Montenegro Probes Investigative Reporter for Drug Trafficking

Montenegrin investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic, work has exposed crime networks, war criminals and the Pink Panthers jewel thieves gang, is facing indictment for allegedly aiding a drug-trafficking gang.


The Montenegrin special prosecution is expected to decide next week whether to indict journalist Jovo Martinovic despite appeals from media watchdogs who argue that the authorities should consider his journalistic work as a possible explanation for his alleged contacts with drug traffickers.

Martinovic, who has worked as a contributing reporter for international media includingThe Economist, Newsday, the Global Post, the Financial Times and BIRN, has been in custody since October 22, 2015, on suspicion of involvement in a drug-trafficking scheme. Martinovic, whose six-month custody remand is due to expire on April 22, was arrested alongside 17 other people from Montenegro in a joint operation with Croatian police.
They are suspected of membership of a criminal organization and drug trafficking.

Montenegro nationalist, Dusko Martinovic, a former member of an international group of jewel thieves known as the Pink Panthers, is suspected of being the mastermind of the crime gang. During the operation, police staged raids in several towns in Montenegro and Croatia, seizing 3.5 kilogrammes of cocaine, 1.5 kilos of herion and 21 kilogrammes of marijuana. Criminal charges were filed against a total of 29 people.

According to the prosecution’s request for an investigation, which BIRN has seen, the 42-year-old reporter is suspected of “mediating in the setting up of a criminal group for drug smuggling”. Martinovic has insisted he is not guilty, saying that his contact with the other suspects was linked to his journalistic work. His family and lawyer said they did not want to comment on details of the case until the prosecution decides whether to indict him next week. Over the last 15 years, Martinovic has worked on a several high-profile journalistic research projects which have been published in the some of the world’s most influential media, exposing war crimes and organised crime across the Balkans.
But the authorities in Montenegro insist that his arrest was not related to his work as a reporter.

Martinovic’s work often brought him into contact with criminals including the main suspect in the drug case, former ‘Pink Panther’ Dusko Martinovic, who was also arrested in the same raid in October.
Over the last ten years, Martinovic has worked on several investigations into the Pink Panthers gang, most of whose members come from the former Yugoslavia. Some 60 Montenegrin nationals were suspected of belonging to the crime network, which reportedly involved a total of 800 people who were directly or indirectly linked to 370 robberies in 35 states. Martinovic worked as an associate producer for the 2013 documentary about the gang,Smash and Grab. He worked also with the Vice media group on the production of a 2014 documentary series about the Pink Panthers and closely cooperated with Dusko Martinovic, who was one of the leading interviews in the series.

Another suspect in the drug-smuggling case, Namik Selmanovic, is believed to be an extra in the Vice series.

During 2015, Martinovic continued his contacts with former ‘Panther’ Dusko Martinovic, acting as a local producer for a planned Hollywood film about his life. At the time of his arrest, Martinovic was working as a fixer with the French production company, CAPA Presse, which had hired him to do background research and find sources for a documentary called La Route de la Kalashnikov. The documentary, which aired on the French television station Canal Plus in January, exposed illegal smuggling of weapons from the Balkans into Western Europe.
Another suspect in the drug case, Namik Selmanovic, worked with Martinovic after being hired by the French production as a fixer on the Kalashnikov film. According to prosecution documents, which BIRN has seen, at the time of the arrests, Selmanovic was at large and could not be found by the Montenegrin authorities.

CAPA Presse sent a letter to the Montenegrin prosecution in January, expressing deep concern over Martinovic’s continuing detention. The letter confirmed that he was working for the company at the time of his arrest on the arms trafficking documentary, and had also worked on its film about the Pink Panthers gang.

The OSCE’s media freedom representative, Dunja Mijatovic said she wrote to Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic about Martinovic and got a reply that also said he was not detained over his journalistic activities.
“The letter [from Djukanovic] states that the charges against Martinovic are not related to his work as a journalist,” Mijatovic said a report to the OSCE Permanent Council last month.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists told BIRN on Thursday that it had written to the Montenegrin special prosecutor for organised crime, which is in charge of the case, to call for Martinovic’s release, and expressed “deep worry about Martinovic’s prolonged and continued detention”.

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Balkan Insight

15 April 2016