The Banja Luka Prosecution made a mistake when failing to open an investigation into David Dragicevic’s death for three months, the Constitutional Court has confirmed, raising fresh doubts about the police investigation.
By Vladimir Kovacevic
Details of the Bosnian Constitutional Court’s decision, upholding an appeal filed by Davor Dragicevic – father of killed youngster David Dragicevic – confirm that following his murder in. 2018, a series of omissions were made in the pre-investigation and investigations, as the activists from the Pravda za Davida [Justice for David] group and the Dragicevic family attorney, Ifet Feraget, have long been saying.
The findings come after the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina published the upheld appeal by Davor Dragicevic, and explained why it had upheld the appeal.
Dragicevic went missing in the night of March 18-19, 2018. His lifeless body was found at the mouth of River Crkvena in River Vrbas in Banja Luka on March 24. The original investigation determined that the death was caused by drowning with no elements of a criminal offence.
Three months later, the District Prosecution in Banja Luka ordered an investigation against unidentified persons for murder. The investigation was taken over by the State Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Grand Chamber of the Court said it agreed that there had been a violation of the appellant’s right both under the Bosnian constitution and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Series of errors may have compromised probe
In its decision, the court listed a series of flaws in the investigation carried out by the Banja Luka Prosecution that could have compromised the investigation.
First, it emphasized that it took 100 days for the Prosecution to open an official investigation. It further states that the Prosecution failed to explain why it waited for 100 days to order this, knowing that actions were already being undertaken, and adding that this caused public mistrust.
“The Constitutional Court recalls that in the case of such crimes, a prompt reaction right after the event itself is of utmost importance, so the Constitutional Court finds that such course of action is not consistent with an obligation arising from the Constitution of BiH and Article 2 of the European Convention,” the decision said. Article 2 of the Convention refers to the right to life.
The Court does not assert that the delayed investigation is the reason why the murder has still not been solved but notes that the state has an obligation to start uncovering facts immediately, which was not done. The Court said that the 100-day delay made it impossible to conduct certain investigative actions.
Dragicevic family lawyer Ifet Feraget told BIRN BiH that he had already warned the then chief district prosecutor in Banja Luka, Zelimir Lepir, of all the issues stated in the Court’s decision.
“Lepir told me I was not right,” Feraget said, adding that this surprised him, given Lepir’s extensive experience as a prosecutor, so that “goes to show what seems to be the problem,” he said.
“Therefore, the problem is not about lack of knowledge or competence but … about a political pressure. Lepir knows well where the pressure is coming from,” Feraget claimed.
“I told Lepir that they were breaching the law by doing that and it represented an abuse of official duties of the prosecutor. They were obliged to issue a decision to carry out an investigation on March 24 , manage the investigation, supervise the investigation and in that way enable a lawful obtaining of evidence,” Feraget said.
He considers that the 100-day delay was cover for 100 days of unlawful actions designed to cover up the murder of Dragicevic.
The Banja Luka District Prosecution did not comment on the decision by the Constitutional Court.
“The District Public Prosecution Banja Luka submitted the case related to the criminal offence of murder of David Dragicevic to the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina for review, as the public was previously informed. In accordance with the above, we cannot comment on the questions in your query,” the Prosecution wrote in its response to BIRN BiH.
‘Robbery’ that never took place
The Constitutional Court said that the Public Prosecution had listed evident omissions by police in the Dragicevic case, which had hampered the investigation.
Citing examples, they mentioned a police press conference that the Prosecution was not informed about and allegations about the victim having robbed Dj.R’s house, which did not happen.
In its response to the appeal, the Prosecution noted also that, “the Ministry of Interior held a press conference, which is uncommon, without the consent, knowledge and presence of the designated prosecutor.”
The Prosecution further listed omissions that followed a reported house robbery by the victim before his death.
Namely, “the police did not carry out a crime scene inspection and seize the surveillance cameras, but it was done by Dj.R., who then together with his neighbour, A.K., deleted and corrected some parts.
“While carrying out an autopsy, two police officers threw away a part of David Dragicevic’s clothes with no authorization; the criminal processing of some individuals, especially Dj.R. and F.C., was not done right away and in detail, and, while conducting the investigation, the Prosecution determined it was not a burglary, but an argument, given that David Dragicevic came to Dj.R.’s house and stayed there for 50 minutes.”
“In that connection, the Prosecution wrote, it “could not prevent certain omissions and actions,” the Court wrote.
Ozren Perduv, from the informal group Pravda za Davida, called the Constitutional Court decision shocking, as it confirmed several ommissions by the Prosecution, which the activists had been pointing out since the case began.
He said the most shocking thing is that the Prosecution admits that no burglary took place, which the police had insisted, and on which it based the disputable press conference after the discovery of Dragicevic’s body.
“If there was no burglary … Why did the house owner, Dj.R., say it was a burglary? Who told him to say that? If there was no burglary, how come items from that house were found in David Dragicevic’s pockets?” Perduv asked.
The trial of two inspectors of the Banja Luka Police Administration, namely Mikica Marijanac and Zoran Bosnjak, who have been accused of preventing the process of proof in the case of Dragicevic’s death, is underway before the Basic Court in Banja luka. The indictment was filed in 2018, but the trial began only in June.
The Interior Ministry of Bosnia’s Serb-led entity Republika Srpska, MUP RS, did not want to comment to BIRN BiH on the exact details of the Court’s decision or answer concrete questions about the alleged burglary and items found in Dragicevic’s pockets.
“The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Republika Srpska has never commented on court decisions nor will it ever do so,” MUP RS wrote.
In the decision, the Court wrote that the existence of numerous flaws does not automatically imply a conspiracy – but said the listed omissions give rise to a serious suspicions about the investigation.
Proper investigation could still be done
Feraget said the chance of an adequate investigation is not irreversibly lost because “there is [still] sufficient evidence”.
He said the investigation could run in two directions, namely the abuse of position by officials, and the murder of Dragicevic. He said the masterminds behind the death are the final objective of the investigation.
“The case is extremely voluminous; it contains 30 box files. All the things we talk about must be checked. To begin with, the examination of injured parties continues, and we know what comes next. An official effective investigation is being carried out now. That is the key,” Feraget said.
Journalist Vladimir Susak, who has reported on the investigations from the very beginning, said that, by upholding the appeal filed by Davor Dragicevic, the Constitutional Court had confirmed suspicions that have been expressed in the media since the start – that something was not right about the investigation into the murder and it was not being conducted in the normal way for such cases.
He sees the Constitutional Court’s decision as a new chance and hopes the case will finally get an epilogue in court.
The decision “can now prompt an investigation into whether the numerous omissions were made circumstantially, or if there was a conspiracy, which the Court itself has left open,” he said.
“That could ultimately lead to the perpetrators and/or masterminds of David Dragicevic’s murder,” Susak added.
The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.