Žviko Budimir, the President of Bosnia, has been arrested on charges of corruption.
The Prosecutor’s Office announced that Budimir, President of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) two entities, will be held on remand for 30 days on corruption charges.
‘Operation Patriot’, led by the State Prosecutor’s Office, targeted Budimir and other senior officials suspected of involvement in organised crime, abuse of office and accepting bribes. The President has been accused of receiving bribes to pardon convicts. Local media reports that Budimir accepted 162 of 435 demands for pardons for crimes including murder, against the recommendations of the Justice Ministry in many cases. Yet many experts are asking whether this is anything more than a politically-motivated flash in the pan.
A crisis in the Federation’s government occurred in May 2012, when the ruling coalition between the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), and two minor Croat parties broke down. Budimir, a member of minor Croat party HSP, then became one of the main obstacles to establishing a new government. Within a crucial period, the President went abroad on three occasions without any official reason, to the United States and South Korea. Budimir formally remains in post while in custody as there is no provision in BiH’s constitution for the arrest of the President of the Federation.
British Ambassador Nigel Casey commented that “corruption is the most important thing holding back Bosnia’s progress”. Rumours of widespread corruption among the ruling political elites are rife so it is the timing of Budimir’s arrest that raises the question of whether he has been the target of the ‘new majority’ of the SDP, HDZ (main Croat party) and SBB (Bosniak). The International Crisis Group’s Srecko Latal and the Director of the European Research Centre, Tija Memišević, both consider the political background of Budimir’s arrest “suspicious”.
Ambassador Casey said that it is “very early days to make wider judgements” on the significance of Budimir’s arrest, but that it “may send a chilling message to others” in Bosnian politics. “If this is the start of a process of the law enforcement agencies and judiciary making a more determined effort to tackle corruption, it would be very important”, he added.
A statement from the Prosecutor’s Office calls the operation ‘the biggest of its kind in terms of detection of corruption offenses among the highest officials’ in BiH since the Dayton Agreement in 1995. Some hope that Chief Prosecutor Goran Salihović is delivering on his commitment to address corruption expressed on his appointment in December 2012. Yet if he and colleagues are serious about addressing the “pernicious corruption” among the political class, Memišević says that “there has to be much more done”.
It remains to be seen whether Budimir’s arrest represents a new determination to tackle corruption seriously or whether concerns of the arrest being politically, rather than legally, motivated are justified.