Montenegro: New Twist in Sex Scandal

OSCE probe into human trafficking case implicating top officials could severely embarrass the authorities.

Montenegro: New Twist in Sex Scandal

OSCE probe into human trafficking case implicating top officials could severely embarrass the authorities.

Montenegro's government and judiciary might face humiliation at the hands of a visiting OSCE commission tasked with establishing the truth about a human-trafficking scandal.

The scandal involves a woman from Moldova who last November allegedly escaped from a brothel and took refuge in a safe house for battered women in Podgorica.

After doctors confirmed that she's been sexually abused, police on November 25 arrested the deputy state prosecutor, Zoran Piperovic and three other officials, Irfan Kurpejovic, Ekrem Jasavic and Barjam Orahovac, on suspicion of involvement in human trafficking.

Leaked reports of her statements in the media said the woman accused them of involvement in her incarceration. They also said she claimed that when she resisted her abusers, she was injected with drugs intravenously and raped.

After the four suspects denied knowing, or abusing, the woman, they were released on January 27, pending a final decision of the public prosecutor on whether to press charges.

To the dismay of local NGOs and officials from the US, the European Union, the OSCE and the Stability Pact, the senior state prosecutor, Zoran Radonjic, on May 20 controversially ruled there was not sufficient evidence to start legal proceedings.

After a public outcry, the OSCE commission was invited to Podgorica on July 22 to pass judgement.

Many observers believe the commission may condemn the prosecutor's decision, gravely embarrassing the courts and government.

The abused woman, known only as SC, left Montenegro on January 27. Her lawyer, Dragan Pelevic, said she had done so for health reasons, and that there was more than enough evidence to bring criminal charges against the suspects.

Meanwhile, Piperovic's counsel has argued that the woman's statement did not match statements from her employers, or other documents collected by the police. "The statements of some 30 interrogated witnesses flatly contradict this woman's fabricated story," the lawyer told the Podgorica daily Vijesti.

Jesavic's lawyer, Ljubisa Novakovic, told the same daily that the woman's statement was the only evidence against the suspects. He said he also objected to the work of the initial investigating judge, Ana Vukovic. The investigative court council had earlier rejected the state prosecutor's proposal to instigate further enquiries, insisting the evidence collected by Vukovic was sufficient to start a legal action.

Vukovic herself told Vijesti there was enough evidence to press charges against Piperovic, Kurpejovic, Jasavic, Orahovac and others. "This should have been settled in court," she said.

Public opinion has swung against the state prosecutor, amid suspicions of a cover-up. Many international organisations have also demanded that the case be reviewed and resolved in court.

Public pressure from the EU, the US and the Stability Pact explains why the government caved in to demands on July 16 to invite an OSCE commission to review the case.

An OSCE statement by Maurizio Massari, OSCE mission chief in Serbia and Montenegro on June 9, expressed concern about the case, which he said had been "closely monitored by the OSCE mission".

He said the current state of the legal process "raised the issue of the ability of the Montenegrin legal system to cope with the complexity of cases related to human trafficking".

The EU on June 6 expressed concern and asked the public prosecutor to reverse his decision.

The sharpest criticism came from the chair of the Stability Pact's commission against human trafficking, Helga Konrad. She told Vijesti that the prosecutor's decision cast a shadow over the reputation of the Montenegrin judiciary.

The US, one of Montenegro's biggest donors, said Washington was "disappointed that the chief prosecutor, after a long investigation process, closed the human trafficking case without bringing charges against the suspects".

Judicial opinion at home is overwhelmingly critical of the state prosecutor's actions - only the Montenegrin Bar Association and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists have come to his defence.

Marko Dakic, a former district court judge with 40 years of legal experience, told IWPR that the existence of contradictory evidence justified bringing the case to court. "Charges should have been filed and the trial chamber allowed to decide whether there were contradictory claims," he said.

Dakic said the mere existence of a witness like SC who had suffered obvious physical injuries sufficed to bring the case to court, "When a woman reported a rape, even without any witnesses or evidence except for light physical injuries, we still tried such cases. "

Another lawyer interviewed by IWPR, said Radonjic was unjustified in saying the case lacked sufficient evidence. "It's obvious that there was a crime," he said. "It was incredible that the chief prosecutor could cite a lack of evidence in this case." International law professor Nebojsa Vucinic said the arrival of the OSCE commission risked damaging Montenegro's image abroad. "We've shown the world we are unable to deal with such problems on our own," he said.

Most local NGOs have criticised the prosecutor. Group for Changes, an influential think-tank, in early June called for a trial to uncover the truth over the case and condemned the decision not to press charges.

Srdjan Darmanovic, head of the widely respected Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, also said the case needed a resolution in court.

Ljiljana Raicevic, head of the Safe Women's House, where SC took refuge, said she supported what she had seen of the woman's statement. Legal action should have been brought against "other people as well", she said, without naming them.

Curiously, Piperovic himself two weeks ago requested a criminal trial, saying the truth needed to be revealed in court.

The government, meanwhile, is feeling the heat. On June 28, Djukanovic complained on television of encountering direct international pressure over the case. He suggested the affair had a political dimension.

But in a separate statement, Djukanovic admitted the prosecutor's recent decision had brought into question the competence of the Montenegrin legal system to resolve such problems.

The OSCE commission will now have the final word on whether the prosecutor acted correctly. The reputation of Montenegrin judiciary hangs on its decision.

Boris Darmanovic is IWPR coordinating editor in Podgorica.

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