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CORRUPTION AND ORGANIZED CRIME
THE BURDEN OF THE PAST
By: Drasko DJURANOVIC
An office for the struggle against organized crime was established as part of the Montenegrin Ministry of Internal Affairs, and by the end of the year a special prosecutor for the struggle against this evil shall be nominated. Why is this done here if - as claimed by Montenegrin officials - there is no organized crime?
Picture one: A murder in Stockholm. "I know there will be more staged talks and witnesses, more staged criminal charges. They will be sending murder squads. But, I hope I will peacefully return to Montenegro some day and tell my story to the end". This is how Ratko Djokic, one of the last big underground bosses threatened a year ago. Djokic caught attention of the public after breaking out of the tobacco scandal that have shaken the authorities in Podgorica because of numerous accusations that Montenegrin officials control the illegal business of cigarette trade.
Although the tobacco scandal was hushed up, Ratko Djokic was not given the opportunity to say everything he knew. The long arm of the mob reached him in distant Sweden: on Monday, May 5, two unknown assassins shot Djokic in the streets of Stockholm. A distant murder but committed according to the Balkan recipe - a classical ambush. Djokic took a part of the secret of the tobacco scandal to his grave and many sighed with relief here in Montenegro. Together with Ratko Knezevic, former head of Montenegrin trade mission in Washington, Ratko Djokic was marked in Montenegro as the person in the background of the tobacco scandal that Croatian weekly Nacional was the first to publicly report on. They both directly accused the mysterious businessman Stanko Subotic and the current Montenegrin authorities headed by Djukanovic for the cooperation with Italian mafia in organizing smuggling of cigarettes. Djokic obviously was not forgiven for his sins, although according to the information published by Montenegrin weekly Monitor, he tried to establish contact with Montenegrin authorities and ensure safe return to Montenegro. Has he at that moment signed his own death penalty, because nobody likes a repentant.
In the meantime, a preliminary trial of Italian mobsters for cigarette smuggling has started across the sea, in Italy. Many of them, like Francesco Prudentini and Salvatore Vantagiato, were stationed in Montenegro in mid nineties. Will Italian tough guys be more talkative than the local ones, who mostly ended up dead before they had any chance to speak?
Picture two: State and Sex Trafficking. "Somebody will pay dearly for this", was the public threat of Zoran Piperovic, assistant state prosecutor of Montenegro, at the moment he was arrested in his house in Bar by members of a special unit of Montenegrin MUP on charges of having participated in one of the filthiest crimes: human trafficking. In the continued operation of Montenegrin police, apart from Piperovic, another four persons were arrested because they were suspected of having organized, together with or with the silent approval of the deputy state prosecutor, human trafficking - women from Ukraine, Russia... for whom they had found "jobs", for an adequate percentage, in Montenegrin night clubs and bars.
The pompous arrest of prosecutor Piperovic in the end of last year gave the impression that the long announced and even longer postponed showdown of the state with crime and "the bad guys in their own ranks" had finally begun, especially because the then minister of police Andrija Jovicevic had the reputation of man who enjoyed great confidence of Milo Djukanovic, and Jovicevic's deputies were from the ranks of the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro, the coalition partner of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists. When special police team introduced the key witness of the sex trafficking scandal, citizen of Moldavia, S.C., this unfortunate woman testified that many civil servants and high politicians were acquainted with her services she was forced to offer.
It appeared as if the heads of the state had finally given approval for the operation of removal of discredited state officials. At the same time, the heads of the coalition SDP demanded the resignation of state prosecutor Bozidar Vukcevic, and numerous representatives of the European Union arrived in Podgorica in order to offer support to the special police team to continue the struggle against organized crime. Indeed, it all had the appearance of a well-organized campaign of the state.
However, the inauguration speech of the new Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovic, cast a shadow on the story of a well-coordinated state operation. Djukanovic spoke about a fabricated scandal and even threatened that all "participants of the staged scandal would be indicted and convicted". Whether by pure coincidence or not, two days after Djukanovic's speech in the Assembly, via Publika daily which is edited by Djukanovic's best man (!), Piperovic himself issued a statement from prison claiming that the scandal was fabricated by no other but the minister of police and the head of the special police team for the struggle against human trafficking, Milan Paunovic. From there the media controlled by DPS took over the game trying to present all accusations as pure nonsense. And finally: the former minister of police Jovicevic did not become a member of the new Djukanovic's cabinet although before the sex trafficking scandal had broken out he was believed to be very close to Djukanovic, and Piperovic was released from prison.
