Montenegro President Accused of Abusing Pardons

Rights organizations have spotted a dramatic spike in the number of pardons issued by Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic every time general elections are scheduled – and some have demanded his resignation.

Filip Vujanovic 640x480

Montenegrin president Filip Vujanovic | Photo: www.predsjednik.me

Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic has been accused of abusing his authority and the law on pardons – and the prominent human rights watchdog, the Civic Alliance, on Thursday called for his resignation.

The organization reacted after Vujanovic last week pardoned the chauffeur of the Human Rights Minister, Edin Hamzic, who was earlier jailed for four months for replacing the license plates of the minister’s official vehicle with false ones.

The court in Podgorica gave him the minimal prescribed sentence, although the driver refused to tell the court who supplied him with the false license plates, and did not explain how Minister Suad Numanovic did not know about it.

In a high-profile case that hit the headlines in mid-2015, Hamzic claimed he changed the car plates to protect the minister from attacks after the minister took part in a Gay Pride Parade in the capital, Podgorica. But some claim that the driver took all the blame to protect Numanovic from ciminal proceedings. After the minimum jail sentence was followed by an amnesty issued by President Vujanovic, the Civic Alliance claimed a misuse of power had taken place.

“Vujanovic’s abuse of of the right to a pardon has hit the skies, and we think it is time to seek his resignation or launch a motion in parliament for his dismissal,” the organization director, Boris Raonic, told BIRN on Thursday.

According to the pardon law, only the head of the state may decide to award clemency. Civic Alliance data show that in the last four years, Vujanovic pardoned 483 people, more than all the pardons issued by all the other presidents in the the region together.

According to the Council of Europe in 2014, which evaluated 47 countries, Montenegro tops a world list of countries in terms of pardons along with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Austria and Georgia. The anti-corruption organization, MANS, has been urging the authorities to reveal the names of those Vujanovic has pardoned since 2006. It claimed that among those the President has pardoned since 2012 were close associates of Balkan drug trafficker Darko Saric and others sentenced for murder, beatings and torture of detainees, organized crime and corruption.

“The President gave pardons to persons from the criminal milieu and we have the statistics showing that, in 2012, when the last elections took place, the number of pardons increased by three or four times compared to the previous year and the years that followed,” Raonic said.

“Compared with the pardons issued by the Presidents of Serbia and Croatia, Montenegro has five times as many. The percentage of requests for clemency that Vujanovic has approved is higher than in the region, so we are clearly talking about concrete evidence of abuse,” he added.

Responding to the criticism, Vujanovic’s press office said that the driver was pardoned on the proposal of the Justice Ministry – the jail sentence having been replaced by a community work sentence of four months.

“Any decision on a pardon can be criticised. In this particular case there were reasons for replacing prison with public work,” the press office said.

Balkan Insight

29 April 2016