Municipal Court in Sarajevo acquitted Živko Budimir pending appeal of charges that he abused office of the President of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH). He was accused of providing himself and others with gain, receiving gifts and illegal interceding during hiring procedure between 2011 and 2013.
Judge Merima Bilić-Kurtović said that during the trial many witnesses gave testimonies and numerous pieces of evidence were admitted, but there was “no evidence, both material and personal, that could tie the defendant to a crime.”
His co-defendants, former FBiH legislator Željko Asić and his colleague from Justice and Trust Party; Saud Kulosman, the president of the United Veterans Organization of Sarajevo Canton (JOB) and Armin Kulovac of the Republic of BiH Veterans, were earlier sentenced to suspended sentences based on guilty bargains they sought with the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office in Sarajevo.
Defendant Petar Barišić, Budimir’s former aide for veterans’ issues has been on the run and an arrest warrant is issued after him. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor’s Office dropped the proceedings against Hidajet Halilović, the former president of Pardoning Commission.
In his press statement, Budimir said that he hoped for this outcome and that the judge affirmed his faith in people, but not in the justice system.
“It would be pretentious to say in the institutions, because I cannot trust these institutions as long as those people who have set me up sit on them – those who tried to push me from the office of the president of the FBiH,” said Budimir.
Digging into details of the indictment
A trial against “Budimir et al” began at the Municipal Court in Sarajevo in September 2015 after the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office in Sarajevo had filed the indictment. Prosecutors charged him with an attempt to seek money for pardoning Adi Karić, sentenced to six months on charge of inflicting grievous bodily harm and Admir Kulovac, who was sentenced rape charges to 30 months in prison.
According to the indictment, in both cases Kulosman of JOB pulled strings via Barišić, Budimir’s aide for veterans’ issues. The indictment does not specify how much money was negotiated for Karić’s pardon, while in the case of Kulovac, the sum of 7,000 KM is mentioned, which his brother Armin Kulovac gave for the pardon.
Kulovac wired the money to a go-between’s account who then handed it over to Barišić. According to the indictment, Barišić phoned Budimir and told him that some of the money was transferred and he would get the remaining sum after the pardon. Before he could pardon Karić and Kulovac, Budimir was arrested in April 2013.
Kulosman and Kulovac pleaded guilty and received suspended sentences. Budimir’s party peer Asić also pleaded guilty. According to the indictment, Asić and Budimir asked Travnik resident Ružica Barnjak for 10,000 KM to get her a job with HZHB state power utility. Barnjak gave half of the agreed sum but did not get the job because Budimir was arrested.
Budimir also allegedly forged a signature of Nikola Krešić, the general manager of HZ-HB state power utility, when paying a bill after a celebration at a motel in Jajce in the amount of 847 KM, as well as for buying cloths worth 494 KM while travelling to the US. Upon return he tried to recoup the money by asking a government office to conduct the fictitious procurement of equipment.
In April 2013, State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) detectives arrested Budimir following the orders of the BiH Prosecutor’s Office. In the same year, the state prosecutors charged him together with Barišić, Kulosman, Asić, Kulovac, Halilović and then Justice Minister Zoran Mikulić, for a series of criminal offences mostly related to illegal pardons of convicts from FBiH.
Budimir allegedly violated the FBiH Law on Pardons by signing the pardons that expunged verdicts from criminal records of convicts who had already been pardoned. Among them were former prime minister of Tuzla Canton, Hazim Vikalo, sentenced to seven months in prison on abuse of office charges and former war-time BiH interior minister Alija Mustafić, sentenced to four years in prison for organizing a kidnapping. Both of them had been earlier pardoned from serving the prison sentences by Budimir’s predecessor Borjana Krišto.
The prosecutors also blamed Budimir for not consulting his vice-presidents Mirsad Kebo and Svetozar Pudarić when issuing pardons. For example, when Association Movement of Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves approached Budimir on behalf of Naser Orić who was convicted of illegal weapons possession, the former FBiH president issued a pardon that commuted Orić’s two-year prison term to a suspended sentence. He also pardoned Meho Ibrišević sentenced to 15 years for a murder from serving the reminder of his sentence. Ibrišević later campaigned for Budimir’s Justice and Trust Party.
Apart from the above mentioned, the BiH Prosecutor’s Office found at least 27 another controversial pardons – which computes to every tenth pardon that Budimir handed down during his term as the FBiH president between 2011 and 2014. Among those pardoned are convicts who continued violating law afterwards.
During the trial, Budimir’s defense asked for the judicial review of the FBiH Statute on Pardons on constitutional grounds. The FBiH Constitutional Court declared it unconstitutional to ban the pardoning of persons who had already been pardoned for the same crime. It also ruled that the president did not need to consult with vice-presidents when issuing a pardon. This led to amending of the Statute.
This changed the indictment which the state prosecutors referred to Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office. Cantonal prosecutors took out all charges against Budimir related to double pardons and pardons without consultations with vice-presidents.