Senior Bosnian government official convicted of abuse of office

SARAJEVO – A senior Bosnian government official and two others were convicted and jailed on Wednesday for procuring inadequate medical equipment at grossly inflated prices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fadil Novalic, the prime minister of one of the country’s two highly autonomous regions, the Bosniak-Croat Federation, has been sentenced to four years in prison for abuse of office.

Fikret Hodzic, the owner of a fruit processing company that received about 5 million euros ($5.5 million) from the government to buy 100 malfunctioning ventilators from China for COVID-19 patients, and a senior state civil defense official, Fahrudin Solak, were also convicted and sentenced to five and six years respectively.

Hodzic’s fruit-processing company, Silver Raspberry, which did not have a license to import medical equipment, was selected by the Bosniak-Croatian Federation government to import the Chinese ventilators at grossly inflated prices in spring 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

The agreement – which immediately aroused public suspicion – was made possible by the relaxation of procurement rules amid the pandemic. The company was recruited by Solak, who was tasked with procuring medical equipment and supplies to help fight the coronavirus outbreak.

During the two-year trial, the trio insisted they were innocent and claimed they had acted in the public interest.

Novalic’s attorney Vasvija Vidovic said she plans to appeal Novalic’s verdict and conviction, saying the verdict was the result of interference in the court proceedings by her client’s political opponents and the US Embassy in Sarajevo .

The US government imposed sanctions on Novalic last year, accusing him of involvement in corruption and undermining democratic processes in the Western Balkans.

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Sarah Y. Kim

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