Fadil Novalic, the outgoing prime minister of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Muslim-Croat Federation, has been sentenced to four years in jail for the import of useless ventilators from China in 2020, at the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the country.
Novalic was arrested in May 2020 for spending €5.25mn on ventilators from China that do not meet even the minimum standards for adequate treatment.
Along with Novalic, the court found guilty Fikret Hodzic, CEO of the local fruit processing company Srebrena Malina (Silver Raspberry) that was granted the public order to import the ventilators, as well as the former chief of the Federation's Civil Protection Administration, Fahrudin Solak. Hodzic was sentenced to five years in jail, while Solak was given six years in prison.
In addition, Srebrena Malina was ordered as a legal entity to pay a fine of BAM200,000 (€100,000) within 60 days and return the money spent on the ventilators.
The entity’s Finance Minister Jelka Milicevic was found not guilty.
Back in 2020, Srebrena Malina was granted a licence to import the medical equipment a few days before the first 80 of the 100 ventilators arrived. The import was one of several scandals concerning imports of poor quality or unusable equipment early in the pandemic.
At the time, Hodzic said that his company had done nothing wrong and imported the ventilators as a humanitarian mission when the coronavirus crisis was still unfolding in the country.
The sentence was given in the court of first instance and can be appealed. Novalic said he will appeal the verdict and claimed it was part of a political attack on him.
“An enormous pressure from the public and the atmosphere of lynch have followed this process from the very beginning,” Novalic wrote on Facebook.
He added that this was just the first part of the fight and that he was certain that he will win the battle.
Novalic's party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) also backed the politican and argued that the verdict was politically motivated.
Novalic has been the Federation’s prime minister since 2015, and served two terms as political parties in the Federation were unable to reach an agreement on a new premier after the general election in 2018. In the following weeks, he should be replaced by Nermin Niksic, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who was nominated at the end of March by the Federation’s President Lidija Bradara for prime minister.