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news 25 Nov 16

Montenegro Opposition Slam Coup Plotter’s ‘Witness’ Status in Court

Legal experts and Montenegro’s opposition parties have criticised a court’s decision to grant "protected witness" status to Aleksandar Sindjelic, the main suspect in a plot to kill Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
 
 Aleksandar Sindjelic. Photo: Facebook.

In a statement released Thursday Montenegro’s opposition — made up of a coalition of parties — slammed the court’s decision and said that proved that the alleged "coup" was staged by the authorities to ensure Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, won the October 16 general election.

"By releasing the former terrorist Sindjelic, all the masks have finally dropped in that cheap, staged and performed vaudeville 'coup' on election day on October 16. It is all clear now," the main opposition Democratic Front said on Thursday.

Adding to the controversy over the alleged October coup attempt, the High Court in Podgorica has granted on Wednesday witness status to Aleksandar Sindjelic, the main suspect in the case, in exchange for his testimony.

Sindjelic was freed on Wednesday and reportedly escorted by police from prison in Spuz, near the capital, Podgorica.

Media outlets, citing unconfirmed sources from the police, said he had now left Montenegro and is back in Serbia.

Sindjelic had been in detention since November 1 when he agreed to cooperate with the prosecution in exchange for witness status in the case.

He reportedly came voluntarily to Montenegro where he told police that he was hired to undertake several terrorist attacks in the country. He also gave them the name of the persons who hired him.

Montenegro's Special Prosecutor for Organised Crime, Milivoje Katnic, has said that "a powerful organisation" comprising as many as 500 people from Russia, Serbia and Montenegro was behind the plot.

The opposition, however, accused the prosecution of fabricating claims that Russian and Serbian nationalists plotted a coup to discredit them.

Several legal experts had claimed that Sindjelic could not be granted witness status as he was the main suspect in the case.

However, after Sindjelic agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, his suspected offence was changed from terrorism to "aiding and organizing a criminal ring".

The court said it issued this decision after assessing that his testimony "will significantly contribute to proving the criminal offences and that the significance of his testimony outweighs the harmful consequences of the offence with which he was charged".

Sindelic was one of 20 Serbian citizens, including a former Serbian police general, Bratislav Dikic, to be arrested in Montenegro on October 16 in connection with the alleged plot.

Their apparent motive was to assassinate the Prime Minister in a coup that would then bring the pro-Russian opposition to power.

The Montenegrin authorities have also alleged Russian involvement. On November 18, the Special Prosecution for Organized Crime released the names of two Russians - Eduard Shirokov and Vladimir Popov - who it accused of organizing a group to carry out the plot.

Sindelic has reportedly testified that he was drawn into the plot by "two nationalists from Russia" that he met while fighting alongside Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

According to the investigation, leaked to the media, Sindjelic received 200,000 euros from the Russians and distributed the cash to other members of the criminal group. The prosecution said Dikic received 15,000 euros.

In addition, Sindjelic was responsible for recruiting other members of the organisation, transferring money between the organisers and members of the group, providing weapons and phones, and buying police equipment, uniforms, shields, batons, body armour, tear gas, gas masks and other equipment to be used by the group during the attack.

Following harsh words about him in the Montenegrin media, the Association of Prosecutors stood behind Chief Special Prosecutor Katnic on Tuesday, saying he had demonstrated his professional qualities as a lawyer over decades of experience.

"The public has the right to doubt, no one disputes that, but the Association of State Prosecutors of Montenegro denies their right to insult Chief Special Prosecutor Katnic," the association said.

Meanwhile, a video recording posted by Radio Free Europe suggested Sindjelic may have helped send fellow Serbian paramilitaries to Crimea to support Russia's seizure of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

In the recording of a video call from March 2015, Sindjelic, as head of the "Serbian Wolves" organization, said he had ties with the Russian Defence Ministry and discussed the fate of another nationalist, Bratislav Zivkovic.

According to Ukraine portal Krym.Realii, Sindjelic was the founder of the "Serbian Wolves" and approved candidates from among Serbian "volunteers" who wished to participate in the Russian operation in Crimea.

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