The Prosecutor’s Office in Srednjobosanski Canton (SBK) has been criticized for taking more than three years to start investigating cantonal officials named in a 144-page report on corruption by the Financial Police of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
But Dragan Popović, the deputy chief prosecutor in charge of the case, says the delay was unavoidable.
In March 2004, an overhaul of prosecutors’ offices and courts throughout the country left 6,000 cases on his desk, many of them complicated and involving multiple suspects.
Sanja Jukić, one of five prosecutors in his office now assigned to the SBK case, said it is one of 470 she is working on.
Popović, who has just 10 of the 15 prosecutors who should be working for him, said he simply cannot act more quickly on tough cases.
And in his 16 years as a prosecutor, he said he’s never seen a case like the SBK corruption accusations. Big names, 21 current and former officials in all, are implicated on hard-to-prove charges, such as abuse of office and authority, and misconduct in office. He’s been forced to go at the case in a way best designed to get results.
‘Because of the scope and impossibility of prosecuting all the suspected individuals, and rationalization of investigation, we split this case and formed 12 separate cases’ he said. The prosecutors have clumped suspects supposedly involved in specific criminal acts together.
He has told his staff to concentrate on eight individuals linked to the most serious charges on the Financial Police’s list.
He does not know if the others will be investigated.
‘Not all 21 will be held responsible’ he said. ‘A few of them are on hold with the investigation because we are waiting for additional documents…After that, there will be a survey by the (court) expert that is already appointed.’
He has pinpointed abuse of separation allowances as a violation to go after, but he is less sure that he’ll be able to prosecute all the officials accused of collecting money on phony travel reports.
Travel expense cheating is difficult to prove, he said, and compared to some of the other charges Financial Police investigated, taking 2,000-4,000 KM in fake travel is not so important.
Popović praised the work of Financial Police in the case, but that regard is not two-way.
‘I tell you that I’m disappointed with SBK and Livanjski Canton related to prosecution activities in leading certain investigations, because it seems that there are no criminals at all in those parts’ said Zufer Dervišević, chief of the Federal Financial Police. ‘We determine that there is, and they don’t act upon our orders.’
Srđan Blagovčanin, a spokesman for the national chapter of Transparency International, a non-governmental organization that fights corruption, said he understands Dervišević’s frustration. The Financial Police have found many instances of law-breaking, but few of them have been processed in court.
Such inaction leads to public apathy and distrust of government. A TI report in 2004 found that, ‘The general perception is that highly ranked politicians are untouchable. The few complaints that have been filed against them have rarely ended up in court, due to poorly done pre-trials and later, criminal investigations.
‘The cases would be opened hastily just to assuage the public or discredit a political opponent’ the report said. ‘It is also common that accused officials are never prosecuted, because political authorities pressure the judiciary not to start court proceedings. Or they stretch out the proceedings for a long time, until the statute of limitations has run out.’
Popović said that even though five years have passed since the acts described in the Financial Police report occurred, there was no danger that the statute of limitations would run out.
He also noted that in addition to his office, political parties and government officials also have the power to sanction corrupt politicians.
Remzija Kadrić, president of the Court of Honour of Stranka za BiH, one of four parties that are running people listed in the corruption report in next week’s election, said, ‘We react in situations where we get a court decision saying someone is guilty’ but chasing people out of the party just on the basis of criminal charges would be inhumane because “no one is guilty until they are found guilty.’