Bosnia and Herzegovina: Former Agriculture Minister Among Five Arrested for 'Farm Incentives Fraud'

The former agriculture minister of the Federation entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been arrested alongside four other current and former government officials on suspicion of abuse of office after allegedly demanding more than US$ 400,000 in kickbacks from agriculture incentives he approved during his term.

Jerko Ivankovic LijanovicProsecutors in the northeastern Tuzla Canton ordered the arrests Monday and approved raids on the five suspects' homes and offices in the northern Posavski and Tuzlanski cantons, and the southwestern Zapadnohercegovacki canton.

Jerko Ivankovic Lijanovic, ex-agriculture minister for the Federation and current vice-president of the People's Party Work for Progress (NSRZB), is suspected of forming an organized crime group together with his former advisor Suad Camdzic, president of the NSRZB representatives in the Tuzla Assembly Mersed Serifovic, Tuzla's trade minister Edin Ajanovic, and an unnamed suspect from the northern town of Odzak.

Prosecutors say their year-long investigation found that between 2011 and the end of 2014, while Lijanovic was in office, plum and pickle exporters were coerced into agreeing to an underground deal to give half of the farming incentives paid to them back to the group under threat of losing the incentives altogether – an offer some farmers declined.

According to investigators, the group made about 700,000 Bosnian marks (US$ 402,102) from the scheme.

Lijanovic and his party have denied the accusations, claiming the arrests are politically motivated. Lijanovic called them an attempt by rivals at the Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ) to block the introduction of reforms pushed for by the NSRZB.

Prosecutors in Tuzla said they have also brought twelve indictments against recipients of agriculture incentives linked to the Agriculture Ministry's 2012 project "Model for Rural Development".

The suspects are accused of involvement in credit and agriculture incentive fraud in which they lied about having met the conditions of the project tender– which allegedly profited them about 530,000 Bosnian marks (US$ 304,448).

Five more investigations are underway in this case.