U.S. slaps sanctions on Bosnian Serb MP over graft, abuse of office

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The United States has imposed sanctions on Nikola Spiric, a Serb deputy in Bosnia’s national parliament, over what it said was his involvement in “significant” corruption, just weeks before the country holds parliamentary and presidential elections.

Spiric, a former prime minister of Bosnia, is a member of the Serb Republic’s ruling SNSD party, led by Bosnian Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik, who was also sanctioned by the U.S. in 2016 for obstructing the Balkan country’s peace process.

Following its war in the 1990s, Bosnia was split in two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Muslim Bosniaks and Croats, linked via a weak central government.

“Mr. Spiric engaged in and benefited from public corruption, including the acceptance of improper benefits in exchange for the performance of public functions and interference with public processes, during his tenure as a member of the House of Representatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the State Department said in a statement late on Monday.

The sanctions imposed under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Act of 2018, enable the U.S. to ban Spiric and his family members from entering the United States, according to the statement.

Spiric, who has been investigated for corruption by state prosecutors but never indicted, has dismissed the graft allegations.

He was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday but in a statement to Bosnian Serb news agency Srna he said he had no reason to feel guilty.

“I have always answered to my people and was always at the disposal of all investigative and judicial institutions in my country,” he said.

Dodik accused the outgoing U.S. Ambassador in Bosnia, Maureen Cormack, of being behind the move in a bid to undermine SNSD officials ahead of the elections on Oct. 7.

Last month Dodik accused the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo of using its development agency to interfere in the Balkan country’s election process, a charge dismissed by the embassy as a “wild” conspiracy theory.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Kirsten Donovan