Montenegro: Italy Seeks Three High-Profile Arrests

Interpol warrants issued against three prominent figures, but extradition to Italy or trials in Montenegro look very unlikely.

Montenegro: Italy Seeks Three High-Profile Arrests

Interpol warrants issued against three prominent figures, but extradition to Italy or trials in Montenegro look very unlikely.

Italian police have issued international warrants for the arrest of three leading Montenegrins accused of involvement in an international cigarette smuggling ring, IWPR has learned. But few believe they will be brought to trial.

A source at Interpol's Italian office in Rome confirmed to IWPR on November 26 that arrest warrants had been issued for Veselin Barovic, Dusanka Jeknic and Branko Vujosevic. The source said the charges included money laundering and cigarette smuggling.

Vujosevic is former tobacco factory director in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica, and Barovic is a well-known businessman in the city. Jeknic is a former Montenegrin trade mission representative in Milan.

Montenegrin police confirmed that they had received warrants - but only two, against Vujosevic and Barovic. A source in Interpol's Belgrade office - which covers Montenegro as well as Serbia - said that the third warrant, against Jeknic, was now on its way to Podgorica.

The Interpol warrants are thought to have been prompted by long-running investigations by two Italian anti-mafia prosecutors, Giovanni Russo in Naples and Guiseppe Scelsi in Bari, into the role allegedly played by senior Montenegrins in the cigarette smuggling trade which thrived during the Nineties.

Specifically, analysts in the Balkans believe that the warrants are linked with a formal arrest request document issued by a Naples investigating judge, which was made public on June 30. That document lists 11 Italians and four Montenegrins - including Barovic, Jeknic, Vujosevic and the current prime minister, Milo Djukanovic.

It alleges that the 15 were responsible for "forming, directing and organising a smuggling network trafficking foreign cigarettes into, through and out of Montenegro".

The investigating judge, Anna Di Mauro, decided not to issue a warrant for Djukanovic's detention because he may be able to claim immunity because of his political position.

When news of the Naples document broke, Djukanovic firmly rejected the suggestion that he was in any way involved. Barovic and Jeknic were also vehement in denying that there was any truth in the allegations against them. As far as IWPR is aware, Vujosevic did not comment at the time.

After learning of the Interpol warrants, IWPR repeatedly attempted to contact Barovic, Vujosevic and Jeknic, but their phones did not respond and appeared to be switched off. Vujosevic had earlier refused to comment to local media about the Interpol request.

Police and legal experts in Serbia and Montenegro agree that the likelihood of the three facing and Italian or Montenegrin court are slim, for both legal and political reasons.

An IWPR source from the central Interpol office in Belgrade confirmed on 26 November that Interpol had served the Serbia and Montenegro authorities with "red notices", which are used in cases where extradition is to be sought.

However, the Constitution of Serbia and Montenegro forbids the extradition of its citizens to other states, with the Hague war crimes tribunal the only exception.

The Interpol source in Belgrade said that the next step was for Montenegrin police to confirm the citizenship of those wanted on the red notice. IWPR understands that Barovic, Vujosevic and Jeknic are all nationals of Serbia and Montenegro.

If extradition to Italy is not an option, the only way that legal proceedings can take place is if Montenegrin police and judicial authorities receive details of the charges and evidence from their Italian counterparts, and then decide whether to file criminal charges locally.

Mihailo Pejovic, who is chief of the criminology department in the Montenegrin police, told IWPR that at the moment the police are "under no obligation to interrogate or arrest the two indictees [Barovic and Vujosevic]. Only when we receive evidence that they have committed a criminal act can we arrest them, if this evidence is valid."

He said the police were now waiting to hear whether criminal charges had been brought against the two in Italy, and if so, what the basis was for such charges. He indicated that Montenegro would not actively seek this information from the Italians, but would wait for it to be supplied.

"If criminal charges can be tried under our local legislation, we will press charges against them," he said.

Svetozar Jovicevic, the deputy head of the Group for Changes, a leading non-government think-tank in Montenegro, is in no doubt that Italian prosecutors will deliver the relevant information about the Barovic and Vujosevic cases, although he warned that such procedures could be lengthy.

But even if the Montenegrin authorities obtain this material, Jovicevic thinks it is unlikely that "local courts could adequately deal with such a case".

Barovic and Vujosevic are seen as powerful figures in Montenegro, and together with Jeknic are reported to have been close associates of Djukanovic.

Balkan analysts say Montenegro's judiciary has a poor record of dealing with high-profile and controversial cases that also have political ramifications.

There is some evidence to support that claim. A recent case in which a Moldovan woman accused senior Montenegrin officials of involvement in human trafficking and other abuses collapsed in May this year, when - despite extensive testimony given by the woman and detailed medical reports - criminal proceedings were shelved, officially because of lack of evidence. The international community - including legal experts at the Council of Europe, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe - criticised both police and judiciary for their handling of the case. The investigating judge, Ana Vukovic, has claimed that she was harassed by the state security service because of the case.

Although the government has since said that there might be a re-trial, the strong impression that the case collapsed under political pressure has tarnished the judiciary as an independent institution.

An IWPR source close to the Montenegrin police, who asked not to be named, said that Italian prosecutors had two options - to pass evidence to local prosecutors and then see whether they are prepared to press charges, or to sit tight in the hope that their suspects travel outside the Serbia and Montenegro state union so that they can be arrested elsewhere. The Interpol source in Belgrade confirmed that the latter was a possibility, saying,"If they put so much as a toe outside Montenegro - going to Croatia or Bosnia - they will be arrested."

Whatever the outcome, the case - driven by Italian prosecutors apparently determined to pursue their investigations into cross-border trafficking - is unlikely to die down, and will remain an embarrassment to the already tarnished Montenegrin state.

"This case will contribute to the negative international image of Montenegro," said Jovicevic.

He says Montenegro has a record of crimes that were connected directly or indirectly with the authorities - and that is "very worrying".

Dragana Nikolic-Solomon is IWPR Country Director for Serbia and Montenegro, Boris Darmanovic is IWPR Project Manager in Podgorica, and Hugh Griffiths is an investigations coordinator with IWPR.

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