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news 01 Jun 16

Montenegro Tightens Arms Exports Laws to Meet EU Rules

Montenegro has tightened restrictions on the arms trade to comply with tough EU demands - and to prevent sold weapons from ending up in conflict zones around the world.

Dusica Tomovic
The EU has told Montenegro to harmonize its legislation on the arms trade. Photo: Pixabay.

Legislation to tighten controls on arms exports will be brought before the Montenegrin parliament this week and is expected to gain majority support.

The proposed law on arms and military goods export will regulate the arms trade and brokering in Montenegro and will introduce controls on the sale of technical help, software and other technology that could be used for military purposes.

It will also give government officials the power to inspect and audit companies involved in exporting military goods or "dual use" products.

With a history of non-transparent arms deals and following accusations of making illegal arms sales to Libya and Syria, Montenegro has to tighten its law in this field as as part of the accession negotiations with the EU in the arena of rule of law and security.

EU representatives have told Montenegro to harmonize its legislation on the arms trade to match the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Export, which defines common rules on the exports of military technology and equipment.

According to the government's explanation sent to the parliament, which BIRN has seen, Montenegro is committed to further monitoring the end users of weapons and other military goods, and must respect embargos imposed by the UN, OSCE and the EU.

"As the list of countries of individuals (such as terrorist groups and terrorists) which are embargoed is subject to constant change, the greatest attention should be paid to recent developments," the government document reads.

"The end user represents the essential question; if equipment is intended for police or other secutiry forces, it is important to determine to which of these forces the arms will be delivered," the government said.

Goran Scepanovic, a senior official of the Economy Ministry, the state body which is responsible for issuing licenses for arms sales, said that the primary goal was to harmonize the rules with EU regulations.

He told BIRN that the new regulations will simplify the conditions under which non-commercial imports and exports can be done, for exhibitions at trade shows, sports activities, training or testing purpose.

"The criteria and responsibilities of all state authorities when issuing approvals for the arms trade are more clearly defined, as are exemptions for issuing permits to members of the defence forces of other countries, for participation in peacekeeping missions, emergency situation or when it comes to donations," Scepanovic said.

He explained that the Economy Ministry will now be involved in the procedure of issuing approvals for the transit of weapons through Montenegro, which has not been the case till now.

The government has also explained that, under the new law, the types of weapons and military equipment proposed for sale will influence the decision on whether some companies get export permits.

"Consideration should be given to whether the equipment or technology to be exported is directly or indirectly linked to tensions and conflicts in the final destination country," the government's explanation reads.

Over the past few years Montenegro was often mentioned in the context of illegal arms exports to conflict-affected areas.

According to the 2015 Ministry of Economy report, 37 companies are registered to trade in controlled goods in Montenegro and 187 export-import licences were issued last year.

The largest arms importer-exporter is the Montenegro Defence Industry, MDI. The former state-owned company was sold to to the Belgrade-based CPR Impex and Israel's ATL Atlantic Technology Ltd for 680,000 euro in 2015.  

In 2009 and 2012, the MDI was accused of illegally exporting arms to Libya and Syria. The company denied the claims.

In May 2015, the anti-corruption watchdog MANS filed criminal charges against Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic following an investigation by BIRN into the sale of the arms exporter.

The BIRN investigation revealed that the government sold the firm to a consortium linked to Belgian businessmen Serge Muller, a figure embroiled in criminal investigations into drug smuggling, money laundering and arms trafficking.

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