Montenegro: Former President Signs Plea Bargain, Admitting Corruption

Published: 18 May 2016

Svetozar MarovicSvetozar Marovic

By Igor Spaic

Svetozar Marovic, who served as president of the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro until the two countries split, was released from custody Tuesday after he signed a plea bargain with prosecutors who accused him of involvement in a number of corruption cases that defrauded the local budget of Budva of millions of dollars in recent years.

Marovic was arrested in December 2015, following a string of arrests of some of his allies and family members that took place in August that year. Montenegrin authorities had arrested 13 people, including Marovic's brother and Budva former secretary for investments Dragan Marovic; Budva City Manager and Marovic's daughter, Milena Marovic Bogdanovic; and several other municipality officials on suspicion that they made shady deals with private construction companies. Their alleged actions defrauded the municipal budget of more than € 10 million (US$ 11.1 million).

Shortly after, in September last year, the former director of the city land registry and Marovic's aunt, Mirjana Marovic, was arrested on suspicion that she was part of a large organized group that made an exchange of construction land between private companies that allegedly cheated the city’s coffers of about € 1.4 million (US$ 1.56 million).

His son, Milos Marovic, was also arrested in December, over his allegations that he, via connected construction companies, illegally sold 26,000 square meters of government land. According to Al Jazeera, he also signed a plea deal with prosecutors in January, which entails that he will be jailed for one year and fined 380,000 Euros (US$ 430,000).

According to Serbian state television (RTRS), Montenegro's Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, Milivoje Katnic, shortly after said the investigation into several of these cases was expanded to Svetozar Marovic himself. By the end of the year, he was finally arrested.

He is also the former speaker of the Montenegrin Parliament, and currently chairs the political council of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists.

Marovic has been suspected in a number of corruption cases that defrauded the local budget of Budva of millions of dollars in recent years. Those cases also resulted in indictments against some of his closest allies and family members.

According to Marovic's lawyer, Zdravko Begovic, Marovic signed a plea bargain with prosecutors, admitting guilt in a graft case. Begovic would not speak of any details regarding the plea bargain, stating the secrecy of the investigation.

According to N1 Serbia, the plea bargain entails a prison sentence lasting three years and eight months for Marovic, but the fine he is to pay has not yet been set. N1 reports that Marovic agreed to tell prosecutors where 15 million Euros (US$ 16.9 million) – funds defrauded from the Budva municipality – ended up. The money was reportedly transferred to multiple foreign accounts.

N1 reports that Marovic states he did not take this money, but that he himself was swindled in the corrupt deal.

When Marovic was arrested, he denied any wrongdoing. After spending about five months in detention, however, he signed the plea bargain.

According to Begovic, Marovic's health has seriously deteriorated during his time in custody despite the very correct attitude of prison staff, adding that Marovic will visit a hospital as soon as possible.

The plea bargain, however, raises concerns due to its lack of transparency and the capabilities of the relevant institutions.

According to the prominent local Network for Affirmation of the NGO Sector (MANS), Marovic's plea deal is a “serious indication” that the special prosecutor's office “is unable to effectively conduct investigations in cases of corruption and organized crime.”

Furthermore, MANS Director Dejan Milovac says the most basic information about the plea bargains of Marovic's family members and associates are withheld from the public, and that there is no official information on an estimate of the total amount of money by which the municipality and state budget was defrauded.

OCCRP earlier reported that Marovic's wife, Djordjina Marovic, had US$ 3.8 million of undeclared assets stashed in the Swiss HSBC bank.