Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Montenegro’s special prosecutor accused of shielding government officials from corruption probe

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Montenegro’s State Prosecutor, Zivko Savovic, on Monday accused the Special State Prosecutor, Milivoje Katnic, of illegal acts during investigations into former ruling party officials.

At a press conference, Savovic said Katnic had stopped an investigation into former transport minister Ivan Brajovic, who had been accused of corruption in connection with the Bar-Boljare highway project.

“I asked Katnic about the charges against Brajovic. He told me: ‘We won’t do an investigation now into unscrupulous work …’ I told him the case should be submitted to the Basic State Prosecutor’s Office. He asked us to carry out expertise, which has not happened yet,” Savovic said.

In March 2019, the prominent NGO MANS filed criminal charges against Brajovic, accusing him of losing the state budget about 134 million euros because he failed to put the Smokovac crossroad into the project concluded with the highway’s investor, the China Road and Bridge Corporation, CRBC.

The Bar-Boljare highway represents the Montenegrin leg of a larger highway that will run from the Adriatic coast to the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

Savovic also accused Katnic of conducting secret surveillance of prosecutors and former opposition Democratic Montenegro politicians.

On February 3, he submitted a complaint to the Supreme Prosecutors Office, calling on them to investigate the Special Prosecutor’s work in the “coup plot” trial, and saying he had discovered illegal acts there as well.

Sixty-four-old Katnic was appointed Special State Prosecutors for his first mandate in 2015, and reelected in June 2020.

He is highly unpopular with the former opposition for his role in securing guilty verdicts for 13 people – including two opposition leaders – accused of plotting to overthrow the previous government led by the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, in October 2016.

He filed an indictment against two leaders of the then opposition Democratic Front leaders, Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, for staging an attempted coup.

In a first-instance verdict in May 2019, the Higher Court sentenced 13 people, including Mandic, Knezevic, two Russian military intelligence officers and eight Serbian nationals to up to 15 years in prison.

However, in parliamentary elections held in August last year, three opposition blocs won a slender majority of 41 of the 81 seats in parliament, ousting the DPS, which had ruled Montenegro since the early 1990s.

On February 3 this year, the new majority proposed a Law on the Prosecution for Organised Crime and Corruption that would open the way to dismiss Katnic – adding that a new prosecutorial office was needed to improve the fight against widespread corruption in the country.

Soon after, on February 5, the Appeal Court annulled the first-instance verdicts issued in the “coup” trial, asking the Higher Court to repeat the trial. The convicted former opposition leaders claimed the original trial was politically led from start to finish.

On February 12, the Special Prosecutors’ office published surveillance transcripts of two Democratic Montenegro officials, Dragan Krapovic and Boris Bogdanovic, in which they supposedly negotiated about sponsoring an educational trip for Savovic’s son.

The two Democratic Montenegro officials have denied these claims, accusing Katnic of trying to put political pressure on the new majority in parliament.

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