‘Corrupt Activities’ Trigger Tighter Sanctions on Bosnian Serb Leader

Milorad Dodik is seen at a 2019 press conference at the European Commission. (Source: Shutterstock)

By Samuel Rubenfeld

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Milorad Dodik, a member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency representing the country’s ethnic Serbs, was hit with tougher sanctions Wednesday by the U.S. Treasury Department. 

Dodik was sanctioned due to his involvement in corruption and his efforts to undermine a 1995 regional peace agreement signed to end ethnic conflict, the Treasury said. A television station owned by a company linked to his family was also designated because Dodik has used it as a vehicle for further corruption, according to the Treasury.

“Dodik’s destabilizing corrupt activities and attempts to dismantle the Dayton Peace Accords, motivated by his own self-interest, threaten the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire region,” said Brian E. Nelson, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The Dayton Peace Accords, signed in 1995 by the presidents of Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, ended ethnic conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina and established the country’s present-day constitution. Under the accord, two federal entities would comprise a single state known as Bosnia and Herzegovina, and three presidents would represent the ethnic groups. Dodik was sanctioned by the U.S. in January 2017 for obstructing the accords. 

The designations on Wednesday were the first made under an executive order signed in June by President Joe Biden to address instability in the Western Balkans, the Treasury said. The executive order, among other things, expanded the sanctions designation criteria to include activity such as engaging in corruption and threatening the implementation of peace agreements in the Western Balkans, the White House said at the time in a fact sheet

Responding to the latest designation, Dodik said he has no U.S. assets or property for the measures to block, according to a Bosnian-language report by Radio Free Europe.

Dodik has used his position to accumulate personal wealth through corruption and undermined Bosnia and Herzogovina’s institutions by setting up parallel organizations in Republika Srpska, the country’s other federal entity which he’s led since 2006, according to the Treasury. 

He established a patronage network in Bosnia and Herzegovina through which he and his associates benefit, having provided government contracts and monopolies in Republika Srpska to close allies, the Treasury said. With the ill-gotten proceeds, he has engaged in additional corrupt activity to further his personal interests, according to the Treasury. Dodik also exerts personal control over Alternativna Televizija d.o.o. Banja Luka (ATV), a Banja Luka-based media outlet, requiring approval on articles related to sensitive topics, the Treasury said. 

In addition to Dodik’s effort to transfer “state competencies” from the Bosnian government to Republika Srpska, he also opposed the composition of the country’s constitutional court and the internationally appointed high representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Treasury said. 

Dodik, a notorious Bosnian Serb nationalist, won his ethnic group’s seat in the three-person presidency in 2018, urging secession. More recently, during a series of votes in the Bosnian Serb parliament to pull out of the Bosnia and Herzegovina government, Dodik compared himself to former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron ahead of the vote for Brexit, according to a media report. Dodik pledged that Republika Srpska wouldn’t wage war “even if attacked,” but said he wants full autonomy, calling Bosnia and Herzegovina “an empty shell,” a report said.

“Fear is on the march,” the New York Times reported this week, noting that the situation there is more volatile now than it has been at any time since the mid-1990s. Though the three leaders are supposed to meet every two weeks, they haven’t since October, when Dodik showed up with an accordion and sang Serb folk songs with supporters in his office, according to the report.

Foreign leaders are also making their presence known in the simmering conflict, with Dodik announcing support from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pledging to oppose any European Union sanctions effort against him. Germany had urged in December for the EU to designate Dodik over his secession efforts.

Beyond the Treasury’s sanctions against Dodik, the U.S. State Department announced visa bans on two current and former Bosnia and Herzegovina officials for their involvement in corruption and other destabilizing activity. The department threatened further action as well.

“Together, these designations reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of [Bosnia and Herzegovina], the rule of law and democratic institutions, and a better future for [Bosnia and Herzegovina] citizens. Other leaders and entities linked to corrupt or destabilizing actors may also be subject to future actions by the U.S. government,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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