This certainly proves that the heads of the state do not wish to sacrifice Piperovic or to succumb to the obvious pressure of the international community to clarify the scandal. Is the move of the heads of the state motivated only by the wish to save Piperovic or by fear that the deputy state prosecutor might start talking in prison about numerous scandals and things many have been implicated in?
Even after more than six months, the sex trafficking scandal that involved deputy state Prosecutor still has not been resolved: there is no trial and nobody knows whether there will be any.
Picture three: The State and Corruption. The Montenegrin economic lead story of the month of May could be worded as follows: Dr. Miodrag Pavlicic, Minister of Health, and Ramo Bralic, Director of the Health Fund, sharply insisted that the call for tenders for the purchase of drugs be annulled "because of a number of failures and strange decisions". In fact, translated into ordinary language: two high officials in charge of Montenegrin health prevented state-controlled firm Montepharm from spending - without control - 19.5 million euros on purchasing drugs!
The polemic of the mentioned Director of health Bralic and the former health minister Micovic about the monopoly on drug purchasing has lasted for quite some time. Bralic directly accused Micovic of being responsible for the annual deficit of cca 12 million euros stressing that it was necessary to put a stop to "embezzlements in health and uncontrolled use of drugs and medical equipment" in general. Montenegrin opposition has on several occasions accused former minister Micovic of abuse in purchasing drugs noting that in the couple of years at the ministerial post he achieved a rapid improvement of his own personal standard" (statement of the Socialist People's Party). Based on numerous statements, State Prosecutor Bozidar Vukcevic demanded an investigation of all the circumstances of drug purchasing from the police, and Minister of internal affairs Milan Filipovic said that police investigation of the matter had been going on for some time already. Its results, however, are still a mystery for the public. Will the authorities let the public know the truth about the corruption of civil servants?
The three described pictures are just pieces of Montenegrin mosaic of everyday life, evidence that the state has not even opened the question of responsibility for public affairs. At the same time they indicate that corruption and crime have penetrated deeply into all segments of the society. This is an obscure burden of the past: from the beginning of the wars in the nineties of last century, Montenegro has become the promised land for numerous types of smuggling, from oil and its derivatives, illegal monetary transactions to the so-called transit of cigarettes heading for Italy and the European Union.
Italian media have estimated that in the course of 1993 and 1994, the total turnover of cigarettes across the Adriatic Sea amounted to the fantastic one billion marks, 300 million of which went to Montenegro, partly into the budget and no less into private pockets of the organizers of the deal.
When in 1997 Djukanovic's DPS turned its back to Milosevic, the international community turned a blind eye to many illegal acts of the officials in Podgorica. But, since October 2000 and the fall of Milosevic's regime, the authorities in Podgorica were forced to try and "clean" their back yard under pressure exerted by the international community. The tobacco scandal revealed by Nacional, when many discrediting facts on Montenegrin officials and their patronage over cigarettes smuggling in the region had come in the open was especially convenient for that.
In the past two years, the notorious "cigarette transit" has simply stopped, Montenegrin authorities have "permitted" foreign experts absolute control of the budget inputs and, generally speaking, one could say that official Podgorica has done quite a lot to get rid of the burden of being "the last resort of crime patrons".
"There is no organized crime in Montenegro, at least not on a larger scale than in any other country in transition", recently stated Djukanovic, Montenegrin Prime Minister. The Prime Minister made this statement when operation "Sabre" in Serbia was at its height, when Serbia's authorities started a huge showdown with organized crime. Of course, the authorities in Podgorica hurried to point out to its own and even more to the international public that the situation in Montenegro was much better than at their neighbour's ruled by the so-called "Zemun clan".
Is that really true; has Montenegro been cured of the plague of organized crime and corruption?
Montenegrin opposition claims that Montenegro is the "last resort of a mafiacratic regime in the region" (statement of the Coalition for Changes). Miodrag Zivkovic, political leader of the Liberal League of Montenegro and candidate for Montenegrin president in the recent election campaign, determined that Milo Djukanovic was directly "the main culprit why Montenegro is sinking deeper and deeper into the mire of corruption and organized crime".
