Arrests in Bosnia over Medical Equipment Shady Procurement

Published: 17 September 2021

Public Health Institute RSPublic Health Institute of the Bosnian Serb-dominated region, Republika Srpska, in Banja Luka. (Photo: TI BiH)

By Zdravko Ljubas

Four people suspected of “abuse of official position or authority” in multi-million-dollar purchases of COVID-19-related medical protection equipment were arrested this week in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Police in Republika Srpska, the country’s Serb-dominated region, searched eight locations around the city of Banja Luka on Wednesday and Thursday. The purchases occurred in April of 2020.

Arrested were the head of the region’s Public Health Institute (PHI), Branislav Zeljković; the owner of Travel4fun travel agency, Saša Marković; Dragan Dubravac, the director of the pharmaceutical trading company Promeding; and Slavko Bojić, director of the Procontrol construction company.

The suspects are accused of taking advantage of the pandemic emergency to acquire large property benefits for Procontrol and Travel4Fun through the PHI’s public procurement procedures, although those firms had nothing to do with the medical equipment.

The institute bought the equipment without first doing a market analysis, according to Dragica Tojagić, the spokeswoman for the region’s Public Prosecutor. As a result, the price of some items more than doubled.

The Prosecutor’s Office claims that, for example, protective suits were invoiced at the price of 50 convertible mark (US$30.12) apiece, while their real price was 22.5 convertible mark ($13.55), or the face mask, purchased for 0.36 convertible mark ($0.21) a piece, then invoiced at the price of 6.90 convertible mark ($4.15).

A total of 4.3 million convertible mark ($2.59 million) was spent on these questionable purchases as Transparency International in Bosnia and Herzegovina (TI BiH) said. It pointed out that the Institute signed contracts with firms that lacked medical equipment trade certificates or drug agency licenses.

The practices prompted TI BiH to file a criminal complaint against the management of the Republika Srpska’s Public Health Institute in May of 2020.

The Sarajevo-based investigative outlet Žurnal last year reported numerous irregularities in PHI’s purchases, all linked to Republika Srpska’s ruling political establishment.

Žurnal claimed Zeljkovic was controlled by leading Bosnian Serb politicians in spending taxpayers’ money while bypassing legal procedures.In March of last year he also inked a deal with a local entrepreneur to purchase a roughly $3 million mobile hospital, which was never used, Žurnal reported.