SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The Serb member of Bosnia’s inter-ethnic presidency said opposition lawmakers’ phones were bugged in the Serb autonomous region that he once led, only to assert he was joking after his remarks stirred an uproar and calls for him to be prosecuted.
In an appearance on Wednesday evening in the assembly of the Serb Republic where he served as prime minister and president, Milorad Dodik derided an opposition lawmaker as someone who lacked support within his own party let alone allied parties.
“I listen to their phones and know. They are all against you,” Dodik told Drasko Stanivukovic, a candidate for mayor of the Serb Republic’s largest city Banja Luka in an October vote.
“There are no authorities who don’t ‘listen’ to the opposition. So do we,” said Dodik, who heads the main Bosnian Serb nationalist SNSD party that rules in the Serb Republic and remains the most powerful figure there.
“We have the right and we wiretap you. We know what you are doing,” Dodik added, also calling on Serb Republic Interior Minister Dragan Lukac to confirm his words.
His comments triggered a political outcry and spurred anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, as well as two opposition lawmakers, to file requests to Bosnia’s state prosecutor for Dodik to be charged with illegal wiretapping.
Dodik, who shares Bosnia’s post-war presidency with Croat and Bosniak counterparts, said on Thursday he was just “fooling around” in his exchange with Stanivukovic, a political moderate.
“Whoever truly wiretaps doesn’t speak about it openly. This was, as the opposition would call it, a ‘performance’ or, as the common people would say, ‘fooling around’,” he said.
Lukac said it was part of a “political game” that Dodik has often played to provoke opposition MPs in the Serb assembly, and denied that wiretapping had actually taken place.
Transparency International was unmoved. “Dodik has openly admitted that he has been establishing elements of a totalitarian state through illegal wiretapping of his political opponents,” TI said in a statement.
Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by