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Montenegro: Media and Freedom of Expression, Regular Report 2012

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Montenegrin independent media and its journalists have been exposed to new attacks and pressures over this year. These were manifested through physical assaults on journalists, financial pressures and legal proceedings. Not surprisingly, therefore, Montenegro is now ranked lower than in the previous year on the Reporters without borders’ report on media freedoms, where its 107th position is the lowest in the region. In Europe, only Belarus, Russia and Ukraine have lower rankings. The enhancement of media freedom has been one the key requirements for obtaining the date for commencement of EU accession negotiations.

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 and political circles.

The case of Olivera Lakic: Daily Vijesti journalist Olivera Lakic has been physically assaulted in the evening hours on March 7, 2012, in front of her house in downtown Podgorica. Ms Lakic wrote last year a series of articles on illegal production of cigarettes in the northern town of Mojkovac. After that, those in that murky business threatened Ms Lakic and her family in several ways, while the police tried to minimize and cover up the case instead of investigating it thoroughly and protecting the journalist.

A few days after the attack, the police arrested one person, who, according to Ms Lakic's best knowledge, did not have any motive to assault her. She insisted that those who commissioned this act be found. She also announced her withdrawal from journalism, until the state authorities resolve the case.

Earlier this month (December 2012), Montenegrin prosecution authorities examined Milenko Rabrenovic, a police officer employed at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, on suspicion that he threatened Olivera Lakic and her daughter after a series of articles about the illegal cigarette trafficking in Montenegro. Mr Rabrenovic was a driver of the former Head of Montenegrin Police Authority Veselin Veljovic when these texts were published.

The case of Veselin Drljevic: In February of 2012, the editor of daily Dan Veselin Drljevic and the photographer of this paper were assaulted by a group of hooligans who inflicted several injuries on Drljevic's face and body. Perpetrators of this attack were found and legal proceedings against them have begun.

The case of arson of Vijesti vehicles: Police did not find out who are the arsonists who torched vehicles of Vijesti. Fire was set on four vehicles of Vijesti in three night operations. Although the representatives of Police and Government have stated that they are diligently working on resolving these cases, no progress has been made after several months of investigation.

Montenegrin police and judiciary did not manage to solve numerous previous cases of physical endangering of journalists and editors in Montenegro, starting with the 2004 murder of publisher and editor Dusko Jovanovic, the 2008 murder of Srdjan Vojicic, who was a guard of Montenegrin poet Jevrem Brkovic. The same applies to subsequent attacks on Tufik Softic, Zeljko Ivanovic, Mladen Stojovic and others. One of the main requests of massive street protests in 2012 and the petition of media professionals sent to EU officials Baroso and Fule was for these cases to be solved.

The persecution of Mihailo Jovovic, Vijesti's Editor in Chief: Three years upon the physical attack by the Podgorica mayor Miomir Mugosa and his son Miljan Mugosa on Mihailo Jovovic, Editor in Chief of Vijesti, and Boris Pejovic, its photographer, the Court has sentenced only conditionally Mayor's son Miljan, although the court practice for all types of severe injuries similar to the one inflicted by Miljan Mugosa is to impose prison sentences. However, even after such an epilogue, the Prosecution has appealed to the Superior Court, whom it is now asking to reverse its decision and to prosecute instead the Editor in Chief for alleged attack on the Mayor's son.

In August 2009, Jovovic and Pejovic were assaulted by Mayor 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.

Treatment of the independent media representatives as criminals and enemies: 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.

In many public appearances during the last year, the new prime minister and leader of the ruling political party DPS Milo Djukanovic continued the campaign against the independent media. He called the representatives of independent media rodents that need to be deratized. On more than one occasion Djukanovic has repeated that media and civil activists represent a major barrier on the Montenegrin road towards Europe, that they chase away foreign investors by writing about corruption and organized crime, and that they want to bring down the current administration by all means possible.

During the recent campaign for parliamentary elections held on 14 October, Djukanovic and his associates engaged more with the independent media than with the opposition. In his speeches, Djukanovic falsely accused the independent media for coordinating the opposition parties and announced the arrest of Miodrag Perovic, co-founder of daily Vijesti and weekly Monitor. During the campaign, Vijesti's correspondent Goran Malidžan was physically assaulted at a DPS party rally in that city.

Media completely or partially funded by the government publish serials about the representatives of independent media, using the hate language and numerous lies. So, the female journalists and civil activists are called prostitutes, while owners and male journalists are presented as fools, animals and national traitors. In the media controlled by DPS, the attacks on independent media are openly ridiculed. The state owned daily Pobjeda is leading this propaganda.

On the other hand, 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 – 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. A recent research conducted by the Center for Civic Education, has concluded that the state-controlled daily Pobjeda, albeit with the smallest circulation, benefits from the greatest number of advertisings by the state institutions and enterprises.

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

The launch of a free daily newspaper and dumping prices by competitors: On the small Montenegrin market, two daily newspapers have been launched over the past year. One of them, ‘Dnevne novine’, was established and distributed without charge for almost a year and, since very recently, is selling at a nominal price of 20 cents, while the other, named ‘Blic’, is selling at a token price of 30 cents. On a market of 650 000 inhabitants, such low dumping prices cannot be economically sustainable. The largest-selling and most influential dailies in Montenegro, ‘Vijesti’ and ‘Dan’, are sold for 70 cents. This fuels strong suspicion that the establishing of media with dumping prices is politically motivated and that the anonymous financiers are willing to invest huge fortunes in order to undermine the independent press. Needless to say, the state authorities entrusted to implement the Law on Protection of Competition are not reacting.

