Legislators On The Other Side Of The Law

Every fourteenth parliamentarian in the highest legislative body of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a former convict, and more than half of them are re-offenders.

Osuđeni parlamentarci Federalnog parlamenta

Fighting, shooting, racketeering, threats, destruction of property, and abuse of office are crimes for which at least 11 MPs in the current convocation of the Federation Parliament have been prosecuted and convicted during their term of office or before. Baased on the final verdicts the Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CEC BiH) so far revoked only the mandates of Duško Radun, a delegate, and Senaid Begić, an MP.

Radun was sentenced by the Livno Municipal Court decision to eight months in prison for abusing his position while he was a Mayor of Bosanski Grahovo, while Zenica Cantonal Court sentenced Begić to two and a half years in prison for abusing his position as director of the Health Insurance Institute of Zenica-Doboj Canton (ZDK).

Under the BiH Election Law, the term of office shall be revoked on the day of the final court decision sentencing the office-holder concerned to imprisonment of six months or more.

Accordingly, delegates Ramo Isak, Ilija Ilić, Edim Fejzić, Sejad Tatarin, Jasenko Tufekčić, Boris Krešić, and MPs Hamdija Abdić and Eldin Vrače continued to pass laws in the Federation Parliament without being disputed by anyone, even though they have been convicted during their term of office or earlier. MP Salmir Kaplan is the only one whose verdict is not yet declared final.

Zenica Delegate, A Man Of Action

Almost a decade ago, in the center of Zenica the scenes one typically reads in the black chronicle columns took place. At the junction, a Mercedes stopped at the red traffic light. A Toyota SUV passed it and stopped in front of it thus blocking its way. Out of the car came Ramo Isak. He felt encouraged as he was not alone. Isak approached the Mercedes, profaning: “… How dare you to touch my child!?” and started smacking his gun on the driver’s head through the open window. He tried to pull the driver out of the vehicle. While the driver was holding on to the steering wheel tightly, his front-seat passenger fled the vehicle. The sound of a police siren interrupted the chase. The attacker from the SUV was arrested.

After being decommissioned from the Zenica police, Ramo Isak started building a family business and a political career (Photo: CIN)
After being decommissioned from the Zenica police, Ramo Isak started building a family business and a political career (Photo: CIN)

In December 2013, the Zenica Municipal Court sentenced Isak to a six-month prison suspended sentence for violence, which he never served, because he did not break the law within a year.

Three years earlier he was found guilty of threatening a journalist, and was sentenced to two months in prison, also suspended. None of these convictions was an obstacle for him to be elected to the ZDK Assembly in the 2018 General Elections and subsequently delegated to the House of Peoples of the Federation Parliament.

“I have a certificate confirming that I have not been convicted”, said Ramo Isak, whose name was in the criminal records of the Zenica Court at the time when he took up the office of an MP and a delegate. Both verdicts were deleted from the records, in August 2016 and September 2019 respectively.

This is not the only time Isak has broken the law. In early 2000 he was dismissed from the ZDK Police, where he worked as a police officer: “Isak Ramo was decommissioned because he fired three times into the air in front of the building of the then municipality – now the city of Zenica – as a guest at the wedding ceremony of his great friend and godfather of one of his sons”, he said, adding that he only regretted that he had used a service pistol.

“If I were at that wedding again and if I had 15 [bullets, author’s note] – I would fire all 15”, said Isak in an interview for the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN).

In 2014, the Zenica Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office pressed new charges against him for threats. According to the indictment, Isak and three men persecuted a fellow citizen in 2010: first, they blocked his way with a BMW jeep, and after he started fleeing, they chased him with a cocked gun shouting “Shoot, shoot, kill him!”. However, the Zenica Municipal Court rejected the verdict due to statute of limitation.

Isak claims all that was pinned on him, adding later: “If Allah wanted us to be angels we would be angels and we would not sin. It means every man sins.”

He began his political career in the 2006 General Election when he was elected to the ZDK Assembly as a candidate of BPS Sefer Halilović, after which he was delegated to the Federation Parliament.

In the period from 2012 to 2014, he served as a city councilor of Zenica. He was the president of the Stranka za narod BiH [Party for the People of BiH] and then the president of the Cantonal Committee of the Stranka demokratske aktivnosti (A-SDA) [Party of Democratic Activity], and in the last election, as a candidate of this party, he was re-elected to the ZDK Assembly.

Family, religion, and the state are the values Isak emphasized during the interview with journalists. His son, Arnel Isak, is the Minister of Physical Planning, Transport and Communications, and Environmental Protection in the ZDK Government. Ramo’s wife, Amela, owns the Security Agency “Condor”, and their second son is the director of this Agency. In 2020, the family business won contracts with public institutions worth 310 thousand BAM for physical protection services and the sale of surveillance equipment. In the same year, the company reported revenues of 1.7 million BAM.

Hot-headed Tiger In The Parliamentary Benches

Hamdija Abdić Tigar, a member of the SDA and wartime commander of the BiH Army from Krajina, has the thickest record among politicians in the Federation Parliament. He was convicted five times for various crimes. The most severe sanction was imposed on him in 2007 for robbery in Bihać after the war.

