BiH police widen corruption probe

23/08/2012

Determined police and citizens hope obstacles in the courts and lenient plea bargaining for corrupt officials will be overcome.

By Mladen Dragojlovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 23/08/12

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Police investigated Republika Srpska Forests, whose Banja Luka offices are pictured above, following the arrest of its general manager Srdjan Ljubojevic. [Mladen Dragojlovic/SETimes]

Last week’s arrest of Srdjan Ljubojevic, general manager of the public enterprise Republika Srpska Forests, is notable as the highest-ranking official ever arrested in BiH for crime involving corruption.

Ljubojevic was charged on August 15th with taking a 5,000-euro bribe to ensure payment to an audit company for a 60,000-euro debt that his company owed. Police supplied marked bills for the bribe, which were found in Ljubojevic's office. He was immediately dismissed from his job.

The investigation is part of a wide anti-corruption operation that was triggered in March with an arrest in Republika Srpska of Dragan Rakocija, inspector at the tax administration, and several police, said Mirna Soja, ministry of interior affairs spokeswoman.

"We then continued the operation and [discovered and] arrested police officers in Brod and Gacko. On the same day of Ljubojevic's arrest, we arrested two other police officers though they are not linked to his case," Soja told SETimes.

The Republika Srpska Interior Ministry issued a statement that it is determined to fight corruption, but cautioned corruption in public service is not just matter of police work.

It is very important that public institutions introduce anti-corruption policies as well, the ministry said.

Soja said that in anti-corruption operations it is crucial to raise the level of public trust and obtain help from citizens beyond reporting crime, and co-operation in collecting evidence.

Jelena Maric, a Banja Luka resident, agreed that anti-corruption efforts are important.

"The fight against corruption is one of the most important battles in BiH because with such pronounced corruption nothing works well. It is not possible to get anything done without a bribe -- in healthcare, education, the economy. It poses an existential problem for our society in the future," she told SETimes.

One problem to overcome, according to an analyst, is lenient plea agreements issued by prosecutors. Rakocija has already agreed to plead guilty in exchange for five months of probation and can return to work next month.

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Police officials expressed anger about the outcome, but by law cannot comment further on court decisions.

"Police officials are disappointed because in many cases they do a good job, collect evidence only to see the case fail in court. This makes the police appear weak and not doing their job," Jevto Jankovic, a Banja Luka-based lawyer and legal commentator, told SETimes.

The police's relations with the prosecutor's office appear even more complicated because Rakocija-style lenient plea bargain and defense may be replicated in Ljubojevic's case as well as other cases. If this becomes a trend, it will give the impression crime pays.

"This will possibly give corruption a legal frame," Jankovic said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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