As Bosnia’s fragile justice system struggles to rebuild from the war, one high-profile crime case is set to test the extent of corruption in the courts, police and public administration.
It will expose just how far the tentacles of influence of Muhamed Ali Gasi, an unemployed baker turned “entrepreneur” charged with criminal association, extortion, links to murder and assault, reached into the system.
“He was untouchable. I saw the fear that he instilled in this community,” said Rosario Ioanna, an organized crime advisor to the EU police mission in Sarajevo, whose streets Gasi cruised in a red Ferrari sports car.
“There is corruption” throughout the police, justice and political system, he said. “This trial will show just how far it goes.”
Thirteen years after the war, Bosnia’s police force comprises 15 different agencies — more are to come under new reforms — at local, state and national level and is plagued by bad communication and coordination between them.
The justice system, meanwhile, has been reformed but remains a grab bag of methods used in other countries that Bosnia’s officials are still getting used to, and prosecutors in particular are struggling to deal with the added workload.
The notoriety of Gasi, a high-profile suspected crime boss but still not at the very top of Bosnia’s criminal tree, and questions about his influence were fueled by his release after a number of arrests for “lack of evidence.”
Through contacts in the media — photographs of him with girls and guns were pasted on the front of glossy magazines — he taunted prosecutor Oleg Cavka, struggling with legal squabbles and attempts to force him to quit.
“I couldn’t have imagined what was in store for me. I had never confronted an orchestrated attempt to discredit me,” said Cavka, who aims to wrap up an indictment against Gasi and his associates by September.
The confrontation between the two has become legendary.
In one often-told incident while police were hunting him, Cavka recounted, Gasi asked his lawyer to track down the prosecutor’s telephone number and called him up mid-chase on his mobile.
“Why is everybody chasing me?” asked Gasi, who accuses Cavka of trying to extort money from him.
While at large, the suspected crime boss was also able to ensure that a long rant against the prosecutor and the authorities was broadcast on the main FTV television station during a prime time news program.
“How can it be that 350 police officers are searching for a guy who can call up public television and talk for 10 minutes on the evening news,” Cavka said.
According to Edin Vranj, organized crime unit chief, Gasi had papers to show he was a hero of the 1992 to 1995 war that set Bosnia alight — although he would have been about 12 at the time — as well as a model citizen.
“It makes you sick to see the sort of documents he had, showing that he was an important person in Sarajevo,” he said.
Given the massive backlog of cases faced by Sarajevo’s 40 prosecutors, Cavka can only marvel that Gasi will see the inside of a court.
“It’s really a miracle that we managed to bring this case to trial,” he said.