SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia's state court ordered the release on Sunday of a regional prime minister and two other men suspected of corruption in connection with the import of defective ventilators for coronavirus patients.
Turning down a prosecution request for the three to be detained for 30 days, the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina said in a statement that detention was not necessary for the smooth conducting of the criminal procedure.
Fadil Novalic, prime minister of the autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation, had been held since Thursday first in police custody and then in the state prosecution where he was questioned.
Also released were Fahrudin Solak, an official in charge of procuring equipment to combat the outbreak, and Fikret Hodzic, owner of a raspberry processing firm that procured the ventilators.
Prosecutors have accused the three men of abuse of office, taking bribes and money laundering, while not formally charging them. Solak and Hodzic were additionally accused of forging official documents.
The prosecutors said they would appeal the court's decision.
The three men all denied any wrongdoing. Novalic's lawyer said the prosecutors have not presented valid evidence that they should be detained.
The case arose after the government relaxed public procurement rules in face of the pandemic to allow purchases of medical equipment through direct bargaining with suppliers rather than via public tender.
Srebrena Malina, a raspberry processing firm which had no licence to import medical equipment, was recruited by the Federation's civil protection authority, headed by Solak, to procure 100 ventilators from China for 10.5 million Bosnian marka ($6 million), public documents showed.
The firm received a permit for the transaction only after 80 ventilators had been delivered, the data from the authorised drugs agency showed, spurring allegations of irregularities and prompting the investigation on how and why the company was selected to do the deal.
The prosecutors' initial report said the ventilators did "not meet even a minimum of necessary characteristics for adequate treatment" of coronavirus patients and that it was not advisable to use them in intensive-care units.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Frances Kerry)