Four people suspected of “abuse of official position or authority” in connection with multi-million dollar purchases of medical protective equipment related to COVID-19 were arrested this week in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Police in Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated region of the country, searched eight locations around the city of Banja Luka on Wednesday and Thursday. The purchases took place in April 2020.
The director of the region’s Institute of Public Health (PHI), Branislav Zeljković, has been arrested; the owner of Travel4fun travel agency, Saša Marković; Dragan Dubravac, director of the pharmaceutical trading company Promeding; and Slavko Bojić, director of the construction company Procontrol.
Suspects are accused of taking advantage of the pandemic emergency to acquire significant real estate advantages for Procontrol and Travel4Fun through PHI’s public procurement procedures, although these companies have nothing to do with medical equipment .
The institute bought the equipment without first doing a market analysis, according to Dragica Tojagić, the regional prosecutor’s spokesperson. As a result, the price of some items has more than doubled.
The prosecutor’s office claims that, for example, protective suits were priced at 50 convertible marks (US $ 30.12) each, while their actual price was 22.5 convertible marks ($ 13.55) or the face mask, purchased for 0.36 convertible mark ($ 0.21). ) per piece, then billed at a price of 6.90 convertible mark ($ 4.15).
A total of 4.3 million convertible marks ($ 2.59 million) was spent on these questionable purchases, as Transparency International in Bosnia and Herzegovina (TI BiH) said. He pointed out that the Institute has signed contracts with companies that did not have medical equipment commercial certificates or pharmaceutical agency licenses.
These practices prompted TI BiH to file a criminal complaint against the management of the Institute of Public Health of the Republika Srpska in May 2020.
Sarajevo-based investigative newspaper Žurnal reported numerous irregularities in PHI purchases last year, all linked to the ruling political establishment in Republika Srpska.
Žurnal claimed that Zeljkovic was controlled by the main Bosnian Serb politicians by spending taxpayer money while bypassing legal procedures. In March last year, he also signed a deal with a local entrepreneur to buy a roughly $ 3 million mobile hospital, which has never been used, urnal reported. .