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Montenegro – Media and freedom of expression after EC’s Progress Report 2010

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After the adoption of Progress Report in 2010, where European Commission emphasized seven areas, including press freedom and freedom of expression that should be improved so Montenegro could get a date to start negotiations on the EU membership, the Government publicly declared commitment to changes and fulfilment of the tasks.

New PM Igor Luksic immediately brought certain improvements – more tolerant language and a new style in relation to the media and civil society. A bill was introduced to decriminalize defamation.

The government gave specific help of €5 million to the electronic media (to pay taxes for the signal transfer), that significantly improved the financial situation of private broadcasters. The Government also supported the printed media, by bailing out the big newspaper distributor Bega press in the amount of € 800.000. It made possible for all Montenegrin publishers to get 85% of their receivables that Bega press owed to dailies Dan, Vijesti and Pobjeda and to the weekly Monitor.

However, despite these positive examples, the media that are not controlled by the ruling circles continue to have serious problems in Montenegro.

The state has never solved the cases of physical attacks on Montenegrin journalists, including the murder of newspaper editor Dusko Jovanovic. Even worse, when the perpetrators are known, the state still fails to dispense justice and sends a clear message to those who continue to criticize the government and write about organized crime and corruption.

Pressure on the daily Vijesti: In July and August, in three actions, unknown individuals have put on fire 4 cars of the daily Vijesti. In statements following the first incident, Director of Police Veselin Veljovic and Prime Minister Luksic, agreed that this was just an ‘isolated case’. Unfortunately, they turned to be wrong, since the attacks continued while the perpetrators have still not been found and there are no signs of progress in the investigation.

It is interesting that in two cases, cars were set on fire immediately after interviews that former prime minister Milo Djukanovic gave in July to daily Pobjeda in August to Serbian TV Kosava. In each interview, Djukanovic strongly attacked the independent media, particularly the daily Vijesti.

The Persecution of Mihailo Jovovic, Vijesti's Editor in Chief: In September 2011, a court case was initiated against the Editor-in-Chief of the daily Vijesti. In August 2009, the then deputy editor-in-chief Mihailo Jovovic and photojournalist Boris Pejovic were assaulted by Mayor of Podgorica Miomir Mugosa and his son while covering a story on Mayor's repeated illegal parking and the functioning of the city's communal police. The journalists were threatened with a gun by the Mayor's son and Mr. Jovovic was admitted to hospital with a ruptured eardrum.

Colluding with the Mayor, police failed to take any evidence from the scene, including the gun, while prosecutors falsely indicted Mr. Jovovic for attacking the Mayor's driver and causing him serious brain injury, contrary to two expert medical opinions.

At the end, almost two years after the event, instead of investigating and prosecuting the Mayor, his son and driver, the prosecutor indicted Mr. Jovovic for inflicting minor injuries in the form of scratch to the driver's head with his mobile phone. He based that only on Mr. Jovovic's admission that he had a mobile phone and a tape recorder in his hands during the incident, because all other claims by the Mayor, his son and driver that Jovovic hit the driver with his hand, fist or elbow were refuted by the court experts.

Anyhow, the prosecutor decided that a mobile phone is a tool or weapon that could have seriously endangered one's health or life (up to now, prosecutors and courts considered that such tools or weapons were metal bars, baseball bats, guns, knifes, etc.) in order to have a more serious legal qualification of the alleged crime in the indictment, so that Mr. Jovovic could go to jail up to three years, if convicted.

The Mayor was fined €400 for misdemeanor, but was not charged with assaulting the Vijesti journalists and instigating the attack. The Mayor suffered no political consequences and was publicly supported by the Prime Minister and other high ruling party officials.

Treatment of the independent media representatives as criminals and enemies: In a TV interview, the state prosecutor Ranka Carapic put in the same rank Vijesti founders and members of Darko Saric's organized drugs cartel. However, she did not cite any evidence for such false claims while announcing the criminal procedure against the owners of the daily for alleged irregularities on the stock exchange. Earlier, the same prosecutor used to announce criminal procedure against Vijesti owners for other alleged crimes, but she said that she cannot do it now due to the statute of limitation, and that she was focusing on a new investigation now.

In an interview to the state TV, former PM Milo Đukanović, who is still at the helm of the ruling DPS, said that there is no opposition in Montenegro, and that „our biggest problem are some media centers that are trying to stir chaos in the DPS”.

