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news 25 Oct 17

Key Witness in Montenegro ‘Coup’ Trial to Testify

The most anticipated hearing in the coup trial in Montenegro is set for Wednesday when the main witness in the alleged Russian-backed plot is expected to give his version of the last year's incident.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
Aleksandar (Sasa) Sindjelic, the key witness in the coup trial. Photo: Facebook.

A key witness in the trial for the alleged election-day coup plot in Montenegro, Sasa Sindjelic, is expected to give evidence before the court in Podgorica on Wednesday - his first public appearance since the launch of the case, which has been shadowed by conspiracy theories.

Sindjelic will appear at a hearing that will be broadcast live by various TV stations in the country after being held in a secret location under police protection since last November.

According to the prosecution, Sindjelic is the only person who had a direct contact and communication with two Russians - Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, both believed to be military intelligence officers - who have been accused of being the masterminds behind the alleged coup plot.

The witness is also expected to address the controversy over his first name and to clarify whether he is called Aleksandar Sindjelic, as stated in all official prosecution documents, or Sasa Sindjelic, as his defence lawyers insist - a man who was convicted of murder in Croatia in 2001.

Ahead of his testimony, the Higher Court in Podgorica confirmed that Sindjelic could faces extradition to Croatia, where he is wanted to serve a 20-year prison sentence.

Aafter the hearing this week, Sindjelic could be placed in extradition detention, repoirts have suggested.

“We cannot precise if or when he could be extradited to Croatia,” the court said on Friday.

Sindjelic 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 then Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in a coup that would then bring the pro-Russian opposition to power.

In an unexpected twist, after Sindjelic was accused by the Montenegrin prosecution of being one of the main people in the criminal gang that was behind the coup, he was given protected witness status last November.

According to the investigators, whose findings were leaked to the media, Sindjelic received 200,000 euros from the Russians and distributed the cash to other members of the criminal group tasked with staging the coup.

They also alleged that 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 in the attack.

For months, legal experts and Montenegro’s opposition parties have criticised the court’s decision to grant protected witness status to Sindjelic.

The opposition has alleged that Sindjelic was tasked by the prosecution with framing others.

It has also accused the prosecution of fabricating claims that Russian and Serbian nationalists plotted a coup to discredit the oppositon.

Several legal experts have also claimed that Sindjelic could not be granted witness status as he was the main suspect in the case, which is classified as an "attempted terror attack".

Meanwhile, a video recording made public 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 from March 2015, Sindjelic, as head of the ‘Serbian Wolves’ organisation, said he had ties with the Russian Defence Ministry.

According to the Radio Free Europe’s Krym.Realii website, 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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