Bosnia and Herzegovina: Former Entity Agriculture Minister Named in Tax Fraud Indictment
State prosecutors filed an indictment against the former Agriculture Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ten of his alleged associates and five companies - who they say were all involved in an organized crime group that committed various financial crimes. Prosecutors say the group used a cascading set of companies to skip out on more than US$ 7.5 million in debt they owed to the Federation, the entity controlled by the Bosniak and Croat ethnic groups.
The indictment was filed on December 29, and is yet to be confirmed by the state court.
Prosecutors say this is one of the most comprehensive indictments for tax evasion since the end of the war in Bosnia more than 20 years ago.
The charges are a result of the police operation “Meso” (Meat) in September 2014, when state prosecutors ordered the raid of 17 locations in the southern cities of Siroki Brijeg, Mostar and Grude - owned or used by the suspects, as well as locations owned or used by some of their closest associates.
Prosecutors at the time estimated the group had defrauded the state by more than 11 million Bosnian Marks (more than US$ 6,1 million). After an extensive investigation, this number climbed to more than 13,5 million (more than US$ 7,5 million). Prosecutors will also seek the seizure of all the property they suspect has been bought with the illicit proceeds.
The indictment centers around Jerko Ivankovic Lijanovic, the former Federal Agriculture Minister and part owner of Lijanovic Meats, one of the biggest meat processing firms in the country, his two brothers Slavo and Jozo, and their father Stipe. The indicted owners of several companies are part of the leadership of the political party "People's Party Work for Progress" (NSRZB).
Some of the other top officials from NSRZB are also named in the indictment – such as former Federal Trade Minister Milorad Bahilj.
Bahilj is known for a callous public statement he made during his 2012 term as minister. When a reporter asked him how citizens would survive price hikes for food, Bahilj answered,"Save money, don't eat".
The other defendants named in the indictmet are Jozo Sliskovic, Zeljko Mikulic, Drazenko Kvasic, Mirjana Sakota, Mirko Galic, Miroslav, Colak and five compenies - "Lijanovic", "Mi-Mo", "Farmko", "Farmer", and "Optimum".
According to prosecutors, the defendants repeatedly established new agriculture companies and transferred assets – such as equipment, raw material and products, to those companies from older firms that had built up millions in tax debt. Authorities had blocked accounts of the companies necessitating the move.
Prosecutors say they will seek the testimony of 40 witesses and experts, and they filed the indictment along with more than 1000 pieces of material evidence.
According to Lijanovic and NSRZB, the charges are politically motivated and spearheaded by nationalist parties.
In the end of September 2015, Jerko Ivankovic Lijanovic was arrested alongside four other former officials who prosecutors said had demanded more than US$ 400,000 in kickbacks from an agriculture incentive program Lijanovic approved during his term.