These dangerous statements were followed by a smear propaganda against the independent media, led by media controlled by the ruling circles close to Djukanovic. The representatives of the independent media have been accused for being disloyal to the Montenegrin state and depicted as non-patriotic, even for belonging to the organized crime.

Only in the independent media one can find serious investigative pieces on corruption, non-transparent privatizations, links of the political elite with criminals, etc. The aim is clear – they are trying to silence and discipline the independent media, their founders, editors and journalists by publicly lynching them.

Financial pressures through advertising: The biggest portion of the total advertising budget from the state institutions – the national and local governments, agencies, ministries, state owned companies – goes mostly to the media controlled by the state and ruling political structures

The state companies and government institutions place most of the print ads in the daily Pobjeda, that has three times smaller circulation than private dailies Dan and Vijesti.

Pobjeda sells its advertising space to the state companies and institutions for much higher prices than do Vijesti and Dan. Also, Pobjeda offers very law advertising prices to private companies, threatening thus the independent media to lose its main source of revenue.

The oldest daily, state owned Pobjeda, should have been privatized according to the Media Law already in 2002, so that it would not have the monopolistic position. That has not been done so far. Despite the state advertising monopoly, being financed from the state budget, Pobjeda incurred a loss of €4.2 million last year. Until recently, the political director of the ruling Djukanovic's DPS was the President of Board of Pobjeda. Pobjeda leads the propaganda campaign against the independent media. During 2010 and 2011. A series of 60 articles has been published using a hate speech against representatives of Vijesti and Monitor, which have often been portrayed in these texts as an organized criminal group.

Court cases: Despite numerous announcements and statements that they would stop with persecution of independent media through the courts, Montenegrin courts delivered several decisions for libel, without sound reasoning, and the fines were much higher than those prescribed by the European Court Of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Monitor weekly was recently fined for alleged defamation to pay €4.000, which is significantly higher than six monthly average wages, which is the Strasbourg Court practice.

Lawsuits against independent media are usually initiated by representatives of political and business elite, but also by the suspects from the organized crime ranks. Among plaintiffs against dailies Vijesti and Dan, and the weekly Monitor, are former prime minister Milo Djukanovic, suspected narcoboss Safet Kalic, cigarette trafficker Stanko Subotic Cane, and the war minister of interior in Republika Srpska Tomislav Kovac, suspected for war crimes and alliance with Radovan Karadzic. Some of the cases have been concluded with hefty fines against independent media, while others are still underway.

Public radio and television: RTCG has stayed captured and under complete domination of the ruling political circles. Its program does not reflect the public interest and serves mostly as propaganda of the ruling structures. There is no pluralism of ideas and subjects, there is no proportional representation of different social groups. In the news programs, the primacy is given to the ruling parties and leading government officials, while the information on actions and views of the opposition and civil society representatives significantly lags behind. RTCG TV journalist Marko Milacic was replaced as the main news anchor and now works in international news, because he publicly expressed his critical views of the ruling DPS. He was told that his contract would not be extended and that he would lose his job at RTCG.

Branko Vojicic, general manager of RTCG was replaced on 28 July 2011, after the RTCG Council refused to adopt the financial statements for 2010. According to media articles, the State Audit Institution report on RTCG cites numerous examples of non-transparent financial transactions.

Self regulatory body: The new self regulatory body has not been formed in Montenegro, but thanks to OSCE efforts a working group has been formed in order to agree the modalities of the future body. Members of the working groups are representatives of te state and controlled media – Pobjeda, RTCG and Radio Antena M. As well as representatives of the independent media – Vijesti, Dan and Monitor.

It is questionable to talk about self regulatory body in the country were most of the media, controlled by powerful people, above all by the ex PM Djukanovic, is used to persecute independent media. Even if we left aside this blatant fact, it is clear that Djukanovic's media intention is to make self regulatory body look like the RTCG Council, the body that would looks after and protects Djukanovic's family private interests and not professional standards. The media controlled by the powerful structures argue for so called united self regulatory body, while independent media representatives want a kind of a ‘press council’, whereby the Broadcasting Agency would regulate the electronic media, which is already its function by law.

