You Got the Job, Now Give Back the Money

Today, at the Court of BiH, testimony of the BiH Prosecutor's Office witnesses began in a case involving the former Security Minister Dragan Mektić, two Ministry employees, and a businessman charged with mismanagement of money from a project financed by the European Union.

Samir Agić, assistant to the Security Minister, helped Teisa Fočić land a temporary engagement with the ministry. Afterwards he had two propositions for her: to give him some of the money she would earn and sleep with him. In exchange, he would weigh in so that she gets a permanent position with the Ministry, according to an indictment that the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) filed at the end of last year. The indictment centers on the abuse of funds on a project that also involved Fočić.

It was a cross-border project on development of firefighting capacity in BiH and Montenegro that cost around 340,000 KM and was mainly paid from EU funds. The state Ministry of Security, as the recipient of funds,partnered with the Sarajevo-based Institute of Fire and Explosion Safety (INZA).

The Prosecutor’s Office alleges that some of the consultants on the project were asked to give back money for their engagement, while public procurement of goods and services went through friends and their firms.

Besides Agić, other defendants include former security minister Dragan Mektić, his cabinet chief, Igor Golijanin, and the INZA’s owner, Edin Garaplija. They all pleaded not guilty at the Court of BiH arraignment.

Samir Agić
Assistant to the state Minister of Security, Samir Agić, was under suspension after the indictment for abuse of office was filed. He was returned to work with an explanation that he was needed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: CIN)

The trial opened in the beginning of this month when the indictment was read at the Court of BiH. Yesterday, Lejla Hodžić, the first out of 31 prosecution witnesses, took the bench and testified about public procurement procedures. Hodžić heads the Department for Financial and Material Affairs and Budget Management at the BiH Ministry of Security.

“Girl Doesn’t Complain”

In his capacity asthe project’s coordinator, Agić was in charge of hiring consultants, with the help of INZA’s Garaplija. The indictment states that the pair asked consultants to give back some of the money they got from working on the project and in this manner, they took around 39,000 KM.

One of them is Fočić who was employed as assistant to the project manager. She signed a year-long labor contract in mid-2016, backdated to January 2016, with a monthly salary of 1,125 KM. She told investigators that she got thejob after Agić interviewed her.

She said that Agić told her that she would receive around 4,000 KM as payment for the months before she started working and he asked her to bring him that money.

She accepted. “As I stood there, he called Edin Garaplija and told him that ‘the girl didn’t complain, she’ll draw the money and hand it over. Then I overheard Garaplija at the other end say ‘super, super’”, said Fočić. “Then he stretched his hand and said ‘give me a high five’”.

Fočić said she gave Agić the money the same day it was wired to her bank account.

However, Agić said that Fočić made all of this up to make him look bad. “Everything that Samir Agić had created over the previous period must be destroyed”, he said in an interview for the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN) in Sarajevo.

Fočić also told investigators about harassment during an official trip in Montenegro in mid-2016. She travelled with Agić for the project.

She stated that they stayed in a hotel in Nikšić. In the evening, Agić invited her to a room on the pretext that they were going to do some work. He opened the door dressed in a bathrobe under which he was naked. He offered sex and told her that “he’ll do his utmost so that she could get a permanent job at the Ministry”.

She turned him down, left the room and spent the night agitated. The following day on the way to Podgorica, Agić told her to keep mum about the event and told her to think again about the offer, “because every woman would wish for that and would accept it”, Fočić told the investigators. She didn’t respond, she said.

After her return, she didn’t have much work on the project. She mainly figured as Agić’s secretary − she brought him coffees and took care of mail.

Agić told CIN reporters that Fočić made up this story and that he never spent a night in a hotel in Nikšić. Fočić doesn’t want to meet reporters, but she wrote a text to say that, “There are travel orders. The hotel’s log may show he was there, and a passport when he entered and when he exited.”

At least three other persons — Amer Salihović, Admir Tatarin and Elvir Topalović, told investigators that they had to give back some of the money that they had received upon engagement on the project. They worked in Garaplija’s firms INZA, INZA Lab and the INZA Agency for Protection of People and Property.

They told investigators a similar story − Agić mainly did the hiring with a nod from Garaplija. He ordered them to bring their salaries to the firm where they were allowed to keep ten percent. They continued working at the firms’ premises, not at the ministry as the contract stipulated. The trio was hired as project managers or assistants for a monthly reimbursement of between 1,222 and 2,060 KM, depending on the position. According to the indictment, they brought around 35,300 KM to INZA for Garaplija and Agić.

During the investigation, Topalović said that he was not happy with the fact that he could keep only around 100 KM because the project kept him very busy. He said that he complained to the director. “Garaplija told me not to stall and he said that he had obligations to other persons, but he didn’t tell me to whom the money went,” said Topalović. “My understanding was that the money I gave back someone else would take.”

Dragan Mektić
Former BiH Security Minister Dragan Mektić, and his cabinet chief Igor Golijanin, are accused of giving contracts to firms with which they have political and friendly connections. (Photo: CIN)

Topalović doesn’t want to talk about this with reporters while the trial is ongoing. Garaplija curtly commented: “We’ll prove this in the court of law.”

Procurement for Our Best Friends

The indictment stated that around 125,000 KM was spent on procurement of unusable firefighting equipment as CIN had reported earlier. Instead of firefighter’s helmets, the project paid for industrial ones. Instead of much-needed boots, the firefighters got fire swatters they didn’t ask for.

Firefighters Requested Boots, Got Fire Swatters Instead

Agić and Garaplija are accused of hiring friends and acquaintances as coaches on firefighting workshops after they themselves made a technical specification and conditions for the selection of candidates who they have then informed about the call for applications. Another 23,000 KM was spent on coaches.

Also, three firms paid to print promotional and other materials have political and clientelist connections with Golijanin and Mektić who stand accused of steering contracts to them. For example, Golijanin’s close friend, Vladan Jeftović, who owns East Sarajevo-based Visia Agency, is one of them. At the end of 2016, the firm won a 5,000 KM contract for graphic design of a book that has never been published.

The state Ministry of Security officials have decided not to show procurement contracts to CIN, with an explanation that prosecutors seized them.

Former Security Minister Mektić says that the indictment contains a number of “erroneous” and “arbitrary qualifications.” He told CIN that he didn’t get to know people engaged on the project and that many things in it had been defined before he was appointed minister.

When a reporter mentioned that he was the one who signed off on decisions and orders, Mektić responded: “You are served a million things on your desk…your assistant signs off…and what is to be done?”