Djukanovic Indicted; Avoids Trial

Published: 09 October 2008

By Beth

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Đukanović’s name was nowhere to be seen last week when Italian prosecutors filed charges in a tobacco-smuggling case that named seven Serbian and Montenegrin nationals, including several of Đukanović’s close associates.

The reason is his position, according to an Italian prosecutor, who said he was one of those indicted.

Giuseppe Scelsi, the Bari prosecutor, said, "Đukanović was indicted, but due to the fact that he is covered by diplomatic immunity, he will not stand trial".

The indictment, at least six years in the making, was filed by the District Anti-Mafia Department in Bari. The seven men, along with seven Italians, are charged with involvement in smuggling cigarettes between Montenegro and the Italian province of Puglia from 1994 to 2002. The suspects are also charged with aiding negotiations between the Montenegrin mafia and a Puglia crime group over control of the smuggling operations.

Earlier Đukanović Arrest Deflected by Court

Italian prosecutors have long eyed Đukanović, the longest-surviving former Yugoslav leader, currently serving his third stint as Montenegro’s prime minister. Except for a brief recent break, he has served as either Montenegro’s prime minister or president since 1991. A Naples prosecutor in 2002 first requested an arrest warrant against Đukanović, claiming he oversaw  Montenegro-Italy cigarette smuggling, but the next year an Italian judge ruled that Đukanović had sovereign immunity as a head of state.

Allegations contained in the Naples investigation and reported by the press outlined a scheme of government involvement in moving cigarettes across the Adriatic Sea: Montenegrin government officials would affix false documentation to Western-brand cigarettes that declared the cigarettes were destined for the domestic market or were in transit to non-European Union (EU) countries.

The cigarettes were then transported in speed boats across the Adriatic to Italy and picked up by Italian criminals, who sold them in Italy and other European Union (EU) countries as legally imported cigarettes. The EU reckons the smuggling ring cost it billions of euros in taxes. The Italian press has reported that Mr Đukanović was suspected of issuing a license to a Swiss citizen to import thousands of tons of cigarettes a month to Montenegro. In March, he went to Bari on his own recognizance for questioning.

The other men named in the Italian indictment were Branislav Mićunović, Veselin Barović, Miroslav Ivanišević, Branko Vujošević, Dušanka Pešić, Stanko Subotić and Andrija Drašković.

Đukanović’s lawyer told Serbian station B92 that the indictment had been expected.