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news 19 Jul 17

Montenegro's 'Trial of the Century' Put on Hold

The Montenegrin coup trial faces a delay after defence lawyers filed a motion demanding the replacement of the special prosecution - following its release of phone conversations between two of the accused and one of their lawyers.

Dusica Tomovic
Lawyer Miroje Jovanovic filed the defence motion to replace the proisecutior in the coup case. Photo: BIRN.

What has been widely called the "trial of the century" in Montenegro, over last year's allege coup plot, was postponed on Wednesday after defence lawyers filed a motion to replace Special Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic and other prosecutors in the case.

On Tuesday, the Special Prosecution released a transcript of private conversations between the opposition politicians accused in the coup case and their lawyer, Goran Rodic.

The Special Prosecution published the transcript after Rodic's phone was seized in another case, which the Bar Association in Montenegro and legal experts called “unacceptable and dangerous".

Defence lawyer Miroje Jovanovic, representing the leaders of the opposition Democratic Front – Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic – said that they had requested the exclusion of prosecutors because of the “scandalous behaviour of Special Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic," and the release of the transcripts in particular.

“The case is totally contaminated by this act," Jovanovic told the court.

Concerning the released transcripts, the prosecution accused Rodic and the Democratic Front's leaders of waging a “war” against the Special State Prosecutor's Office and of attempting to undermine the investigation.

It said that it was now releasing “part of the material received from mobile phones used by lawyer G.R ”in order to provide “objective information” to the public.

Fourteen suspects, including Mandic and Knezevic, are expected to go on trial after the Supreme State Prosecution decides on the lawyers’ request.

Authorities say the accused were involved in an attempt to overthrow the pro-Western government of Montenegro last October, partly with a view to preventing it from proceeding with plans to join NATO.

The politicians are charged with "criminal association" with a view to "committing terrorist acts" and undermining the constitutional order, and face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty.

Two Russian nationals, Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, who will be tried in absentia, have been indicted for various criminal offences, terrorism and acts against the constitutional order of Montenegro.

Other indictees include Bratislav Dikic, the former commander of an elite Serbian police unit, the Gendarmerie, who was arrested in Montenegro on October 16.

However, the indictment, which runs to about 100 pages, does not directly link the Montenegrin politicians to the two Russians accused of organising the plot.

The prosecution has said it believes that “Russian state bodies” were involved in the alleged coup attempt.

Russia has denied involvement in the alleged plot, although Moscow supports the Democratic Front and other opposition groups which oppose NATO membership and champion closer ties to the Kremlin.

Russia strongly objected to Montenegro joining NATO, and threatened unspecified retaliation after the country became a member of the Western military alliance last week.

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