The United States of America (USA) has so far placed dozens of individuals from the Western Balkans on its sanctions list. In many cases, these are government officials and people in positions of power.
When and why does the US impose sanctions?
The United States imposes sanctions on individuals and companies under the Global Magnitsky Act for human rights violations and prohibits any dealings with companies that have illegally acquired capital.
Under this law, the United States targets individuals linked to serious human rights violations or corruption.
All assets of a sanctioned individual in the US are frozen. In addition, all companies linked to them are also blocked.
In the Western Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia are the most sanctioned countries.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Milorad Dodik, President of Bosnia and Herzegovina. entity Republika Srpska
Milorad Dodik received the first sanctions from the US Treasury Department in January 2017. The then US Ambassador to BiH, Maureen Cormack, announced that Dodik was sanctioned for not respecting the decision of the BiH Constitutional Court to ban the organisation of the referendum.
In January 2022, the US Treasury Department published an expanded list of sanctions for acts of corruption involving Milorad Dodik, then a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and leader of the leading party in the Republika Srpska (RS) entity, the Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD).
“Milorad Dodik’s destabilising corrupt activities and attempts to overturn the Dayton Peace Agreement, motivated by self-interest, threaten the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire region,” said US Undersecretary of State for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson.
Dodik is alleged to have undermined the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina by calling for the assumption of state powers and initiating the creation of parallel institutions in the entity Republika Srpska (RS). It also highlights how he used his official position in Bosnia and Herzegovina to amass personal wealth through bribery, acceptance of kickbacks and other forms of corruption.
In April 2022, Milorad Dodik was also placed on the UK sanctions list along with Željko Cvijanović. The sanctions, which include a travel ban and asset freeze, are the first under the UK sanctions regime for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the British government announced.
“These are sanctions targeting two people who have behaved irresponsibly in their positions,” the British Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina said.
Nikola Špirić, President of the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH
In September 2018, the US blacklisted Nikola Špirić for his involvement in grand corruption, the State Department said.
It states that Špirić, as a “Member of Parliament, was involved in obtaining benefits based on corruption, accepting improper favours in exchange for his work as a person in public office from which he interfered in public processes, all during his tenure as a member of the House of Representatives”.
Špirić was a long-standing senior official of the SNSD, Milorad Dodik’s party, and a long-serving member of the House of PSBiH.
Fadil Novalic, former Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina. entity Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Fadil Novalic was added to the sanctions list in October 2022 for misusing personal data of pensioners to benefit his political party ahead of the 2018 elections, according to the US Treasury Department.
Novalic was placed on a “blacklist” for his responsibility for, or direct or indirect participation in, activities that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the Western Balkans.
As Prime Minister of the FBiH entity, Fadil Novalic misused the personal data of pensioners for the benefit of the Democratic Action Party (SDA), in violation of BiH law, the US Treasury Department announced on 3 October.
Fadil Novalic, a member of the Democratic Action Party (SDA), served as Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) from 2015 to 2023. Novalic was involved in private business before becoming Prime Minister.
He is among several high-ranking officials in the Federation of BiH against whom proceedings are pending before the BiH Court for the purchase by the Federation of BiH of 100 respirators from China.
Novalic was sentenced to four years in prison in April 2023 in a first instance judgement. The trial is still ongoing.
Gordana Tadic, former Chief Prosecutor of the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina
On 11 April 2022, the US Treasury Department published a list of sanctions for corruption offences, which includes seven persons from the Western Balkans, one of whom is Gordana Tadić, former Chief Prosecutor of the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken then announced that the State Department and the Treasury Department have taken steps to sanction actors in the Western Balkans for destabilising and corrupt activities.
Gordana Tadić was the Chief Prosecutor of the State Prosecutor’s Office from 2019 to 2021, when she was removed from that position by the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of BiH. She used her position to advance her personal and family interests and to protect her political patrons from prosecution, the embassy said, adding that this was a very serious abuse of office.
Diana Kajmaković, Prosecutor and suspended Deputy Chief Prosecutor of the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina
On 26 September 2022, the US Treasury Department placed Diana Kajmaković, Prosecutor of the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on a “blacklist”.
OFAC reported at the time that Diana Kajmaković was “a flagrant example of a corrupt BiH prosecutor with ties to criminal enterprises”. It was pointed out that researchers had analysed private communications through encrypted messaging applications as part of wider activities to combat organised crime and drug trafficking in BiH.