Frequent problems with the law were not an obstacle to the successful political career of Hamdija Abdić (Photo: Facebook / Hamdija Abdić)
Frequent problems with the law were not an obstacle to the successful political career of Hamdija Abdić (Photo: Facebook / Hamdija Abdić)

At that time, demobilized fighters Abdić and Emin Pivić captured entrepreneur Nedžad Bajrić in a cafe. For nearly four hours, they had been beating him with their feet, hands, a gun, and other objects, threatening to kill him if he did not give to them 200,000 German marks.

Realizing that they would not get the money, Pivić shot Bajrić’s leg.  They snatched his car, mobile phone, bracelet, and watch, as well as the money he had with him. The Bihać Cantonal Court sentenced Pivić to three years and Abdić to two years in prison.

A decade has passed from the robbery to the rendering of the final verdict. During that period, Abdić was convicted three more times for violent behavior. He was sentenced to a total of 20 months on probation for bar fights in 1998 and 2004 in Bosanski Petrovac and Bihać, and for a fight in 2005 at the stadium of the Jedinstvo Football Club in Bihać.

Having stalled the serving of the prison sentence he received for robbery for two years, in 2009 he was ultimately forcibly transferred to the Zenica Penitentiary.

A year before he run in the 2018 General Election for the Federation Parliament, Abdić and several of his comrades were arrested on suspicion of being responsible for the murder of Vlado Šantić, General of the Croatian Defense Council. A few days later he was released and was able to embark on a political campaign. In the election, he won a four-year term in the Federation Parliament. During his term, he will be occasionally switching the bench in the Parliament with the one designated for the defendants in the Courtroom, because his trial is scheduled to start at the end of September 2021.

Yet, this was not the last trial against Abdić during his term. In 2016, after his wife told him she had argued with another woman, he went in front of that woman’s partner’s store and kicked the car door several times. In 2020, he was fined with BAM 500 for damaging property of another person.

Abdić did not want to talk to CIN reporters.

Deletion of Criminal Records

According to the FBiH Criminal Code, a suspended sentence shall be deleted from the criminal record after one year from the expiration of the probation period has elapsed. A sentence of a fine and imprisonment of up to one year shall be deleted from the criminal record after the lapse of the period of three years, while the sentence of imprisonment of one to three years shall be deleted after the lapse of the period of five years from the day on which the punishment has been served. The condition is that the convict does not perpetrate another criminal offense within that period.

Almin Dautbegović, a professor of criminal law, a lawyer, and former judge, explains that deleting a verdict from criminal records does not mean literally crossing or tearing sheets: “It’s a figure of speech. The record says that the verdict has been deleted. It is still visible to many though”, says Dautbegović.

Lawyer Almin Dautbegović warns of unequal treatment of politicians subject to investigations or court proceedings relative to employees in other sectors, such as the police (Photo: CIN)
Lawyer Almin Dautbegović warns of unequal treatment of politicians subject to investigations or court proceedings relative to employees in other sectors, such as the police (Photo: CIN)

However, the existence of verdicts in the criminal records of the courts is not an obstacle to dealing with politics, hence Abdić, as a multiple convict, is on an equal footing with other officials who have one conviction or none.

Abdić never submitted a request for deletion from the criminal records. But Boris Krešić, a professor at the Law School in Tuzla and a delegate in the House of Peoples of the Federation Parliament from the Demokratska fronta [Democratic Front] did so. The Živinice Municipal Court sentenced him to one-year suspended prison sentence in 2005 for participating in a fight.

One of the guests was banging the glass at the front door of a café owned by his family, which is why Krešić pulled a bar stool and hit him in the leg, while the other three co-defendants joined him in beating the guest. The unwanted guest ended up with serious bodily injuries.  “It was self-defense,” Krešić told CIN.

Not having been convicted after the expiration of the suspended sentence, in March 2009 Krešić’s conviction was deleted from the criminal records.

“There are certain verdicts finding you guilty, but these verdicts are later deleted. In fact, it is about rehabilitation. We belong to a legal system in which we respect the right of convicted persons to continue with their lives”, Krešić explains.

Dautbegović also believes that it would be unnatural for a person to suffer all his life because he had been convicted for something at some point in his life. 

Forgery, Abuse, Confrontations, And Bribes

Delegates Ilija Ilić from the Croatian Democratic Union of BiH, Jasenko Tufekčić from the SDA, Edim Fejzić from Goraždanska priča and independent MP Eldin Vrače all received their final convictions during their current terms. Their mandate cannot be revoked because they received suspended prison sentences.

Fake Accommodation for Additional Income

Ilić, who is also an MP in the Posavina Canton Assembly, has been convicted twice. The first time was in 1997 when he was sentenced to a two-month suspended prison sentence for using a forged driver’s license with B, C, and E categories. He used the forged license until he tried to replace it with a new one at the Odžak Police Station.

