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NEWS 21 Mar 17

Montenegro Probes Controversial Saudi Arms Sales

The special prosecution for organised crime is investigating the country’s main arms exporter over suspicions that arms it sold to Saudi Arabia have ended up elsewhere.

Dusica Tomovic

Montenegro’s special prosecution for organised crime and corruption is probing the exports of the Montenegro Defence Industry’s, MDI, the country’s main arms trader deals since 2011, including alleged trading with Libya, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia, BIRN has learned.

The prosecution is checking the credibility of the end-user certificates, the documents that are designed to prove that equipment or arms have reached the designated purchaser, not another country or entity, especially one that is under an international arms embargo.

The MDI’s director, Zoran Damjanovic, denied any wrongdoing in the arms export deals.

“We did not do anything illegal and I’m not aware of any investigation. No one has contacted us so far,“ Damjanovic said.

Montenegro Still Selling Arms to Saudi Arabia

According to the UN Comtrade database, which BIRN has obtained, Montenegro continued to export weapons to Saudi Arabia in 2016.

The data showed that Montenegro sold 1,040,986 US dollars’ worth of arms and ammunition to Saudi Arabia last year. The data said that the total amount of the sold weapons was 132 tonnes.

Overall 2016 exports to Saudi Arabia were down compared to 2015. Montenegro sold more than four million dollars worth of weapons to the Saudis that year.

Between August 2015 and May 2016, Montenegro sold Saudi Arabia 32 tonnes of anti-tank weapons and 250 tonnes of ammunition, including mortar shells and bullets for anti-aircraft guns.

The shipment included 10,000 Yugoslav-era Zolja anti-tank rocket launchers, 56 mortars and nearly 500,000 mortar shells and other ammunition.

He said that MDI would continue to export weapons to Saudi Arabia, pointing also to billions of euros worth of arms exports to the Gulf kingdom from the US and UK in recent years.

When BIRN asked the prosecution about the probe it was conducting, it neither confirmed nor denied that it was probing the MDI, saying it cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.

Two sources from the government confirmed to BIRN that the probe into the MDI’s export deals was launched after an opposition MP Nebojsa Medojevic in October 2016 accused the government and the MDI of exporting arms to Libya and Syria in violation of the UN arms embargo.

The government rejected the claims. Last October, it filed a criminal complaint against Medojevic, alleging false accusation.

However, On January 13, Medojevic testified before the prosecutor for organised crime concerning his information about the weapons’ exports in his capacity as a citizen, not as a suspect.

Medojevic claimed that Montenegro was being used to smuggle weapons to militant organisations in the Middle East.

“I am pleased that the prosecution is finally launching a procedure which the investigative media have pointed out for years,” Medojevic.  

Suspicions about some of the sales by the Montenegro Defence Industry’s, MDI, were raised further in summer 2016 after a BIRN investigation revealed that the MDI had sold almost 300 tonnes of ageing Yugoslav-era weapons and ammunition to Saudi Arabia.

These suspicions centred on the fact that the vastly wealthy Gulf kingdom was unlikely to have any military need itself for Montenegro’s ageing surplus arms and ammunition.

Arms experts told BIRN that equipment of the kind that the MDI was selling was unlikely to be destined for Saudi Arabia’s own use, and was likely being diverted to Syria and, to a lesser extent, to Libya or Yemen [where Iran and Saudi-backed factions are fighting a civil war].

Meanwhile, the latest data showed that the MDI bought another almost 1.3 million euros’ worth of surplus ammunition under a Defence Ministry tender during 2016, three times less compared to previous years.

A 2016 Defence Ministry report which BIRN has seen, showed the MDI purchased 872 pieces of TMRP-6 mines, 40,000 pieces of 82 mm mortar shells and 270 pieces of 9M14P1 rockets.

In 2015, the MDI bought 3.2 million euros’ worth of the 4.5 million euros’ worth of equipment that the ministry auctioned off that year.

The formerly state-owned company was sold in February 2015 to a consortium of two companies, Israel’s ATL Atlantic Technology and Serbia’s CPR Impex.

ATL Atlantic Technology is linked to Serge Muller, a Belgian-Israeli businessman with a history of dealing in arms and diamonds in Liberia.

Muller was arrested in Montenegro in March 2015 on a Belgium-issued Interpol Red Notice only hours after leaving the MDI privatisation ceremony in the capital, Podgorica.

After eight months spent in detention in Montenegro, he was extradited to Antwerp, Belgium, to face charges of drug smuggling and money laundering, which he denies.

He is still under detention and his trial is ongoing before the courts in Belgium.

The privatisation of the MDI prompted MANS, a non-governmental organisation based in Podgorica, to file a criminal complaint in May 2015, seeking an investigation into suspected violations of laws and procedures.

MDI remains Montenegro’s biggest arms exporter and is mainly involved in selling on the country’s military stockpiles to international buyers.

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