“Diana Kajmakovic has continuously undermined democracy and the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Brian E. Nelson, Under Secretary for Counterterrorism and Financial Intelligence at the US Treasury Department.
Diana Kajmaković has been suspended from her post as Deputy Chief Prosecutor of the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced on 31 October 2022.
On 21 October, the Office of the Disciplinary Prosecutor of the HSSB of BiH filed a disciplinary complaint against Diana Kajmaković on suspicion that she used her position to obtain undue advantage for herself or others.
Marinko Čavara, Member of the House of Representatives of the PSBiH
Marinko Čavara was added to the US sanctions list in June 2022. The former President of the FBiH and member of the Croatian Democratic Community of BiH (HDZ) was responsible for the appointment of judges for the FBiH Constitutional Court.
From 2019 until the sanctions, Cavara refused to nominate judges from a list of candidates submitted by the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council to fill vacancies on the court. He nominated them in August, almost two months after the sanctions were imposed against him.
“By refusing to carry out the process of appointing judges, Cavara is blocking the functioning of the Council for the Protection of the Court’s Vital National Interest, a body composed of a certain number and including a certain composition of judges of the FBiH Constitutional Court, which was established in 2002 in accordance with the amendments to the FBiH Constitution by the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the reasoning of the sanctions reads.
Alen Šeranić, Minister of Health and Social Protection of the Republic of Slovenia and SNSD MEP
Alen Šeranić has been on the US sanctions list since June 2022.
“Šeranić has continued to promote the secessionist activities of the RS by leading the process of adopting the Law on Medicinal Products and Medical Devices of the RS, which his ministry sent to the National Assembly of the RS for consideration. This law foresees the creation of a new agency only within the RS, which would disrupt the competences of the State Agency for Medicines and Medical Supplies,” the US Treasury reported.
They assessed that the moves by Šeranić and Čavara “threaten the stability of the region by undermining the Dayton Peace Agreement and democratic processes or institutions”.
“Marinko Čavara and Alen Šeranić pursued ethno-nationalist and political agendas to the detriment of democratic institutions and the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Brian E. Nelson, Under Secretary for Counterterrorism and Intelligence and Financial Crimes at the US Treasury Department.
Osman Mehmedagic, former Director of the Intelligence and Security Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Osman Mehmedagic was blacklisted by the US in March 2023.
The indictment alleges that Osman “Osmica” Mehmedagić, in his capacity as Director General of the BiH Intelligence and Security Agency, abused the state-owned telecommunications company for the benefit of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), one of the largest political parties in BiH.
“Mehmedagić, through BH Telecom, collected mobile data on BiH politicians not affiliated with the SDA. Mehmedagić also ordered one person to follow a government official affiliated with the opposition party entity Republika Srpska,” the statement of reasons reads.
In addition, OFAC said, Mehmedagic used his position to make threats and connections to recruit candidates from “Osmorka”, a group of Bosniak and civilian parties from BiH, to support the SDA.
OFAC also stated that there is credible information that Mehmedagic has collaborated with criminal networks to enrich himself and his political party.
Asim Sarajlić, former SDA official
On 11 April 2022, the US Treasury Department published a sanctions list for corruption offences, which included seven persons from the Western Balkans.
Among them is Asim Sarajlić, former Vice-President and former Head of the Personnel Commission of the leading Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA).
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken then announced that the State Department and the Treasury Department had taken steps to sanction actors in the Western Balkans for destabilising and corrupt activities.
Sarajlić is on the US sanctions list for his involvement in high-level corruption, including influence peddling, abuse of position and receiving bribes in exchange for influencing employment decisions in state-owned companies such as BH Telecom.
On 13 April 2022, Sarajlić resigned from all other parliamentary positions, with the exception of his position as one of the five Bosniak delegates to the House of Peoples of the PSBiH.
Sarajlić was the leader of the Bosniak caucus in the House, Chairman of the Joint Defence and Security Commission, Chairman of the PS BiH delegation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Parliamentary Assembly and Vice-Chairman of the SDA.
The US Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina stated in a communiqué that Sarajlić was “involved in high-level corruption involving influence peddling, abuse of position, and the receipt of bribes in exchange for influencing employment decisions in state-owned enterprises”.
In a press release, he stated that he was resigning because of the sanctions imposed by the US Treasury.