Independent media representatives argue for self regulatory body that would look after professional standards, ethics and advice, in order to help media with suggestions and criticisms to be more objective, while giving possibility to the public to complain, highlighting mistakes and breaches of code of ethics. On the other side is the intention of the controlled media to form the so called united body, where they would have a majority and control self regulation.

The media that are the furthest from the professional standards simply do not have interest to form self regulatory body as a serious institution. We reiterate that none of the cases with elements of corruption and organized crime at the highest level was investigated by these media.

The champions of the investigative journalism are Vijesti, Dan and Monitor, and those media are under attack by the courts and the executive. Their journalists were also subject to brutal physical attacks in the last several years.

Pressure by the criminal structures: Representatives of the independent media have a huge problem with regard to security and normal functioning of their newsrooms due to the pressures from the criminal circles. In the last six months we had a drastic case of persecution of Vijesti journalist Olja Lakic, who wrote a series of articles on illegal production of cigarettes in the northern town of Mojkovac.

After that, those in that murky business have threatened Mrs Lakic and her family in several ways, while the police tried to minimize and cover it up, instead of investigating it thoroughly and protecting the journalist.

On the basis of these facts, we believe that changes in the media freedom and freedom of expression are minimal. The biggest problem is the heavy burden and practice of the former PM Djukanovic that PM Luksic, despite democratic rhetoric, obviously cannot fight off yet.

Milka Tadić Mijović
CEO Monitor, weekly

Željko Ivanović
CEO Vijesti, daily newspaper

Podgorica
13.09.2011.

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WHY MINISTRY OF EDUCACTION PROTECTS DIRECTOR OF ELECTRO-TECHNICAL SCHOOL IN PODGORICA: Reward for violence

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Video that has recently appeared on social networks shows professor of the Electro-technical High School in Podgorica Veselin Picuric as he stands in front of the school blackboard and emblem of Montenegro finger flicking on students foreheads. Students pass by him quietly, tolerating his actions which leads to a conclusion that it is usual educational-correctional measure.

The video was made ten years ago, and in the meantime Picuric was promoted to a director of this school. His third mandate was signed by Minister Damir Sehovic on February 7, this year.

Students were not the only ones who made video records of professors in Electro-technical High School “Vaso Aligrudic”. When Picuric became director in 2009, he installed video surveillance in classrooms, computer halls and laboratories. In 2011 he went step further and placed cameras in practical classes’ premises, and even in school's toilets. This was done unlawfully, according to the opinion of Basic Court in Podgorica which was brought in January 2019, just before Picuric’s re-election. Judge of Podgorica's Basic Court Katarina Jankovic, acting upon charges of eleven former and current professors of that school, ordered the school to pay each of them a thousand euros, as a compensation for non-pecuniary damage for violation of person’s rights – the right to privacy and the right to mental integrity.

Picuric said that the court ruling was not the final and that he would appeal. He also said that video surveillance was set up with the approval of the Teachers’ Council. On the other hand the opinion of the court considered the installation of video surveillance in the toilets as an interference with the right to privacy. Previously, the Agency for the Protection of Personal Data requested removal of cameras from school toilets, and then from all 16 rooms where the teaching process takes place, because they were set up without a valid legal basis.

The Court also established a very creative misuse of recordings – on one occasion during a session of the Teachers’ Council, at which more than 100 employees were present, a class of one of the professors was shown on a TV screen. The director used the part of the session to comment on professor’s work in front of his colleagues. The purpose of that video screening was to show to everyone that they were under surveillance and that their work can be also commented. The ruling states that they received warnings even from the cleaning staff.

Veselin Picuric

Before the trial, Picuric was also in focus of educational authorities. Namely, the main education inspector Lucija Adzic recommended in 2013, Picuric’s dismissal from the position of school director. In November 2017, the Educational Inspectorate reiterated that Picuric should be dismissed. He unlawfully dismissed three professors of practical classes Ranko Ljumovic, Dragan Sandic and Branislav Ivanstanin. At the same time, he hired seven new professors, among who only one had professional certification. According to the assessment of the education inspector Radan Nikolic, in the period from 2009 to 2014, Picuric damaged the school and the state for 136.000,00 euros!

Despite those warnings and confirmed damage, Picuric continued to work on his own. Education inspector Vesko Joksimovic found out in December 2018, that Picuric, again unlawfully reduced teaching hours to professors of practical classes, and that he hired six teachers who did not have professional certification and license to work in educational institutions.

