The trial against the Prime Minister of Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) entity, his deputy, the former head of the Civil Protection and a businessman in connection with the procurement of 100 ventilators that are allegedly unfit for COVID-19 treatment has started on Wednesday.
Reports about the multi-million contract authorities in the Bosnia’s semi-autonomous FBiH region granted to FH Srebrena Malina, a fruit processing company, to import 100 Chinese ventilators caused public outrage in the summer of 2020 and prompted an investigation into the procurement procedure by police and prosecutors.
The ventilators, which arrived at the Sarajevo International Airport in April 2020, cost the FBiH 10,5 million Bosnian Marks (5,25 million euros).
FBiH Prime Minsiter Fadil Novalic, the former head of the FBiH Civil Protection Authority, Fahrudin Solak, and Fikret Hodzic and his company ‘Srebrena Malina’ (Silver Rasberry) stand accused of corruption, misuse of office, money laundering and document forgery.
Novalic’s deputy Jelka Milicevic is accused of lack of commitment in office.
Novalic is accused of having used the emergency as well as his position to develop a plan to illegally pay for the procurement of the ventilators. Fahrudin Solak, Fikret Hodzic and his company stand accused of joining his plan to procure the 100 ventilators for inflated prices.
According to prosecutors, the machines are useless for COVID-19 treatment.
These activities allegedly deprived the budget of funds and made it possible for the group to make a profit they would be able to share among themselves.
Milicevic is accused of making the deal possible and not preventing it.
The four pleaded not guilty to all charges in January.
The first shipment of 80 respirators arrived in Sarajevo on April 24th. The Prosecutor's Office determined that they are unfit for use in intensive care units. The remaining 20 of the 100 respirators procured from China arrived at Sarajevo International Airport three days later.
However, according to the FBiH Civil Protection administration, most of the ventilators have meanwhile been approved for use in healthcare institutions.
Three judges are presiding over the trial, Dzemila Begovic, Braco Stupar and Branko Peric.
The Prosecutor stated that he would prove that the main defendant, Fadil Novalic, “had authority over the procurement of the said ventilators.”
The Prosecutor’s Office will provide evidence that the process of selecting who would procure ventilators for FBiH was conducted in a specific situation where there was “an exemption from the application of the law” and that the company was selected for the job in advance, “based on a single SMS message,” the prosecutor said.
Novalic’s lawyer, Vasvija Vidovic, however, told the court that “not one piece of evidence confirms” the charges.
“We will prove that the Prosecution has been interfering in the further treatment of the ventilators in a completely inappropriate manner all along,” Vidovic said, accusing the prosecution of “generating hysteria” regarding the case.