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news 01 Mar 16

Montenegro PM Urged to Dismiss Police Director

Montenegrin opposition and human rights groups demand the resignation of the chief of police after the arrest of officers suspected of removing key evidence in a corruption case.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
Photo: Montenegrin Police Directorate.

Opposition parties and some prominent NGOs have called on Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic to dismiss the director of police, Slavko Stojanovic, after the police accused the Special Prosecutor's Office of illegally ordering the arrest of senior police officers.

The deputy chair of parliament's Security Council, Snezana Jonica, on Monday said that if Djukanovic leaves the police chief in office it will show that Stojanovic's demand for the government to protect him from prosecution "is not just ignorance but his way of doing things".

Another opposition official, Sergej Sekulovic from the Civic Movement URA, claimed that prosecutors, police and judges linked to the ruling coalition had used cover-ups for years to obstruct corruption investigations.

"Obviously, the prosecution is finally having some measurable results, which seems to bother someone," Sekulovic told the media.

The opposition demand came after the conflict between the police and the Special Prosecution escalated on Sunday, when the head of the police department for the prevention of organized crime and corruption, Dalibor Medojevic, and one of its inspectors, Nikola Terzic, were both arrested.

They were held on suspicion of having been part of what the prosecution called an "organized criminal group", responsible for the disappearance of crucial evidence in a case against businessman Veselin Mujovic.

Mujovic is accused of having taken a 800,000 euro bribe from the former president of the former state of Serbia and Montenegro, Svetozar Marovic, to ensure the latter had favourable treatment in several corruption cases in which he is the prime suspect.

Marovic was arrested in December in connection to a long-running corruption case centring on his hometown of Budva, which reportedly lost the local budget 120 million euros.

The missing evidence relates to 13 letters that Mujovic sent to top state officials, including Djukanovic, which were taken from his home during a police search two weeks ago.

A few days later, the prosecution revealed that the police had not submitted the crucial letters along with other evidence.

The arrested police officers, Medojevic and Terzic, were responsible for collecting and preserving evidence in the case.

The Police Directorate insisted that the men were not responsible for the evidence going missing, however, and accused the Special Prosecution of ordering illegal arrests.

"The police have no knowledge nor any evidence that Medojevic and Terzic are members of criminal organizations. The Prosecutor's Office has also not presented any evidence that would point to suspicion that these two police officers committed the crime," the police said.

"If Medojevic and Terzic are not convicted of the crimes of which they have been accused, we will initiate a procedure to determine whether the Prosecutor's Office is responsible," they added.

Responding to the police statement, State Prosecutor Ivica Stankovic on Monday said the prosecution would not allow "any obstruction to its work to remain unpunished.

"The State Prosecutor's Office will not participate in a public debate with the police management but will respect the law under which the prosecution ... conducts investigations," Stankovic said.

Cooperation between the police and the Special Prosecution for Organized Crime and Corruption has been problematic for years, especially since the appointment of Chief Special Prosecutor Milovoje Katnic last May.

Katnic's election by parliament was supported by most opposition parties and welcomed by the EU, the US, the Council of Europe and foreign embassies in Podgorica.

It took place after the prosecution and police had been accused for years of unprofessional conduct and of not producing any results in the fight against political corruption.

Katnic said last week that he was the target of a "special war run by people who want to obstruct" his office’s investigations.

Katnic's office is currently conducting investigations into a number of high-profile cases in which mayors and senior state officials have been accused and arrested as well as Marovic.

All the suspects are members of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, which has held power in Montenegro since 1991.

In the meantime, several human rights organizations have urged the authorities to sack Stojanovic, who is thought to be close to Djukanovic, saying the conditions for his dismissal were in place even before the latest scandal.

The Civic Alliance, an NGO, said recent police activities showed "an inappropriate and unprecedented manifestation of ignorance and disrespect for the law", endangering the rule of law in the country.

The European Union has made a more effective fight against organized crime and corruption one of Montenegro’s seven key priorities if it wants to advance towards membership. Podgorica has been frequently urged to prosecute more high-profile corruption cases.

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