The Ministry of Education was well informed about the situation. However this did not prevent Minister Sehovic in February this year, to sign for Picuric’s mandate one more time.  Center for Civic Education considers that reelection of Picuric gives a perception that Ministry values personnel like him. It also represents further humiliation for the Educational Inspection whose work has been disregarded. They also pointed out that this election comes after a first instance court decision which stated that Picuric was acting unlawfully which has cost fairly the school, i.e. the budget.  Weekly Monitor asked the Ministry of Education for the reasoning of Picuric’s extended mandate and disregard of Educational Inspection recommendations for his dismissal, as well as about their opinion about 100,000 euros damage (as determined by the court) made by unlawful actions of this director. Weekly Monitor also asked what will be Ministry’s reaction if court confirms some of the criminal complaints filed against the director of Electro-technical School. Answers were not received.  The Ministry, the Minister and the Director disregard findings of the Educational Inspection, but pay to a court instead.  Pićurić sued professor Mladen Klikovac during 2015, stating that he insulted him in the classroom in front of the students, called him on a fight, and threatened him. Director the following day asked his students to sign statements about the event. Soon after that he initiated disciplinary proceedings against professor Klikovac for alleged “mobbing over director” and punished him with five percent salary reduction for three months.

The Basic Court in Cetinje annulled this disciplinary measure as unfounded, and local misdemeanor department in Podgorica determined that Klikovac was not guilty.  His testimony in the court was confirmed by four former students of this school.

After these verdicts, Klikovac against Picuric, filed a criminal complaint for falsification of an official document, abuse of office, official misconduct and false reporting.

Dami Sehovic

Basic State Prosecutor Nikola Boricic rejected in November last year a criminal complaint filed by Aleksandrina Vujacic, Ranko Ljumovic, Dragan Sandic and Mladen Klikovac against Picuric for: official misconduct, abuse of economic power, evasion of taxes and contributions, bribery, autocracy, falsification of a public document… At the beginning of this year, the State Prosecutor's Office found that “the decision of the Basic State Prosecutor's Office in Podgorica was based on incomplete factual state. Therefore, it is ordered to the Basic State Prosecutor's Office in Podgorica to fully determine the factual situation in order to make legal decision”.

Questions that we e-mailed to the official school account to Picuric in order to provide comments on criminal charges, findings of educational inspection, and damage established by court, were not answered.  When video recording from the beginning of this story appeared, some employees in this school commented on social networks that they hoped that other videos would emerge as well. Videos in which students “snort the chalk line for pass mark”, as well as choral interpretation of Serbian nationalist songs (“King Peter’s Guard” and “From Topola, from Topola …”)…

Predrag NIKOLIC
foto: Borko ZOGOOVIC

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DISCRIMINATION OF CHILDREN WHO TRAIN GYMNASTICS:  No Use of Being Talented

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Dejan Vucevic, the only international gymnastics judge in Montenegro, claims that gymnastics in Montenegro has been put to an end and that more than 100 children, who train it in Podgorica, have no opportunities to participate in competitions.

 

“There is only rhythmic gymnastics in Montenegro, the sports gymnastics has been put to an end,” says Dejan Vucevic, the only international gymnastics judge in Montenegro. Vucevic has spent his whole life in gymnastics, first as a competitor, and then, for decades, as a trainer.

He explains that there are more than 100 trainees in gymnastics and many talents in Podgorica, but there is no place where they can show their skills. They are denied access to domestic and international competitions. He accuses the Gymnastics Federation of Montenegro (GFM) that it completely disregarded sports gymnastics.

The result of such work, according to Vucevic, is that talented gymnasts go to the region: “Due to lack of conditions here children go to the region. Thus, two boys and one girl that I trained, who compete for Serbia now, have over 100 medals. I'm not glad that, instead for their own home, they win medals for another one, “Vucevic said.

Vucevic was one of the founders of the Gymnastics Federation of Montenegro (GFM), in which he was a member of the Assembly and the Chairman of the Board of Directors. He was a GFM’s delegate in 2010, when this Federation was admitted to the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG[1]). “The Federation was established in 1994, and if we had been fortunate, this February, we would have celebrated 25 years of existence. Currently it has been turned into a rhythmic gymnastics federation,” he says.

Vucevic claims that already unfavourable conditions in this sport culminated in 2014 when new management was elected and when GFM’s central office was moved from Podgorica to Budva. He states that this followed after the disappearance of the Federation document and seal, and that new management was not elected according to the rules.