In order to explain this statement, Zivkovic brought up evidence provided by the notorious "Jube" case. What exactly was he talking about? "Jube" is a company that in the course of 1998 and 1999, as determined by court, had at its disposal an unlimited amount of - state money. Through this company the Government bought an airplane abroad, and this company made generous payments to Cetinje municipal budget, allegedly for the development of this region. To make matters even more interesting, when the Liberal League won in the municipal elections in Cetinje, the scandal became "publicly owned": it turned out that "Jube" - which mediated in the purchase of the airplane by the Government or that made large payments for the municipality of Cetinje or "Buducnost" basketball team - had no owner! To be more precise, the name of a non-existent citizen of Montenegro is listed in the court register. How could that be possible unless somebody from the very top of state authorities had approved numerous dubious financial operations?
"All this speaks of specific characteristics of Montenegrin situation", says for AIM Dr. Srdjan Darmanovic, Director of Human Rights Centre from Podgorica. Darmanovic stresses that, in comparison with the situation in Serbia, Montenegrin everyday life is somewhat better, but he also believes that Montenegro is far from the elimination of the problems of crime or corruption. "There was no explosive connection between war crime and organized crime over here like in Serbia. I would rather say that we have a classical form of the so-called partnership capitalism over here. That is a situation when the Government or certain influential people in it enable individuals or firms to have state monopoly and thanks to that, enormous profits. That is a form of corruption which destroys the system", says Darmanovic.
But, according to the opinion of the citizens, corruption is one of the biggest problems in Montenegro. In an investigation conducted by the Centre for Democratic Transition more than 73 per cent of the respondents believe that corruption exists in Montenegro, while only 2 per cent claim that there is none. According to the stands of the respondents, corruption in Montenegro is most widespread among customs officials, and then follow the persons at the very top of state authorities, state media, municipal services...
Therefore, it would be very difficult to corroborate the official version of Montenegrin leaders that there is no corruption and organized crime in Montenegro.
Indeed, what the citizens have known for a long time now, because they have learnt about the consequences the hard way was indirectly admitted by the heads of Montenegrin state. By the end of the year, according to the announcement of Montenegrin Minister of Justice Zeljko Sturanovic, Montenegro will get a special prosecutor for the struggle against organized crime. And that is not all: a special office for organized crime has already been established as part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
It is, therefore, logical to wonder: if there is no organized crime, as Djukanovic claims, why is the Government headed by Djukanovic himself, proposing the establishment of the institution of a special prosecutor for the struggle against organized crime? In other words, why have the leaders of DPS opposed their own statement and admitted that the problem exists?
A part of the answer certainly has something to do with the pressure exerted by international community. The results of the struggle against organized crime have become the key condition for getting international donations.
It seems that Montenegrin leaders have understood the message well: if they wish to get the money necessary for the local economy to survive, they must meet conditions. The developments in the surroundings, primarily in Serbia, have certainly affected the decision of Montenegrin authorities. Operation "Sabre"has contributed more to the improvement of the reputation of Serbian authorities than passing of reform laws and the promise that reforms would be carried out.
That is why the idea of Montenegrin authorities - to introduce the institution of a special prosecutor for the struggle against organized crime - cannot be reproached in a principled manner. The problem is how to explain what this measure will actually achieve? Because, in order to be really operational, the special prosecutor will have to deal with the work of the "regular" prosecutor's office. It is an open secret, as indeed stated by Montenegrin police on several occasions, that many criminal charges remained locked up in the state prosecutor's office for months and even years. It should finally be determined why and by whose order?
Besides, in order to acquire a high reputation- in the country and abroad - the special prosecutor will have to review the work of many state and Para state firms. In other words: the idea of the introduction of the post of a special prosecutor could be very dangerous for the promoters of this idea. Is it realistic to expect that the authorities which have brought on the tarnishing of the reputation of the judiciary and which, at least indirectly, enabled spreading of crime and corruption will now suddenly change their strategy and tactics?
Or will it all end with a lot of big words and a few deeds? Similarly as after the establishment of the Commission for the struggle against corruption headed by the man from state administration. And, of course, so far nobody in Montenegro has been called to answer for the crime of corruption or receiving a bribe - not a single prominent state official.