SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnians protested Wednesday outside the country’s top judicial body after a secretly recorded video emerged of its head appearing to take bribes through a middleman, himself a police officer.
Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday in Sarajevo, the capital, to demand the resignation of Milan Tegeltija, the head of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC), which appoints, dismisses and oversees the work of all the country’s judges and prosecutors.
The protest was sparked by a video published last week in which Tegeltija met with a businessman, Nermin Alesevic, to discuss his case, which was being handled by a local court. The after-hours meeting in a bar was also attended by an officer of Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency, Marko Pandza.
Tegeltija was filmed asking the businessman to name the prosecutor on his case and promising to “look into it.”
After leaving the meeting, businessman hands nearly 1,000 euros ($1,115) to Pandza, who promises to “give it to him,” in an apparent reference to Tegeltija.
“You’ve seen the man . I am 100% certain he’ll sort it out for you,” Pandza says in the video after taking the money.
Tegeltija denies any wrongdoing. Alesevic, however, has since told the prosecutors he had filmed the video to prove the extent of corruption in Bosnia’s judiciary, after his repeated formal attempts to get the HJPC to investigate his complaints had failed.
While Bosnia’s state prosecution office has opened an investigation into the case, there is widespread doubt that judges and prosecutors whose jobs and livelihoods depend on Tegeltija can impartially handle a case in which he is implicated.
The HJPC was established in 2004 under strong international pressure. Its job is to maintain, in the deeply corrupt country, an impartial and professional judiciary free of political influence.
However, it has been publicly suspected of having fallen under political sway and undermining the rule of law by delaying the appointments of independent judges and prosecutors and rushing through those of judicial officials seen as close to ruling political elites and their patronage networks.
On Tuesday, top international diplomats in Bosnia sent a letter to the HJPC warning it of “worrying developments” which they said appeared “to be an attempt to delay or even to undermine” reform efforts aimed at strengthening the rule of law in the country.
The letter, signed by the heads of the European Union delegation and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission in Bosnia, as well as by a top U.S. embassy official, warned the HJPC of possible “consequences on future assistance” unless it reverses course and ensures “tangible progress in the justice reform process.”