Vesna Radonic, President of GFM, denies Vucevic's allegations regarding unlawful election of the new management: “GFM operates in accordance with the Montenegrin Sports Law, which came into force in 2018, and it also must align all its activities with the rules of FIG and UEG[2]. Therefore, no one can say that GFM was not established according to the procedures. This was confirmed by several inspection visits that came and checked the regularity of GFM work. All inspectors had a positive opinion on GFM’s work, “says GFM President for Weekly Monitor.

Vucevic claims that the new management of the Federation, as soon as it assumed its functions, disabled his gymnasts from participating in the international competition due to his public talks about the irregularities in the Federation: “The Federation sent us a dispatch that we cannot participate in the competition. They disallowed our children to compete – they could only perform within a non-competitive part of the event.”

Through the gymnastics club Gorica, which was led by Vucevic, generations of athletes have passed. Vucevic said that many top athletes started with gymnastics in this club, who in addition to gymnastics achieved results in other sports. He also pointed out to a number of students of the Faculty for Sport and Physical Education, who worked with this club.  However, he explains that current situation disallows talents in sports gymnastics to compete at home, regional and international levels.

Neither Ministry of Sports has done anything to improve the situation – Vucevic says that since the registration of clubs had begun – seven gymnastics clubs were closed. “I submitted an application for the club Gorica to the Ministry of Sports and I was told that it was not complete. I asked if I could update it and the response was positive.  Later, when I went there I was told that I cannot do that, “he explains.

Radonic however, claims that the problem is lack of licenses. “Clubs in order to compete in international competitions must meet the basic criteria of FIG, UEG, and GFM. The basic criteria are licenses in GFM, UEG and FIG. Unfortunately, our competitors are licensed only in GFM. Another problem is the lack of educated trainers and judges which is a requirement for competing at the international scene. This means that they currently, do not have FIG and UEG licenses, “she says.

She insists that sports gymnastics exists in Montenegro: “Sports gymnastics clubs are a club from Niksic and a club from Herceg Novi. These clubs compete within Montenegrin system of competitions according to the GFM calendar”. However, she does not deny that this sport in Montenegro is at a low level. “Due to objective reasons – lack of adequate training space and lack of tools necessary for quality performance of sports gymnastics”.

Vucevic on the other hand claims that “as far as sports gymnastics is concerned, our Federation is terminated. This Federation in Budva has nothing to do with sports gymnastics. I would like to ask institutions to who they give money to – 10.000 euros last year and 25.000 this year. Everywhere in the world, rhythmic gymnastics is separated from the sports, except here in Montenegro. ”

Radonic says that GFM did not close its door to anyone. “We repeatedly invited all sports and other gymnastics clubs to join GFM and to take part in all other activities carried out by the GFM.”

Cooperation with this questionable Federation is still impossible, says Vucevic and emphasizes that gymnastics is a sport in which competitors and trainers must advance their selves whole life: “But the persons in the Federation obviously do not care about the improvement and progress of children, it seems that other things, out of sports field, are for them in the first place.”

Vucevic has been waiting for years for a meeting with the Minister of Sports, Nikola Janovic.

“I’ve been requesting a meeting with Janovic for three years and I cannot reach him. I would like to talk to him as an athlete and to inform him about the situation regarding gymnastics. I believe that the Minister does not even know that I have been unsuccessfully, requesting a meeting for years. ”

There was no one to approve the sports hall

Vucevic said that, a few years ago, he visited primary and secondary schools in Podgorica with an elaborate on the construction of gymnastic hall. He explains that an international organization was willing to donate a hall. The plan envisaged for school to use the hall from the morning till 14:00h, while the club would use it from 16:00 to 22:00h. It was projected as the gymnastics center of Montenegro, which would have all necessary sports infrastructure, but also general children's health care provider and dental clinic. Vucevic said that at that time, famous gymnast from Slovenia, Miroslav Cerar promised to donate, upon the arrangement of the hall, two sets of gymnastics devices.

“When we presented the plan to directors of schools, they were thrilled, but they told us that they cannot do anything without the Ministry and the Minister,” says Vucevic.

In the end, they were told by the Ministry to avoid opening of sports halls within schools.

