Montenegro: Budva Officials Arrested over ‘Land Exchange Scam’
The former director of Budva city land registry, Mirjana Marovic, was arrested this morning by Montenegrin police by order of the special prosecutor for corruption and organized crime.
She is suspected of being part of a large, organized group that made an exchange of construction land between private companies which allegedly cheated the city’s coffers of about € 1.4 million (US$ 1.56 million).
According to prosecutors the land in question is a 26,000 square-meter construction plot by the sea, next to a concert venue that in recent years has hosted stars such as Madonna and the Rolling Stones.
In 2008 the plot was reportedly sold to a private company for € 50 per square meter, based on a value assessment by the land registry headed by Marovic.
The land was registered to the private company in spite of the fact that it had not paid the city the full bill.
Soon afterwards, according to the allegations, another company took over the land, and with it the first company’s financial commitment to the city. The land was re-registered accordingly, but was still not fully paid for.
Then, in 2010, the local Parliament of Budva voted that the land in question should be taken back by the city by exchanging it with the company for another municipal construction plot. The majority of the votes in favor came from the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS).
It is alleged that the land registry, still led by Marovic, made another value assessment, this time setting its value at € 115 euros per square meter – more than twice what the city sold it for.
Along with Marovic, the directors of both private companies were arrested, as well as former Mayor of Budva Rajko Kuljača, who was in office at the time. Kuljača is already facing several charges for abuse of office in other cases initiated by the prosecutor’s office.
Mirjana Marovic was a long-serving director of the Land Registry of Budva during the period when Montenegrin coast was flooded with Russian capital, mostly invested in real-estate market and construction businesses.
She is most famous, though, for being the aunt of the high-ranking official of the ruling DPS, Svetozar Marovic, a controversial politician whose business affairs have been investigated by OCCRP and MANS.
Mirjana Marovic is the third member of Svetozar Marovic’s family to be arrested this year on suspicion of abuse of office. His brother Dragan, former secretary for investments in Budva, has been arrested several times in different cases, most recently this summer when he was detained together with Marovic’s daughter Milena, current city manager of Budva.
Since his appointment in June, the new special prosecutor has launched several cases targeting city administrations in the coastal municipalities such as Budva and Bar. So far, none of the cases has reached a final verdict.
Mirjana Marovic has not yet publicly commented on the case.
By Dejan Milovac, MANS