by Mark Worth
Another major step has been taken in the march toward justice in the Tuzla Kvarc whistleblower retaliation case.
On February 7, Municipal Judge Huse Karic sentenced disgraced mining official Bahir Imamović to 20 months in prison on bribery and extortion charges. While serving as deputy mining minister in Bosnia’s Tuzla Canton in 2015, Imamović demanded a €15,000 bribe from Tuzla Kvarc in exchange for granting the company a mining licence.
Tuzla Kvarc employees reported Imamović to national authorities and participated in a filmed sting operation in May 2015 that caught Imamović in the act of demanding the bribe. What followed was an 18-month retaliation campaign against Tuzla Kvarc and its director, Smail Velagić. The reprisals were among the most severe meted out against any whistleblower in Europe in recent memory.
Rather than thanking Velagić and his son, Zlatan, for helping to nab Imamović, the government filed criminal against Smail Velagić and the company, froze company bank accounts, seized some of its assets, and conducted nuisance inspections. In October 2015 its administrative offices were burned, ransacked and demolished to smithereens by unknown persons. According to neighbors of the property, police and fire officials never investigated the crime.
The first sign of justice and redemption came in April 2016. After several Tuzla Kvarc employees climbed 35-meter-high silos and threatened to jump, officials finally granted the company a mining license.
The next step came just before Christmas. On December 22, Judge Enes Halilovic threw out the dubious criminal charges against Smail Velagić and Tuzla Kvarc. Tuzla Chief Prosecutor Tomislav Ljubića had charged Velagić and the company with mining sand without a license – even though the reason the company didn’t have a licence was because Velagić refused to pay the bribe to Imamović. Perversely, by not caving in to a corrupt act, Velagić and company faced prosecution.
The long campaign to end the retaliation was led by Bojan Bajić of COD Luna, a founding member of the Southeast Europe Coalition on Whistleblower Protection.
Praising the rulings, COD Luna said last week, “These two judges might not be aware that their decisions in this internationally known case transcend the bounds of their courtroom, Tuzla Canton, and even the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This case has received worldwide media attention and support from an international network of whistleblower advocates. It has significant, historic significance for the protection of whistleblowers in Europe and worldwide.
“We hope the Tuzla Quartz case be a positive turning point in the fight against corruption and efforts for judicial reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
The Southeast Europe Coalition on Whistleblower Protection supported COD Luna’s campaign with an international action alert that drew more than 12,000 e-mails from citizens to Bosnian Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic. The action alert was conducted by Roots Action.