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news 19 Jul 17

'Russian Coup Plot' Trial to Open in Montenegro

The trial of two Montenegrin opposition leaders and 12 others over an alleged coup attempt starts on Wednesday, but two Russian military intelligence officers who are also accused are still at large.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
One of the leaders of the opposition Democratic Front, Andrija Mandic, said the alleged plot was staged. Photo: nova.org.

What is being called the ‘trial of the century’ in Montenegro is scheduled to open on Wednesday as two opposition leaders face terrorism charges over their role in an alleged Russian-backed coup plot.

The two opposition leaders, Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic from the strongest opposition alliance, the Democratic Front, said they are facing a politically-motivated prosecution over the alleged attempt to overthrow the government on election day last October.

Both 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.

The prosecution has indicted 14 people, including two Russians charged with masterminding the coup attempt, allegedly aimed at preventing Montenegro from joining NATO.

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, a court statement said.

Mandic, one of the leaders of the Democratic Front, said the alleged plot was staged to discredit his party and denied any criminal wrongdoing.

The other indicted politician, Milan Knezevic, has claimed that the indictees are being sacrificed for political purposes.

"Now we can only ask about the jail term as we have already been convicted... This is a political indictment and a political process," Knezevic told reporters. 

“They decided to offer us as the gift on the altar of NATO integration," he added.

The trial on Wednesday, which is to continue on Thursday and Friday, will be broadcast live.

This is the first time that cameras have been allowed in courtrooms in Montenegro.

The trial opening was overshadowed on Tuesday by the release of a transcript of private conversations between the accused politicians and their lawyer Goran Rodic.

The Special Prosecution published the transcript after the lawyer's phone was seized in another case.

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

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

The Bar Association in Montenegro reacted by saying that prosecution’s actions were unacceptable. 

In April this year, the Special Prosecutor for Organised Crime, Milivoje Katnic, filed an indictment against 14 other people, including nine Serbian citizens, accusing them of having played roles in the alleged coup plot during the October election. 

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

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

Special Prosecutor Katnic has said that “Russian state bodies” were involved in the alleged coup attempt.

However, Russia has denied involvement in the alleged plot, although Moscow has supported 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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