SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A top Bosnian government official and two others were convicted and given prison sentences Wednesday over the procurement at highly inflated prices of inadequate medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fadil Novalic, the prime minister of one of the country’s two highly autonomous regions, the Bosniak-Croat Federation, was convicted of abuse of office and sentenced to four years in prison.
Fikret Hodzic, the owner of a fruit processing company that received about 5 million euros ($5.5 million) from the government to purchase 100 deficient ventilators from China for COVID-19 patients, and a top state civil protection official, Fahrudin Solak, were also convicted and sentenced to five and six years respectively.
Hodzic’s fruit processing company, Silver Raspberry, which had no license to import medical equipment, was chosen by the government of the Bosniak-Croat Federation in the spring of 2020, at the height of the pandemic, to import the Chinese ventilators at highly inflated prices.
The arrangement — which immediately raised public suspicion — was made possible by the relaxation of procurement rules amid the pandemic. The company was recruited by Solak who was charged with procuring medical equipment and supplies to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
Throughout the two-year trial the trio insisted they were innocent, claiming they had acted in the public interest.
Novalic’s lawyer, Vasvija Vidovic, said she planned to appeal Novalic’s sentence and conviction and said the verdict was the result of interference in the legal process by her client’s political adversaries and the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.
The U.S. government imposed sanctions on Novalic last year accusing him of being complicit in corruption and undermining democratic processes in the Western Balkans.