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Čović Acquitted of Abuse of Office Charges

Today, a Panel of Judges of the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo acquitted Dragan Čović, the president of the Croatian Democratic Union of abuse of office charges in the case of the Lijanovićs.

He was charged with undersigning paperwork that waived the Lijanovićs’ firms from paying 1.8 million KM in custom duties on imports of chicken at the time when he was the finance minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH).

Jasenko Ružić, the president of the Panel of Judges said that the Prosecutor’s Office has not offered a piece of evidence that would support the indictment.

The Cantonal prosecutor Aziz Jahjaefendić announced that he would appeal with the Supreme Court of FBiH, but did not want to reveal the grounds.

According to the indictment, the Court of BiH sentenced Čović to five years of prison in November 2006.

In an appeal trial in 2008, the Court of BiH declared that it lacked jurisdiction and the case was referred to the Prosecutor’s Office of Sarajevo Canton. Between March 2009 and February 2011, the evidence was at least nine times moved between different judicial institutions and at least 40 original documents got lost in the process, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN).

Justice Ružić said in the verdict that the connection between Čović and the Lijanovićs has not been proven and that the Lijanovićs firms from Široki Brijeg asked the director of the FBiH Customs Authority for exemption. Andrić allowed the import of meat without paying duties. He referred to a document that was rubber stamped with Čović’s signature that the court could not admit into evidence since anyone could have forged it, said Ružić.

Since it has not been proven that Čović had issued the incriminating document, he could not had it thrown out, which he was asked to do by Andrić, his deputy Fuad Kasumović and Mirsad Kurtović, then state minister for foreign trade and economic relations. Memos of the three officials to the Finance Minister of FBiH were offered as evidence that Čović intended to commit a crime.

Even if Čović had issued the act, it was not obligatory for the Customs Administration and Andrić could have voided it as his successor Slavko Sikirić did in April 2002, said the justice. Sikirić also demanded Lijanović to pay import duties retroactively. The court called on the FBiH to file a lawsuit and recover the duties as a plaintiff.

Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ruled about the part of the indictment which was presented before the Court of BiH in March 2005. Čović and six official were indicted for organized crime, abuse of office, bribery and tax evasion in the amount of 38.7 million KM. Čović’s co-defendants were Jozo, Jerko, Mladen and Slavo Ivanković Lijanović, the owners of Meat Industry Lijanović from Široki Brijeg; then president of the BiH Constitutional Court Mato Tadić and lawyer Zdravko Lučić.

After the Lijanovićis, Tadić and Lučić were acquitted in the first-instance court, the trial against Čović continued. He was sentenced before appeal based on just one out of two incriminating documents based on which the Lijanovićis managed to avoid paying 1.8 million KM. The Court of BiH has not even considered the other document, nearly of the same content, that led to avoiding additional 36.9 million KM of duties because the original document could not be found in the FBiH Ministry of Finances – just a zerox copy.

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