M. Continuo

Bosnian police arrest minister, target others in corruption raid

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia's police arrested on Wednesday a regional agriculture minister and said it was targeting a number of other individuals on suspicion of links to organised crime, money laundering and tax evasion.

The Balkan state's decentralised system of power-sharing since a 1992-95 war has helped foster networks of political patronage and corruption and the government has made efforts to crack down on graft in recent years to qualify as an EU member.

The State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) said it was acting on orders from the state prosecutor but declined to name the suspects who were believed to have made unlawful gains of some 11.6 million Bosnian marka (4.7 million pounds).

"The operation is under way at 17 locations in the area of the capital Sarajevo and southern towns of Mostar, Siroki Brijeg and Grude. It encompasses 14 individuals and three companies," SIPA spokeswoman Kristina Jozic said.

She could not confirm that the agriculture minister of Bosnia's autonomous Bosniak-Croat federation, Jerko Ivankovic Lijanovic, had been detained.

But his brother Mladen Ivankovic Lijanovic, who leads a political party of which Jerko Ivankovic is a member, told the Dnevni Avaz daily newspaper by phone that both of them had been arrested this morning.

Neither brother was later available for comment.

The office of the state prosecutor said that Federation Trade Minister Milorad Bahilj was among the suspects.

It said the group was suspected of evading taxes by setting up a number of companies that ran up huge tax debts and were later closed without paying them. The companies dealt with meat import and processing.

(Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Louise Ireland)