Montenegro: Killing of Policeman Revives Organised Crime Fears

Murder of a senior officer who was investigating a series of high-profile murders stirs fresh fears of crime gangs running amok.

Montenegro: Killing of Policeman Revives Organised Crime Fears

Murder of a senior officer who was investigating a series of high-profile murders stirs fresh fears of crime gangs running amok.

Friday, 9 September, 2005

The killing of high-ranking police officer Slavoljub Scekic, coming in the wake of several unsolved murders of leading figures over the last few years, has revived concerns about the government’s ability to tackle organised crime and raised questions about the country’s independence aspirations.

Opposition politicians have long maintained that the authorities’ failure to solve previous high-profile murders pointed to links between some officials and the Montenegrin mafia. And the murder of Scekic on August 30 has prompted them to bring their claims to the fore once again.

With a referendum on independence expected next spring, some civic leaders and members of governing parties fear that the Scekic killing will provide ammunition for those who have reservations about Montenegro’s readiness for statehood.

Scekic, who was working on a number of difficult and sensitive cases linked to organised crime, was gunned down in an ambush near his home in Podgorica. An unidentified gunman fired three bursts from a Heckler & Koch automatic pistol as he was getting out of his car in front of his house.

Police sources told Balkan Crisis Report, BCR, that Scekic was an experienced police operative who had handled enquiries into serious crimes, and had four complex files on incomplete investigations on his desk when he died.

Those concerned the killings of the Montenegrin president’s security advisor, Goran Zugic; chief of state security, Darko Beli Raspopovic; and the editor of the main opposition daily Dan, Dusko Jovanovic. The fourth dealt with a series of explosions at the construction site of an exclusive hotel, the Splendid, in the coastal resort of Becici.

Zugic, a close associate of Montenegro’s pro-independence prime minister, Milo Djukanovic, was shot to death in front of his apartment just over five years ago. Raspopovic and Jovanovic were gunned down in 2001 and 2004 respectively. The former was killed in broad daylight in the centre of Podgorica; the latter in front of the Dan building at around midnight. The Splendid hotel explosions occurred between May and July.

There have so far been no arrests in the Zugic and Raspapovic cases. Damir Mandic is being tried for the Jovanovic murder, but there are suspicions that others were involved. And police sources say Scekic had identified the perpetrators of the Splendid explosions - using the DNA analysis to arrest one man, Alen Kozar, in connection with the crime.

In interviews with the media, Scekic’s brother, Zoran, said, “Slavko told me he knew who was behind those crimes [the Zugic, Raspapovic and Jovanovic murders and the hotel attacks] and was ready to reveal everything and arrest those people. [But] He did not mention their names.”

Scekic’s sister, Slava, told the press that he was waiting for his superiors to give him the go ahead to arrest Jovanovic’s killers and their accomplices.

“He told me that he had completed the investigation, not only into the Jovanovic murder but also into the bombing of the Splendid hotel,” she said.

“He knew all the names but would not tell me for my own safety. He complained that he was not being allowed to reveal them in public.”

In the latest development in the Scekic case, investigative judge Hamid Ganjola ordered a police search of the Spuz prison outside Podgorica because he suspected that the police officer’s murder might have been ordered or coordinated by inmates. There have been reports that several of the prisoners were beaten up in the operation and that information corroborating Ganjola’s suspicions was discovered.

With the authorities preparing to stage a referendum on independence next year, politicians across the political spectrum are concerned the Scekic murder will underline the impression amongst some in the international community that Montenegro is unfit for statehood.

“The latest events in Montenegro will increase international reservations about Montenegro’s ability to be a state,” Nebojsa Medojevic, head of the influential NGO Group for Changes told BCR.

Medojevic, who supports Montenegro’s independence, said the Scekic killing would test the European and democratic commitment of the parties backing an independent Montenegro.

“They have to answer the question of whether they will be forming a state with drug dealers, killers, traffickers, pimps, thugs and thieves, or what kind of state it will be,” he said.

Krsto Pavicevic of the Civic Party, which is part of the ruling coalition and also backs separation from Serbia, says a sovereign state that appears lawless will mean little to citizens.

“The murder of Slavoljub Scekic is not a good sign for any state,” he told BCR. “The efficiency of the investigation will show whether Montenegro is a legal state or a state with high level of organised crime.”

In the meantime, public fears about the Montenegrin mafia are growing. “I want to see our statehood restored but I do fear whether we will be a state in which the underworld, not the government, has the final say,” one bank clerk told BCR.

The pro-Serbia opposition has predictably cited Scekic’s murder as further proof of the links between organised crime and members of the government.

“Montenegro is an anti-European and non-democratic state in which there are strong links between organised crime and parts of the authorities,” said Predrag Bulatovic, leader of the strongest opposition Socialist People’s Party, SNP.

“We can’t speak of a referendum when…political tension is rising, religious divisions are appearing, journalists are being killed and so are high-ranking police officers.”

A spokesman for the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, Predrag Sekulic insisted that the latest events would not have a negative effective on the referendum campaign. “Montenegro is a stable state and a safe area,” he said.

Djukanovic flatly denied the opposition’s claims, saying nothing ever happened in the republic without stirring accusations of secret links between organised crime and state structures. “I see these [claims] as completely irresponsible,” he said.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, is a localised IWPR project.

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