Milan Tegeltija, former President of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Milan Tegeltija was placed on the State Department’s sanctions list in January 2022 for “his involvement in significant corrupt activities”, according to a statement signed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“This designation bars Tegeltija and Kukic from entering the United States. By their actions, they have undermined the rule of law and public confidence in democratic government institutions and public processes, and the peace and prosperity of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the statement explained at the time.
According to the statement, Tegeltija, by using his official position as President of VSTV, “participated in corrupt acts involving the use of political influence and official position for personal gain”.
“Specifically, there is credible information that Tegeltija has used his position to obtain benefits in exchange for interference in judicial proceedings and manipulation of judicial appointments and recruitment to other public offices.”
In December 2020, Tegeltija resigned as President of the SJC after being invited to do so by the members of the Council in a resolution adopted.
Tegeltija was still part of the “Potkivanje” affair in 2019. He was linked to corrupt activities, namely that through an intermediary, an employee of the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), he contracted clients who needed to “expedite” cases in the BiH judiciary. This was made public in a video. Tegeltija was cleared of suspicion and appeared as a witness in the case.
With this set of US sanctions, Tegeltja’s wife Tijana was also placed on the list.
Mirsad Kukic, former member of the House of Representatives of the PSBiH
As of January 2022, he is on the State Department’s sanctions list for “involvement in significant corrupt activities,” according to a statement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Mirsad Kukic is said to have “engaged in corrupt acts by using his position as director of the public company Rudnik Banovići, as well as a member of the National Assembly, to use his political influence and official position for personal gain”.
“Specifically, there is credible information that Kukić has misused public funds for personal gain and interfered in employment decisions and appointments in order to achieve political gain,” the message said.
Mirsad Kukic resigned from the leadership of the Party of Democratic Action (PDA) after the US imposed sanctions against him.
Dragan Stanković, Director of the Administration for Geodetic and Property Legal Affairs of the Republic of Srpska
Dragan Stanković has been under sanctions since March 2023.
He is alleged to have been Acting Director, and later Director, of the Administration for Geodetic and Property Legal Affairs of the Republika Srpska (RUGIP), leading the agency responsible for the adoption of the RS Property Law in April 2022, and directly questioning Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constitutional order undermining the Dayton Peace Agreement.
“The RS Property Law attempted to usurp BiH’s state authority over state property located in the RS, in violation of the decisions of the Constitutional Court of BiH, the Constitution of BiH and the 2005 prohibition on the disposal of state property imposed by the Office of the High Representative (OHR),” the reasoning reads.
Edin Gacanin, leader of the Tito and Dino cartel
Edin Gacanin has been on the sanctions list since March 2023.
He is believed to be a Sarajevo resident and the leader of the Tito i Dino cartel, which includes members of his family and friends from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
According to the US Treasury Department, Edin Gacanin is one of the world’s biggest drug traffickers.
It added that in addition to its drug smuggling efforts in several countries, the Gachanin cartel is involved in money laundering and has close links to the Kinahan organised crime group, a transnational criminal group that has already been sanctioned by OFAC for its role in a transnational criminal group.
He is sanctioned for participating or attempting to participate in activities or transactions that materially contributed to the distribution of illicit drugs or the means to produce them.
Amir Zukic, former Secretary General of the SDA
Amir Zukic is also blacklisted by the US for corrupt practices. He was a long-standing member of the Democratic Action Party, where he served as Secretary General and member of the Presidency of the party, of which he was a representative in the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Sarajevo Municipal Court found Amir Zukić and four other defendants guilty of abuse of office in the employment of public companies in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in a first instance verdict handed down at the end of July 2022.
As a member of the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and Secretary General of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), Zukic was involved in acts of corruption that undermined the rule of law in BiH.
Aleksandar Vulin, Director of the Security Information Agency of Serbia (BIA)
Sanctioned since 11 July 2023 for alleged corruption and involvement in drug trafficking and ties to Russia.
The decision states that the US is determined to hold accountable those who use corruption to advance their own political goals and personal interests to the detriment of peace and stability in the Western Balkans. They add that these corrupt practices facilitate Russia’s malign activities in Serbia and the region.
Aleksandar Vulin has been determined by the US Treasury Department to be involved in transnational organised crime, illegal drug-related activities and abuse of public office.
