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Top Bosnia Court Orders Release of President, Charged with Graft

Zivko Budimir, a president of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, is escorted by police during his arrest, in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, April 26, 2013.
Bosnia's Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that the president of the autonomous Muslim-Croat federation, charged with corruption, had been detained illegally, and ordered a lower court to release him immediately.

Zivko Budimir was arrested along with 19 other officials in late April in the most high-profile anti-corruption drive in Bosnia since independence more than two decades ago.

A court ordered Budimir and his co-accused aide to be kept in detention because they held Croatian passports and there was a risk they might try to flee.

Budimir has been charged with accepting bribes to grant amnesty to a number of convicts.

“The case has been returned to the [state] court, which is obliged to make a new decision immediately in line with the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights,” the Constitutional Court said in a statement.

Budimir's lawyer Ragib Hadzic said the court had determined there were no grounds to keep him in custody while the investigation was underway.

The arrest of Budimir has exacerbated a political crisis that blew up last year when he refused to approve a Federation government reshuffle and the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court.

Bosnian Prime Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda said this week that a failure by Budimir to sign a law cutting military pensions might delay the International Monetary Fund's release of the next tranche of a loan.

Under the deal that ended Bosnia's 1992-95 war, the country was split into a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serb Republic that are held together by a relatively weak central government.