Italy’s anti-mafia prosecutor has announced that the indictment against recently resigned Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic could now be reopened due to his loss of diplomatic immunity.
Prosecutor Giuseppe Scelsi from the Italian city of Bari told local media that even though the crime of which Djukanovic is accused took place 10 years ago, the statute of limitations has not expired. However, observers tend to agree with Djukanovic’s lawyers who claim that the prosecution has no new evidence in the case.
On 14 January this year, the Bari court was scheduled to continue to the trial of eight people from Italy, Montenegro and Serbia charged with involvement in a massive cigarette smuggling ring. The trial, however, was postponed to late March, as one of the indictees’ is Stanko Subotic, Djukanovic’s close associate, and investigators required more time to look into the activities of companies owned by Subotic.
Djukanovic resigned in late December, with the announcement coming only several days after the European Union formally promoted Montenegro to Candidate Member status.
Praising Montenegro’s achievements, the European Commission has given Montenegro a list of tasks to be completed before the start of accession talks, underlining that the country should particularly work on issues “related to the rule of law”.
Montenegro still needs to intensify its efforts to consolidate rule of law, in particular in the fight against corruption and organized crime, which remain serious problems. For years now, regional and international media have linked Djukanovic with some criminal groups in the country, while Djukanovic himself has been the subject of organized crime investigations.
Djukanovic will remain the leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Montenegro (DPS) for at least two more years, and it is believed that his successor to the premiership will be Finance Minister Igor Luksic, one of his closest associates. Some observers believe Djukanovic is stepping down now because of the corruption probes being pushed by the EU – probes that are likely to target his inner circle.
Initially, prosecutor Scelsi accused Djukanovic of “having promoted, run, set up, and participated in a mafia-type association.
In 2008, Djukanovic made a visit to the Prosecutor’s Office in Bari to discuss the charges against him. However, in April 2009, prosecutors dropped the case against him because of his immunity from prosecution as prime minister.
Italian prosecutors alleged that Montenegro was the main operational base for smuggling in the Mediterranean, a place where a great number of fugitive criminals set up shop to trade cigarettes as well as drugs and arms.
In 2001, a special commission set up by the Italian Parliament released a 130-page report focused on Montenegro and the mafia. For years, the mafia had moved mountains of contraband cigarettes through the ports and warehouses in Albania, but these had become unreliable due to the Balkan war. By the mid-1990s, Montenegro had taken over the illicit trade, and was pouring billions of untaxed cigarettes into Italy.
According to the Italian indictment, from 1994 to 2002, during Djukanovic’s long tenure, Montenegro was a haven for cigarette smuggling by two of Italy’s mafia syndicates: the Neapolitan mafia, known as the Camorra; and the crime family of the Apulia region, the Sacra Corona Unita. Both syndicates set up shop in Montenegro.
According to court records, during those eight years an extraordinary one billion cigarettes per month, 100,000 cases, were smuggled out of Montenegro. Once in Italy, the untaxed cigarettes were sold by the mafia on the black market.