Smuggling charges could land Djukanovic in Italian court
The former Montenegrin leader, who succeeded in his drive to win independence from Serbia, now faces what may be his biggest challenge so far.By Nedjeljko Rudovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica –27/06/07
Former Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic [Getty Images]
Former Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic has been dogged for years by rumoured involvement in cigarette smuggling. Now two prosecutors in the Italian town of Bari -- Eugenia Pontassuglia and Giuseppe Scelzi -- say they have finished their investigation and will file charges against Djukanovic and a dozen others.
On Friday (June 22nd), the Italian news agency ANSA reported that former Finance Minister Miroslav Ivanisevic and Dusanka Pesic-Jeknic, Montenegro's former trade representative in Italy, may also be charged.
The accused may also include Djukanovic associates Branko Vujosevic and Veselin Barovic, as well as Branislav Brano Micunovic, described as a regional mob boss.
The group allegedly organised cigarette smuggling to Italy, via speedboats over the Adriatic, in collusion with the Italian mafia. Citing the Bari prosecutors, ANSA said Djukanovic had secured licenses for the import of cigarettes into Montenegro, after which they were transported to Italy illegally from the Montenegrin ports of Bar and Zelenika.
The money laundering was allegedly conducted through Swiss bank accounts. Funds were then transferred to Montenegro, with bank accounts in Cyprus and Liechtenstein as the final destination.
Prosecutors say a Cypriot bank account, with the account number 03854109703948, contained 500m euros -- money, they allege, used for investments in Montenegro.
Stanko Subotic Cane, a controversial Serbian businessman who faces cigarette smuggling charges in Serbia, is said to have been in charge of the money laundering process.
Two of the prospective indictees, Ivanisevic and Pesic-Jeknic, have made statements denying the accusations. They say the transit of cigarettes was in compliance with Montenegrin law and that the state budget was the only destination for the revenues.
Djukanovic has not commented on the case. However, in the past, he has refuted suggestions that he was under investigation, saying he did not participate in smuggling but was engaged in legitimate business activities.
His party, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), claims the case is politically motivated.
The charges are being driven by Djukanovic's political enemies with the goal of undermining the DPS and the Montenegrin leadership, spokesperson Rajko Kovacevic said.
Opposition parties say the accusations are serious. They are calling for the government to become involved in the process and ensure that the public does not end up paying for the damage.
The transit of cigarettes through Montenegrin dates back to the 1990s, when the republic, as part of the state union with Serbia, was under sanction by the international community. Officials have acknowledged that the cigarette trade helped finance state services as well as social and pension expenses. Media in Italy have reported on several occasions that the trade brought Montenegrin officials into contact with "business partners" from the Italian mafia.
Djukanovic served alternately as prime minister and president from 1992 to 2006. In 1998, he began to advocate Montenegro's independence from Serbia, a goal that was achieved in May 2006. Djukanovic then stepped down from his government posts, but continues to head the DPS.
Gabriela Preda contributed to this report.
Quelle: SE Times