They add that Vulin “maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with Serbian arms trafficker Slobodan Tesic and helped his illegal arms shipments move freely across borders.”
Aleksandar Vulin has had a long political career. In the 1990s, he was spokesman for the Yugoslav Left, the party of Mirjana Markovic, wife of Slobodan Milosevic, former President of Serbia and Hague defendant.
He has been part of the government and a coalition partner of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) for more than a decade. Vulin was Director of the Security Information Agency of Serbia at the time of the US sanctions, and previously served as Minister of Defence and Minister of the Interior.
The opposition has demanded the dismissal of the first head of the Security Agency. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic claims that the main reason for the sanctions is Vulin’s close relationship with Russia and not “any crime, corruption”.
Vulin’s party, the Socialist Movement, has condemned the sanctions and made a series of accusations against the US.
Arms dealer Slobodan Tesic
Under sanctions since 21 December 2017.
Tešić is one of the biggest arms and ammunition traffickers in the Balkans, and the reasons for the sanctions are cited by the US. At the time of the announcement of the US decision, he had been on the United Nations (UN) travel ban list for almost a decade for violating sanctions against arms exports to Liberia.
In order to secure lucrative business deals, Tešić directly or indirectly provided bribes and financial assistance to officials, the US Treasury Department said in its decision.
“Tešić also took potential clients on expensive vacations, paying for their children to attend schools and universities in Western countries. He paid large sums of money in bribes to secure secure contracts,” the statement reads, among other things.
In 2019, the US extended the measures to 11 more companies and nine individuals used by Tešić as intermediaries to evade sanctions.
“Tesic continues to have control over most, if not all, aspects of day-to-day operations, including brokering deals and seeking new business opportunities,” the US Treasury Department said at the time.
The new 2019 US Treasury findings relate to nine individuals who are said to have acted or intended to act directly or indirectly on Tesic’s behalf.
The Serbian Foreign Ministry did not react to the US decision after the extension of sanctions against Tešić. However, it has responded to the allegations made by opposition MP Marinika Tepic. She accused the Serbian authorities of “hiding for months” a US document which “explicitly” states that the actions of Slobodan Tešić constitute an “imminent threat to international stability and security”.
The MFA denies that “it is not true that the US sent a note concerning Slobodan Tešić, either to the Ministry or to Minister Ivica Dačić”.
The statement says that “the Americans discussed Tešić in August (2019)”, but in the form of talking points.
Slobodan Tesic has never commented publicly on the US reasons for imposing sanctions.
Bogoljub Karic’s posts
He has been under sanctions since 9 August 2021.
According to the US Treasury, “Karic’s construction empire” has been blacklisted in the US. Dana Holdings Limited (Dana Holdings) is included in the list extending sanctions against Belarus.
Bogoljub Karic, a businessman who made a fortune in Serbia in the 1990s, shifted his business focus to Belarus in the 2000s. In the 1990s, he built his business empire with close links to the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. In Belarus today, he is building them with good ties to the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
His son Nebojsa Karic, who the US says plays a leading role in Dana Holding, has been added to the sanctions list. According to the US authorities, Karic was sanctioned because of his links to Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power in Belarus since 1994.
Dana Holdings has received a number of benefits through presidential decrees issued by Alexander Lukashenko, including gifts of state land in Minsk, according to the US Treasury Department. They add that the company has received a number of benefits for construction projects in and around Minsk.
According to the US Treasury Department, Dana Holdings has offered its employees a day off to attend a rally in support of Lukashenko after the rigged elections on 9 August 2020.
On 13 August 2021, Dana Holdings denied the US administration’s allegations. At that time, the company announced in a written statement to the RSE that it would seek immediate revocation of the measures taken through legal means.
“Dana Holdings has never done business with the country of Belarus in all the years it has been doing business in that country,” the company said at the time.
Milan Radoicic, Vice President of the Serbian List, the leading Serbian party in Kosovo
Zvonko Veselinovic, a Serbian businessman from northern Kosovo, and his brother Zarko Veselinovic
The US Treasury Department has placed Milan Radoicic, vice-president of the Serbian List, the leading Serbian party in Kosovo, on a sanctions list. In addition to Radoicic, Zvonko Veselinovic, a businessman from the north of Kosovo, and his brother Zarko Veselinovic have been placed on a “blacklist”.
In addition to the three, ten other persons are sanctioned under the same decision.
