Sarajevo Canton and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Ministry of Interior (FBiH MUP) officers arrested Muhamed Ali Gaši yesterday in the Ciglane section of Sarajevo after a day long standoff, confirmed FBiH police spokesman Robert Cvrtak. His brother Aziz Gaši is still at large.
The Gaši brothers and about nine others are being investigated for crimes including running a criminal gang, extortion, loan sharking and endangering the public. Muhamed Ali Gaši is a charismatic figure frequently seen driving around Sarajevo in high speeds in his red Ferrari sports car. Police searched about 70 apartments over the past day looking for the Gašis.
Gaši’s lawyer Izet Baždarević refused to comment on the charges, saying all people are innocent until proven guilty. He also said police overreacted by sending large numbers of special forces for the arrest and that his client was beaten. It is not clear whether Gaši surrendered or was taken by force in the standoff.
Police allege the brothers and their associates are involved in the extortion of money from Sarajevo businesses, especially the Akova Impex company, which makes the Ovako brand meat product. Company officials complained they were victims of such attempts.
A recent survey of the state of small and business enterprise in BiH conducted by the Center for Investigative Reporting in BiH (CIN) and Prism Research found that one out of every 12 failed businesses reported having been extorted by local criminals or government officials.
BiH ranks near the bottom in Europe with regard to the creation of small businesses. One of the problems small businesses face is extortion. A CIN project looking at small businesses found that in some areas of the country, extortion of businesses is more common. It also found that many small Chinese shop owners had also been victims of extortion.
Organized crime frequently uses extortion as a regular means of earning funds and controlling businesses. Businesses, depending on size, may be required to pay anywhere from a few hundred KM to large percentages of their earnings or even ownership. CIN found business owners rarely go to the police to report their problems.