 

Predrag Nikolić

 

[1] Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique – FIG

[2] UEG – European Union of Gymnastics

 

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IN ENGLISH

A notorious example of “independent“ Montenegrin judiciary: How Prva Bank snatched €12.5 million from Knezevic via Azerbaijani minister

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Despite the lack of clear evidence that Caspia delivered the services for which Atlas Bank was expected to pay €12.5 million, the Montenegrin courts ruled in favour of Kaspia, a company linked to the family of powerful Azerbaijani minister Khamaladin Heydarov. President Djukanovic met Heydarov several times whereas Heydarov's company name pops us in the context of the case of murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

 

Montenegro’s strongman Milo Djukanovic met Kamaladdin Heydarov, powerful Azerbaijan’s emergency affairs minister in Oct 2105. The contents of the meeting remain veiled. Prime Minister Djukanovic was accompanied by then minister of economy Vladimir Kavaric, then minister of sustainable development and tourism Branimir Gvozdenovic, Djukanovic’s chief political advisor Milan Rocen and Djukanovic’s advisor for energy and industrial development Ranko Milovic.

The information service of Azerbaijan’s government reported that Heydarov and then Prime Minister Djukanovic talked about their experience in managing emergency situations. On the other hand Djukanovic’s press service reported that he had met the Gilan company representatives there to discuss cooperation related to winter tourism and food production, Heydarov also being present.

Gilan Holdings is one of the most successful Azerbaijani companies. Gilan was founded by Heydarov in the 80s and later he handed it over to his sons when he joined the government.

However, it was recently reported, as a part of the Daphne Project, that daughters of President Ilham Aliyev have a share in the company too, whereas Heydarov is often used as a shell for the property of Aliyev who ranks the wealthiest in the country.

According to the US diplomatic documents leaked in 2010, Heydarov made his “enormous wealth“ while he was heading the State Customs Committee “which was notoriously corrupt even by Azerbaijani standards“.

Heydarov is also known as “the minister of all important things“.

Although Montenegro’s economy did not benefit from the visit, that which followed brought emergency situation to some in Montenegro.

Caspia Property Holdings of the sons of minister Heydarov, Tale and Nijat, sued Atlas Bank of Dusko Knezevic claiming that Knezevic owed the company €12.5 million.

Caspia was arguing before the Commercial Court of Montenegro that the disputed amount was based on the alleged bank guarantee. On the other hand, Knezevic has argued that the guarantee was never issued but only a draft thereof so to launch talks about possible bussines. Furthermore, Knezevic claims that the lawsuit was a scheme to enrich those who had orchestrated the whole thing.

In his recent interview with A1 TV Knezevic said that “the money was transferred to Prva Bank of the Djukanovic brothers in the joint operation via the president of Commercial Court Blazo Jovanic“. They were Knezevic’s longtime friends with whom he was doing business adhering to the rules of the Montenegrin Octopus set up by Djukanovic. However, he parted ways with them recently.

Caspia Property Holdings is mentioned in the context of investigation of the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Karuana Galizia. Before she was murdered she was investigating the businesses of the ruling Azerbaijani families and their accounts in Malta’s Pilatus Bank. She was killed by car bomb in Oct 2017.

The Daphne Project is carried out by many investigative reporters who are keen to continue Daphe’s investigations. They found out that the children of the two most powerful officials in Azerbaijan– President Aliyev and his minister Heydarov, used dozens of offshore companies as covers for investments in luxury real estates, companies and top hotels across Europe and the Middle East. Montenegro is one of those places.

According to the Montenegrin Central Register of Business Entities (CRPS), a couple of months after Djukanovic’s visit to Azerbaijan and his meeting with Mr Heydarov, in Jan 2016, a company was founded in Budva. It was registered as hotel business-Caspia Tourism. Behind it stood a chain of offshore companies which are related to the Heydarov family. The executive of the Budva-based company is certain Esad Puskar, a US citizen.

The reporters who are a part of the Daphne Project wrote that “their secrets were hidden in the files of Pilatus Bank in Malta, which is now under investigation for money laundering“. The foreign media reported that Pilatus Bank’s murky businesses in Malta were first revealed by the bank’s former employee Maria Efimova  who met Daphne Galizia in early 2017.

