What happens in Bosnia when a top politician acquires a $380,000 apartment for a mere $600?
Usually, nothing. But lately Radio Free Europe’s Balkans Service has teamed up with the Sarajevo-based Center for Investigative Journalism (CIN) to uncover the most egregious instances of official corruption across the former Yugoslavia. In a region where many media organizations and judicial systems are reluctant to investigate unpleasant claims about powerful individuals, RFE and CIN provide a rare service: keeping public officials accountable for their actions.
The partnership began in 2009 and has already shed light upon all kinds of shady practises involving top public figures in the Balkans.
Several stories have directly involved Milorad Dodik
, the current president of Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s autonomous Serb enclave. In 2005, a local court in Banja Luka -- the capital of Republika Srpska -- acquitted Dodik of charges relating to the misuse of state funds. The case was later reopened and Republika Srpska’s State Investigation and Protection Agency wrote a secret report that exposed Dodik’s abuse of office in the awarding of a contract for Banja Luka’s new governmental headquarters. The report later made its way to CIN’s website.
Other CIN and RFE/RL joint projects have pointed to corruption linking the government to Dodik’s family and associates. In 2009, RFE/RL ran an article disclosing speculative money transfers with state funds that were originally earmarked for local economic development. Out of the assigned budget, a significant amount of money was granted to companies with strong political connections. One large transfer fell into Dodik’s son’s lap and another sizable sum arrived at the account of a Banja Luka newspaper that supports Dodik.
A Church Official With Business Interests On The Side
CIN has also shed light on the wild ethical practices of the Serbian Orthodox Church
, whose Mostar bishop, Gregory Duric, runs a variety of business schemes when he’s not tending to his flock. Unfortunately for Gregory, and the church, the bishop’s business acumen is duller than his talent for navigating ecclesiastical politics: in 2010, his extracurricular entrepreneurial activities ran up debts of approximately $8 million. Perhaps the first bishop ever to put his church under a mortgage, Gregory’s works of wizardry would have gone unnoticed were it not for CIN’s willingness to publicly decry a key executive of one of the Balkans’ most powerful organizations.
Still, influential individuals like Bishop Gregory can usually count on a pass from the region’s shaky legal system, which often fails to investigate or prosecute even the most flagrant allegations of corruption. Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL’s Associate Director of Broadcasting, says that “the courts are not ruled by the law but by the people who are connected.”
The $600 Apartment
A notorious instance of judicial inaction came in 2011 when a Sarajevo court rejected charges against Nedzad Brankovic, Bosnia’s former prime minister, who managed to make an unusually cunning investment by buying an apartment valued at $380,000 for a mere $600. Brankovic’s bargain came as the result of a Bosnian government contract with the country’s largest engineering group, Energoinvest. Together, these two entities agreed on purchasing the aforementioned apartment for $380,000. 46 days later, the real estate was sold to Brankovic for $600, less than 1/600th of its actual price. At the time of the deal, Brankovic was a member of the Bosnian parliament and an Energoinvest executive.
The list of transparent episodes of corruption goes on, but the local judiciary does not seem to care. Investigative journalists at CIN allege that the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Republika Srpska, established specifically to prosecute Bosnia’s most serious white-collar criminals, fails to fulfill its mission by dropping charges against accused state officials or by abridging their sentences.
In the absence of a legal mechanism for keeping Bosnia’s governments honest, RFE/RL and CIN cooperate to keep the public aware of corruption
RFE/RL is the only media platform in the region equally interested in broadcasting the misdeeds of public officials from all of the western Balkans’ major regions and interest groups -- Catholic Croats, Muslim Bosniaks, and Orthodox Serbians. Pejic notes, “The local media [in the Balkans] are not interested in any kind of investigative reporting because they are more or less controlled by local mafia or local politicians.” Many local outlets are willing to take a few jabs at opposition politicians, but none are willing to target their own benefactors; instead, they target only those who are not.
It’s precisely for this reason that CIN works exclusively with RFE/RL to produce and broadcast its explosive investigative findings. As the region’s only non-sectarian broadcaster, RFE/RL brings a credibility to bear that no one else in the Balkans can match -- a voice for openness, without fear or favor.
-- Kristyna Dzmuranova