Milan Radoičić and Zvonko and Žarko Veselinović have been identified as members of corruption networks linked to international organised crime.
Alongside the same charges, the list also includes Zeljko Bojic, former head of the Kosovo Police for the North, and Marko Rošić, accused in the Ivanović murder case.
Radule Stevic, one of the entrepreneurs from the north, known for having received numerous tenders from Kosovo institutions for various infrastructure projects in this part of the country, is also in the same group under sanctions.
Incidentally, Stevic is one of the few on the list who has publicly announced that he rejects the US accusations.
In addition to these individuals, the US sanctions list includes over 20 related companies based in Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti welcomed the US decision to impose sanctions against Zvonko Veselinovic and “an organised criminal group operating in the north of Kosovo”.
Following the US decision, Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani said that Kosovo’s institutions are fully committed to the rule of law and will work with the US to ensure that the region does not become a haven for criminal gangs.
Ramiz Merko, Mayor of Struga
He has been under sanctions since 20 June 2023.
Struga Mayor Ramiz Merko of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) has been blacklisted by the US for corruption and interference in judicial processes, the State Department announced on 20 June.
In December 2022, a team of US sanctions investigators from Washington visited the country to look into possible corruption cases involving senior Macedonian officials.
The US has placed Merck on a “blacklist” of persons banned from entering the US. A State Department statement said that this was due to his involvement in grand corruption.
“While Mayor of Struga, Merko embezzled funds and interfered in judicial and other public proceedings, undermining public confidence in North Macedonia’s democratic institutions and officials,” the State Department said in a statement.
Nikola Gruevski, former Prime Minister of North Macedonia
Sasa Mijalkov, former Director of the Financial Intelligence Directorate of the MUP
Nikola Gruevski and Sasho Mijalkov have been under sanctions since 11 April 2022.
Gruevski and Mijalkov have been placed on a corruption sanctions list by the US Treasury Department.
“Their actions have undermined the rule of law, democratic institutions and public processes in both countries and undermined public confidence in their governments,” the reasoning reads.
Nikola Gruevski has been convicted or remains a suspect in several corruption cases. He has been accused of abuse of office, money laundering and other offences during his time as Prime Minister of North Macedonia between 2006 and 2016.
Gruevski was granted asylum in Hungary in November 2018 after being sentenced to two years in prison for corruption in the “Tank” case and the illegal purchase of a luxury Mercedes at government expense. He has been charged in several other cases, including for organising violence in Parliament on 27 April 2017.
Gruevski arrived in Budapest in a Hungarian diplomatic vehicle after having crossed several Balkan countries with the help of Hungarian diplomats. North Macedonia is demanding his extradition because of his corruption conviction and several other criminal proceedings against him.
Svetozar Marović, the last President of the National Community of Srpska Srpska and former high-ranking official of the Democratic Socialist Party
Svetozar Marovic was a high-ranking official of Milo Đukanović’s Democratic Socialist Party (DPS), which ruled Montenegro for three decades. He is the only Montenegrin on the US Treasury’s sanctions list.
The Treasury Department’s communiqué states that Svetozar Marovic was sanctioned “for responsibility for, or complicity in, and direct or indirect involvement in corruption related to the Western Balkans”.
He is charged with abuse of office, misappropriation of public property, confiscation of private property for personal gain or political purposes and bribery.
Marovic was arrested in December 2015 for multi-million pound embezzlement in Budva when the DPS was in power.
In 2017, he signed two plea agreements with prosecutors for organising a criminal organisation. He was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison, €1.1 million in damages to the state and €100 000 in humanitarian aid.
He then went to Belgrade, but despite an indictment, he has still not been extradited to Montenegro.
He was sentenced to a year in prison as compensation for the €1.1 million he failed to pay, but this sentence expired in June 2021.
The main sentence of the Podgorica High Court is still active.
Marović’s son, Milos, was also sentenced to 11 months in prison and a fine of €385,000, which he paid. Montenegro also issued an arrest warrant for him in 2017.
Miloš Marović also fled to Serbia, where he obtained citizenship. His prison sentence expired in September 2020.
Marović’s trial, as well as their flight to Serbia, dates back to the DPS rule. Even after the change of power in August 2020, Svetozar Marović was not extradited.
He is still in Serbia, where, as his supporters have repeatedly said, he is being treated for depression./RSE/