Montenegrin Police, Prosecution Clash Over Officers’ Arrests

A conflict between the Montenegrin police and the Special Prosecution escalated after the arrest of several senior police officers suspected of removing crucial evidence in a high-profile corruption case.
 
 

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Montenegrin prosecutors Stankovic and Katnic during the parliamentary hearings on February 10 | Photo: skupstina.me.

 

The Montenegrin police accused the Special Prosecutor’s Office of the illegal arrests of several senior police officers on Sunday on suspicion of involvement in organized crime and demanded protection from Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. In a statement late on Sunday, the Police Directorate complained of a “constant atmosphere of distrust” created by the prosecution. “We urge the authorities and the government to provide legal protection to police officers according to their competencies,” police said.

The statement came after the head of the police department for the prevention of organized crime and corruption, Dalibor Medojevic, and one of its inspectors, Nikola Terzic, were arrested on Sunday. They were held on suspicion of having been part of what the prosecution called an “organized criminal group” responsible for the disappearance of crucial evidence in a case against Montenegrin businessman Veselin Mujovic. Mujovic is accused of having taken a 800,000 euro bribe from the former president of the former state of Serbia and Montenegro, Svetozar Marovic, promising him more favourable treatment in several corruption cases in which he is the prime suspect.

Marovic was arrested in December in connection to a long-running corruption case centring on his hometown of Budva, on suspicion of costing the local budget 120 million euros.  The missing evidence relate to 13 letters that Mujovic sent to top state officials, including PM Djukanovic, which were taken from his home during a police search two weeks ago. A few days later, the prosecution revealed the letters were not submit by the police along with other evidence. The arrested police officers Medojevic and Terzic were responsible for collecting and preserving the evidence. But the Police Directorate insisted that the men were not responsible for the evidence going missing.

“The police have no knowledge nor any evidence that Medojevic and Terzic are members of criminal organizations. Also the Prosecutor’s Office has not presented any evidence that would point to the suspicion that these two police officers committed the crime,” a police statement said. “If Medojevic and Terzic are not convicted of the crimes of which they have been accused, we will initiate a procedure to determine whether the Prosecutor’s Office is responsible [for the disappearance of the evidence],” it added. Responding to the police statement, Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stankovic on Sunday said the prosecution will not allow “any obstruction to its work to remain unpunished”.

Cooperation between the police and the Special Prosecution for Organized Crime and Corruption has been problematic in recent years, especially after the appointment of chief special prosecutor Milovoje Katnic last June. Katnic’s election by parliament was supported by most opposition parties and welcomed by the EU, the US, the Council of Europe and foreign embassies in Podgorica, after the Montenegrin prosecution and police had been accused for years of unprofessional work and not producing results in the fight against high-level political corruption. Katnic, a former Court of Appeal judge and military judge in the early nineties, has publicly accused the police and their director Slavko Stojanovic of obstructing his work.

Katnic said last week that he was the victim of a “special war run by people who want to obstruct” his office’s investigations. Katnic’s Prosecutor’s Office is currently conducting investigations into a number of high-profile political cases in which several mayors and senior state officials have been accused and arrested as well as Marovic.

All of the suspects are members of Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists, which has held power in Montenegro since 1991. The conflict between the police and the Special Prosecutor’s Office first erupted last week when Katnic revealed that police director Stojanovic had been refusing for eight months to give his consent for the appointment of the head of a special police team which will report to the prosecution. The unit will be modelled on Croatia’s efficient and widely-praised office for suppressing corruption and organised crime, USKOK.

In the meantime, several human rights organizations have urged the Montenegrin authorities to sack Stojanovic, who is thought to be close to Djukanovic, saying that the conditions for his dismissal were in place before the latest scandal. NGO Civic Alliance said that recent police activities showed “an inappropriate and unprecedented manifestation of ignorance and disrespect for the law”, endangering rule of law in the country.

The European Union has made a more effective fight against organized crime and corruption one of Montenegro’s seven key priorities if it wants to advance towards membership. Podgorica has been frequently urged to prosecute more high-profile corruption cases.

Balkan Insight 

26 February 2016