The ownership structure: Most of Montenegrin media are controlled by the top of DPS and are being financed in a nontransparent way. It is unclear who really stands behind them, as a significant majority is bankrupt; some have multimillion losses but still keep functioning. Government covers losses of Pobjeda and public Radio & Television of Montenegro out of its own budget. Behind the others, publicly or secretly, stand tycoons and their companies who support the propaganda in favor of the government. At the same time, the top state and DPS party officials aggressively and falsely depict the owners of daily Vijesti and weekly Monitor, the media that are struggling to survive under such oppressive circumstances, as filthy rich media monopolists and mafia.

Indicative is the case of the daily Pobjeda which remains in a majority ownership of the state, even though the Media Law of 2002 called for the privatization of this house by 2004, at the latest. Since then, two tenders have been ‘unsuccessful’, so the Government continued to finance the newspaper despite the legal provisions forbidding this.

Now, after the third announcement of the tender, the government could cede Pobjeda well below the anticipated conditions of sale. According to recently released information, it could happen that the state assumes the huge debts of Pobjeda, which amount to about 20 million. The only bidder is the Bosnian company Avaz. Owner of Avaz is controversial Fahrudin Radoncic, a longtime friend of Milo Djukanovic. Messrs Radoncic and Djukanovic were Montenegrin Communist Party officials before the multiparty system was introduced.

Court cases: Journalist of the weekly Monitor Veseljko Koprivica won the case against Montenegro in the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. Explanation of judges in Strasbourg was that the penalty and damage charges for alleged libel, which were assigned to Koprivica in Montenegrin court, were not in accordance with the practice of HRC in Strasbourg. This court ruling is a great encouragement, since in the last few years dailies Vijesti and Dan and weekly Monitor paid over 300 000 euros for alleged libel and pain and suffering of the plaintiffs, former prime minister Djukanovic and his close representatives of business elite included. In a majority of these cases penalties imposed in the Montenegrin courts have not been in accordance with the practice of HRC and have jeopardized the economic survival of these media, and thus the freedom of speech and expression.

The verdict in Koprivica vs. Montenegro could positively influence the courts in Montenegro, which currently deal with many court proceedings for libel against dailies Dan and Vijesti and weekly Monitor.

It is encouraging that the Constitutional Court of Montenegro at the beginning of this year overturned the verdict of the Supreme Court against the weekly Monitor and its journalist Andrej Nikolaidis. The Constitutional Court in its interpretation of judgment called on the practice of the Court in Strasbourg.

Lawsuit by Ana Kolarevic: On the same day that it was announced that the Prime Minister will be Milo Djukanovic, his sister and lawyer Ana Kolarevic filed a lawsuit against dailies Vijesti and Dan, and the weekly Monitor, seeking compensation of 100,000 euros from each of them. The pretext is the alleged mental pain that she has suffered as a result of their reporting on the Telecom affair. Earlier this year, the US court authorities in New York opened a high-level corruption case related to the Telecom privatisation in 2005. In New York Court documents, Prime Minister Djukanovic's sister is brought in connection with this affair and its dubious contracts, which were highlighted by the media that she is now suing. Ms Kolarevic has decided to file a lawsuit only ten months after the first articles appeared, when it was clear that her brother would return to the post of Prime Minister.

Public Radio and Television: Advisory Committee of the Public Broadcasting Service (RTCG), after the overturn of the former managing director, appointed the new one – Rade Vojvodic. Mr Vojvodic was a long term director of the private television ‘IN’, which was subsequently liquidated following a bankruptcy. He is also a close friend of Milo Djukanovic. In an ambitious program, Mr Vojvodic has announced reforms and drastic decrease of number of employees. While layoffs were initiated, Mr Vojvodic brought to RTCG most of his personnel from TV IN. According to the Independent labor union of RTCG, their hiring was in collision with the Employment law.

Although the arrival of the new management improved the viewership rating of public broadcasting services, the quality of the programme is still questionable. The editorial board now insists on entertainment and sports, for airing the Champions League, for example. and which absorb significant state budgetary funds. At the same time, educational, scientific and informative programme, which are the foundation of every public service broadcast, still have inadequate professional standards. In the news programs, the primacy is still 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 is accused by some members of its Advisory Board for non-transparent allocation of funds in previous years, as well as for closing suspicious contracts worth millions with the off shore company Fiesta. For more than ten years, Fiesta has been an agent for leasing of satellite services for RTCG. Interestingly, the company “Fiesta” was in the middle of the corruption scandal associated with the privatization of Montenegrin Telekom.

Self regulatory bodies: After several months of deliberations, in which local OSCE and EU delegation representatives also took part, the Montenegrin media community decided to establish two self-regulatory bodies. In March 2012, the ‘Media self-regulatory body’ was formed, bringing together 19 electronic and print media. A significant number of these media is financed from state and local budgets, while a majority of them does not keep distance from the ruling structures. Since their inception, they have commented mostly the activities of dailies Vijesti and Dan, TV Vijesti and weekly Monitor, instead of focusing on their founders.

On the other hand, dailies Vijesti and Dan and the weekly Monitor, which had advocated the establishment of two separate bodies since the beginning of these deliberations – one which would deal with issues of self-regulation in the print media and the other in the electronic media – formed a working group for establishment of a Press council. The working group has drafted the key documents and announced the creation of the Council.


Željko Ivanović, CEO daily Vijesti

Mladen Milutinović, CEO daily Dan
Milka Tadić Mijović, CEO Monitor weekly

Podgorica, 27 December 2012

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IN ENGLISH

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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IN ENGLISH

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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