The head of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s top judicial body says he is standing down following pressure from fellow judges and Western diplomats to resign over corruption allegations, which he has denied.
Milan Tegeltija, a Serb, said on Thursday he would quit the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC), which he has presided over since 2014, because he could no longer perform the job as he feared for his safety.
The HJPC, which appoints judicial officials in the country, was formed in 2004 to safeguard the independence and impartiality of ethnically divided Bosnia’s judiciary in the aftermath of its 1992-1995 war.
But an independent report commissioned by the European Union last year concluded it was often perceived as a centre of unaccountable power run by people serving the interests of a network of political patronage and influence.
Last month, a local news portal published an audio recording in which Tegeltija allegedly advised another judge from the Council about how to bypass accusations of nepotism while employing a relative within the court system.
Tegeltija said the recording, which prompted public criticism of him and the institution, was a fake.
Addressing a news conference on Thursday in Banja Luka, in the Serb-run entity, he said he was the victim of illegal intelligence activities and accused Bosnia’s largest Bosniak political party, the SDA, of orchestrating a media campaign against him.
The HJPC’s other judges also labelled the recording a fake, but last week the Council asked Tegeltija to consider quitting because his public image was damaging its relations with international partners.
The EU delegation and US embassy in Bosnia also called on Tegeltija to resign.
While welcoming his resignation, the US embassy also said it was “only one of the many steps the HJPC must take towards restoring trust with Bosnia-Herzegovina citizens”.
All justice sector office holders, and the members of the HJPC that appoint them, must be held to the highest ethical standards. All judges and prosecutors must take steps to adequately investigate and prosecute corruption at all levels, including when it appears in their midst.
— US Embassy Sarajevo (@USEmbassySJJ) December 10, 2020
“All justice sector officeholders, and the members of the HJPC that appoint them, must be held to the highest ethical standards,” it said.
“All judges and prosecutors must take steps to adequately investigate and prosecute corruption at all levels, including when it appears in their midst.”
Bosnia’s Office of the High Representative (OHR) also urged Tegeltija to resign last month.
“In order to restore the integrity of this prominent judicial function, Mr Tegeltija needs to show professional and personal honesty and do what is expected after the continuous inadequate performance of his duties,” the OHR told local media.
“The HJPC deserves a different, more professional president.”