is happening now is a planned strategy and they are as sloppy in trying to find a way out of this as they were when they conducted their deals. Citizens see this and they are embittered,” Degirmendzic told N1.
“Journalists have become the only hope for citizens, but unfortunately, we can not do anything about this, we can not remove these people from office,” she said.
She urged Solak to “explain the truth” regarding the deal to the public as soon as possible and said that his request for a probe into media represents “obvious pressure on journalists,” which she said she experienced first-hand as well.
Degirmendzic also commented on a statement the owner of Srebrena Malina, Fikret Hodzic, posted on social media, in which he referred to reports about the case as “paid articles.”
“Mr Hodzic said on Facebook that journalists who reported this story were paid by someone, but he is trying to steer attention away from the case this way,” she said.
Journalists are used to facing pressure but will never stop seeking answers regarding the deal, she stressed.
“We had a statement by the director of the Public Procurement Agency who said that this was not transparent and done illegally. What I had heard some 10 days ago was then confirmed throughout our investigation and now the institutions are confirming it as well,” she said.
Degirmendzic explained that she tried to get in touch with those involved in the story for days but that none of them would answer the phone or respond to emails. Only the Health Minister Vjekoslav Mandic and ministry official Goran Cerkez responded and confirmed that they had expressed a need for more ventilators.
She said she hopes that the story will not simply be forgotten.
“A lot of things that were done during the state of disaster were now brought into question. This is a direct attack on the health and lives of citizens,” she said, arguing that the officials involved in the deal are directly responsible for the measures that were introduced in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
“But who is to trust that these people are not doing that in order to create room for their shady deals?” she asked.
She also urged the FBiH Parliament to react, saying that it is the right time for it, as local elections are taking place later this year.
“I am no hero and I want to thank everyone who expressed support for me,” she said, explaining that she was only doing her job and that she checks every piece of information she comes across.