“I lost my driver’s license in Switzerland, and I asked some people from Derventa to get me a new one. When it arrived I realized that it was not the right one. But they told me that it was all legal, and that’s it”, said Ilić.

The second time he was convicted in 2019 for fraud when applying for a grant from the Federation Ministry of Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry. Ilić submitted three false invoices showing that he had been selling fattening pigs. Based on these invoices, he received BAM 12,925 in incentives.

“The man who came to us, who bought it from us gave us these invoices.  I was not the only one. There were dozen of us from the area of Odžak Municipality, who received the invoices from him, which later appeared not to be valid”, explained Ilić, who was sentenced by the Orašje Municipal Court to a one-year suspended prison sentence.

Delegate Tufekčić was sentenced to three months suspended prison sentence at the end of 2020 for illegally recruiting a party colleague in the Assembly of Canton 10 while he was Deputy Speaker.

From Goražde, a city with a population of about 20,000, four MPs from the Bosnian-Podrinje Canton (BPK) Assembly were delegated to the House of Peoples of the Federation Parliament, two of whom were former convicts. Fejzić won the seat in the BPK Assembly with 319 votes. In 2021, he was sentenced to a three-month suspended prison sentence for bribing voters in front of the premises of his party “Goraždanska priča”, on the eve of the election.

His party colleague, Sejad Tatarin, who is also a delegate in the Federation Parliament, was sentenced by the Goražde Municipal Court to 40 days in prison a few months before the 2018 General Election for endangering security by a serious threat. To avoid jail time, he paid the equivalent fine.

An argument between Tatarin and Ramiz Dragolj in a full cafe in Goražde escalated in pursuit, pulling of guns, with the incident resulting in a bullet stuck in the outer wall of a nearby motel. Fearing for his life, Dragolj was running while Tatarin, the then city councilor of Goražde, was shooting at him. Tatarin has had problems with the law before. In 2012, the Court in Goražde imposed him a suspended fine of 500 BAM for damaging property of another person.

Eldin Vrače, the founder of the Agency for the Protection of People and Property AE-Security, was elected to the Federation Parliament three years ago as a candidate of the Independent Block.

He was sentenced in November 2019 to a suspended prison sentence of six months because three years earlier he had chased off Zenica’s communal inspectors who came to check if he had removed tables and chairs from the public area, which he had previously been ordered to do.

“I have not removed the tables and I will not do it”, said Vrača to the inspectors, jolting his body towards them as if he would hit them. Vrače sent them off saying: “Get away from my place!”. Fearing for their safety, inspectors were forced to teminate their inspection.

He was also convicted in 2016 of autocracy after he and another person forcibly tried to collect his debt. Vrače came to the shop of his alleged debtor and seized a laptop smashing the glass case and hitting a worker who tried to stop him. He received a four-month suspended prison sentence.

Only Salmir Kaplan, an SDA member of the Federation Parliament, has a conviction that is not yet final.  The Municipal Court in Čapljina sentenced him, in the first instance, to two years in prison for hindering the election process in Stolac in 2016.

Tufekčić, Tatarin, Fejzić, Vrače and Kaplan did not want to talk to CIN reporters.

Legislator Falsely Claimed Travel Expenses

Revoking The Mandates

Duško Radun and Senaid Begić claim to be victims of the judicial system due to opposition activities in their local communities. The CEC revoked their mandates in September 2019, i.e., in June 2021 respectively.

Begić was convicted of abuse of office, embezzlement, and fraud in office, unlawful recruitment, reimbursement of medical treatments expenses abroad, abuse of transportation costs, and misappropriation of the Institute’s mobile phone. 

“If we are going to play the game of rule of law and thus blindly follow what is written in the law, then I deserve that punishment of a few months on probation. (…) But if that [standard] applies to me, why not having it appy on everyone else”, Begić wondered. He feels that his sentence of 2.5 years in prison is too harsh.

Fund for Wastefulness

Radun was convicted for using his official position to obtain property gain of over 10 thousand BAM to the detriment of the Municipality of Bosansko Grahovo. He withdrew money from the municipal treasury and spent it in restaurants and hotels.

 “Only in the case of Duško Radun did this state show that the judiciary, i.e., everything functions flawlessly. (…) I think this is a precedent. A unique case in this country”, said Radun to CIN reporters.

Unlike Begić, Radun had the opportunity to commute his prison sentence to a fine of 24 thousand BAM, which he did, hoping to keep his mandates in the Assembly of Canton 10 and the Federation Parliament. Yet, it did not happen.

The CEC explained to have received a final decision of the Livno Municipal Court against Duško Radun on 21 August 2019, and that they are required to revoke his mandate within 15 days after learning about the reason for the termination of the mandate.

Radun failed to pay 24 thousand BAM within the legally prescribed deadline, hence his mandate was revoked at the CEC session.

According to CEC President, Željko Bakalar, his mandate would be revoked in any case.

“How the sentence was commuted or not i.e., the methods of execution of the prison sentence (…) does not affect the fact that mandate will be revoked”, said Bakalar.

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