Čović was Attending a Wedding on Day when Document was Signed

Friday April 6th, 2012
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The trial of Dragan Čović continues at the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo. He is charged with undersigning paperwork that waived the Lijanovićs’ firms from paying 1.8 million KM in custom duties on imports of chicken at the time when he was the finance minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH).

Čović, who is now the chairman of the state Parliament’s Chamber of Peoples, testified yesterday that he did not know about this document until the beginning of the trial and that he was in Zagreb attending a wedding when the document was signed. As proof he showed credit card slips and photos from the wedding.

He also said that he did not receive warning from government agencies about the illegality of the said resolution, because he was on vacation at the time and memos were sent to the Ministry, not addressed to him.

Esad Bilić, a forensic graphologist testified that it was not Čović’s signature on the incriminating document, but a rubber stamp. He added that many government agencies use stamps with officials’ signatures because that makes business easier and faster. On the other hand, these stamps have no identification value and it’s easy to copy them.

Answering a prosecutor’s question, Bilić said that he did not compare the document with the copy which was at the time used in Čović’s office because the defense had not asked for it.

A trial of Čović began in March 2005 at the Court of BiH, when he was charged for abuse of office and for bribery and evasion along with Jozo, Jerko, Mladen and Slavo Ivanković Lijanović, the owners of Meat Industry Lijanovićs from Široki Brijeg, as well as Mato Tadić, then president of the BiH Constitutional Court and lawyer Zdravko Lučić.

During the trial it was established that in June 2001 two Lijanovićs’ firms asked the FBiH Customs Authority to be waived from paying 38.7 million KM in duties on meat imports. From the Finance Ministry which at the time was in charge of the Customs, the firms received two documents signed by Čović stating that the Lijanovićs did not need to pay duties.

However, after Čović became a member of the BiH Presidency in 2002, the Customs Authority tried make the Lijanovićs pay the duties, and the Supreme Court of FBiH said confirmed this in a ruling.

However, the Constitutional Court of BiH threw out the verdict after the Lijanovićs appealed. All defendants were acquitted except for Čović who was sentenced to five years in prison because of one of the two documents that helped the Lijanovićis avoid paying 1.8 million KM, in November 2006. The second document the Court of BiH did not even took into account because the Finance Ministry’s officials could not find the original document, just a copy.

In an appeal trial, the Court of BiH declared that it lacked jurisdiction and the case was referred to the Prosecutor’s Office of Sarajevo Canton. Between March 2009 and February 2011, the evidence was at least nine times moved between different judicial institutions and at least 40 original documents got lost in the process, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN).

The trial of Čović before the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo began in December 2011.

Yesterday, prosecutor Aziz Jahjaefendić asked for a hearing to be postponed because he was not ready to cross-examine Čović. The next hearing is scheduled for April 17.

Published: April 6, 2012.

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The Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) work is available for free to all organizations that credit CIN as their source and link to www.cin.ba.

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