Bosnia’s Court Releases Suspects in Ventilator Scandal

Published: 01 June 2020

Fadil Novalic copyFadil Novalić, Prime Minister of the BH Federation entity. (Photo: FBiH Government)

By Zdravko Ljubas

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina ordered on Sunday the release of the prime minister of one of Bosnia’s two semi-autonomous regions who was detained late Thursday over his alleged involvement in the procurement of pricy, inadequate ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Fadil Novalić, the former head of the region’s Civil Protection, Fahrudin Solak, and TV presenter and owner of the “Srebrena Malina” (Silver Raspberry) firm that runs a raspberry farm, Fikret Hodžić, are suspected of association for the purpose of committing criminal acts, abuse of position and money laundering.

Prosecutors are investigating why the government of the region, called Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has granted a 10.5 million Konvertible Marks (US$5.83 million) to the Civil Protection, then headed by Solak, to purchase 100 ventilators from China via Hodžić’s raspberry farm which had never before dealt with any medical equipment.

Once the ventilators arrived in Bosnia, experts confirmed media speculations that the machines were useless in the fight against the coronavirus.

Apart from the prime minister, the court also released the other two suspects in the case. It stated that it “issued a Decision denying the Motion filed by the BiH Prosecutor's Office to order custody for suspects Fadil Novalić, Fahrudin Solak and Fikret Hodžić” but banned them from having any contacts with each other or with witnesses in the case.

This includes one of Novalić’s deputies, Finance Minister Jelka Milićević. It’s not clear how the two are supposed to work together if they can’t meet or talk.

The Prosecutor’s Office said it will appeal the court’s decision while “continuing to work on the case.”