Daphne soon published that Aliyev’s eldest daughter Leyla transferred a million euros from the account in Pilatus Bank via her offshore companies to the offshore company owned by the wife of Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta. She also reported that the main bank’s client was Khamaladin Heydarov and that he had several accounts in the bank which are registered in various companies which are remotely owned by Heydarov himself. The journalist was killed six months later. The investigators haven’t solved the case. The motives and masterminds of the crime remain unknown.

However, speaking of the local turf, the documents show that Knezevic did talk with Azerbaijanis about possible business projects in 2014 after Montenegro’s Djukanovic led authorities established business relations with Azerbaijani companies which embarked on big projects on the seacoast.

Nevertheless, many things have remained unclear and unveiled after controversial two year long battle in court launched by the Azerbaijanis. Thus it’s still unresolved whether the project of Caspia and Atlas Bank has even been carried out. Had it been completed on the part of the Azerbaijanies it would have justified the court’s ruling in their favour thus calling upon the guarantee issued by the bank. However, Knezevic claims that the business with the Azerbaijanis didn’t happen at all.

The Montenegrin courts reached entirely different verdicts based on the very same evidence. Thus Zoran Asanin, a judge of the Commercial Court was certain, based on his first verdict,  that the bank guarantee was problematic and not to be called upon.

“The court has concluded that the said bank guarantee does not contain all the key elements pursuant to the International Chamber of Commerce Uniform Rules, therefore the said guarantee cannot constitute a valid bank guarantee“ said the court in Nov 2016 in its ruling which favoured Atlas Bank.

Judge Asanin stated in the same verdict that the plaintiff, Caspia Property Holdings, did not prove that it had carried out the work on account of which the guarantee could be called upon.

The Appellate Court chamber headed by judge Marija Marinkovic reversed the verdict and ordered retrial. After that, judge Asanin completely changed his mind.

Besides other things, the Appellate Court criticised Asanin for not having heard Dusko Knezevic about the alleged business deal which was the cause of the guarantee. Asanin was also criticised for examining  the bank guarantee’s validity from the standpoint of international rules.

So, Asanin next time ruled in favour of Caspia and his verdict was readily upheld by the Appellate Court and its judge Ramo Strikovic. Judge Strikovic also rejected the motion of Knezevic to take part in the hearing as one of the parties in the lawsuit.

In the retrial, when judge Asanin changed his mood, it was stated that a part of the money was paid in cash to Knezevic for his share in Princess Hotel in Bar. However there is no clear evidence that the transaction ever happened while the business registry of the Commercial Court  doesn’t show Caspia as the hotel’s co-owner. Furthermore, the Caspia owners were not heard in the court.

The Appellate Court’s judge Strikovic upheld the new verdict of the Commercial Court stating that it didn’t matter whether the business deal had been carried out or not. “Whether the parties adhered to the contract and to what extent is of no significance to resolve the lawsuit. This same applies to the defendant’s allegations that payments of €8… and €4… were made not by the plaintiff but by third parties and that those (payments) were not related to the (contested) Contract“ – so it is stated in the ruling of June 2018.

“The Appellate Court adhered to the reasoning of the Commercial Court and failed to heed the civil procedure violations and to review all the matters of relevance. Motions for new evidence were suppressed, including the motion to hear the real owners of Caspia Property Holdings- Tale and Nijat Heydarov, and their father- minister of emergency affairs in the government of Azerbaijan and owner of Azerbaijan’s Gilan Holdings. He visited Montenegro and talked about potential investments in the projects of Atlas Group. Later, he unilaterally pulled out. The Appellate Court and the Commercial Court rejected the motion to hear Knezevic and to order financial audit“ said Igor Martinovic, a lawyer of Atlas Group. He announced that he would address the Supreme Court over the matter.

The money was expressly transferred to Caspia’a account with Prva Bank of the Djukanovic brothers even before all legal remedies were exhausted.

“We submitted complaint to the Commercial Court on 16 July and asked to postpone the enforcement of ruling. The Commercial Court did accept our request to abort the enforcement“ explains Martinovic. However, the money was transferred to Prva Bank despite everything. “We were expecting that the judicial officer would return the money back to Atlas Bank. That didn’t happen“ ended Martinovic.

Maybe we’ll find out one day if those €12.5 million helped the Djukanovic brothers to improve their solvency if we ever get the national authorities which will rather pay heed to the law than bend the knee before their autocratic boss.

 

Milena PEROVIĆ-KORAĆ

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