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Bosnian leader convicted over Covid ventilators deal

prime minister Bosnia Covid ventilators

The prime minister of one of Bosnia’s two regions was sentenced to four years in prison on Wednesday in a case involving the purchase of Chinese ventilators in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fadil Novalic, who leads the Bosnia and Herzegovina federation, was taken in for questioning in May 2020 as prosecutors investigated the 5.4 million euro ($5.9 million) deal.

The government had bought 100 ventilators through a company that usually specialises in fruit and vegetable preservation — and the devices turned out to be unsuitable for use with serious ill patients.

The court ruled that Novalic, 63, “abused his position” by creating conditions for the company to buy the ventilators despite not being registered for importing medical equipment, state court judge Branko Peric said.

“The equipment did not even have the minimum required parameters” and “could not be used for the care of patients in serious condition”, Peric said.

Novalic, who can appeal the sentence, was not in court for the verdict. He has previously denounced the trial as a “political case” aimed at discrediting him.

The owner of the company, Fikret Hodzic, was sentenced to five years in prison, and the region’s civil protection director Fahrudin Solak, who acted as middleman between the firm and the government, got a six-year term on charges including forgery.

Corruption is widespread in Bosnia, one of the poorest countries in Europe, according to watchdogs.

Covid-19 killed 16,300 people in the country, which often had one of the highest per capita mortality rates in the world during the pandemic.

The coronavirus has so far claimed nearly 6.9 million lives worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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