Arrests highlight Montenegro's efforts against corruption

01/04/2014

Officials said the resolve is there, but experts said stronger anti-corruption efforts are needed.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Budva -- 01/04/14

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The coastal towns of Montenegro, including Budva and Kotor, are targets for organised crime and corruption. [AFP]

The recent arrests of high-ranking officials in Budva are positive signals that Montenegro is making a concerted effort to prosecute corruption cases, experts said.

Montenegrin police arrested Budva Mayor Lazar Radjenovic last month on suspicion of abuse of office.

The charges stem from a 2007 bank loan for 2 million euros to the private company Luna, which Radjenovic backed with a state guarantee. Police said the loan was used to purchase 26,000 square metres of state land in Kosljun, and has not been repaid. The bank's receivables were collected from the municipality.

Aleksandar Ticic, the privatisation adviser to Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, and Jelica Petricevic, the deputy director of Prva Bank, were also arrested last month. All three remain in custody.

Andrija Pejovic, Montenegro's chief EU negotiator said the arrests confirm the country's political will to end corruption and organised crime.

"These arrests are not the beginning, this is a continuation of a serious work," Pejovic told SETimes. "So far, Montenegro has adopted several laws to prevent corruption. With these laws, Montenegro will establish a state agency for anti-corruption. Also, we will form a special prosecutor's office that will deal with corruption and organised crime and that will have a stronger repressive influence."

The 2013 EU progress report on Montenegro repeated that widespread corruption remains a major concern for Brussels. In December 2013, Montenegro officially opened negotiations in EU Chapters 23 and 24, which include efforts against organised crime and corruption.

The two chapters deal with the establishment of an independent and efficient judiciary, and issues such as border control, visas, external migration, asylum, police co-operation and efforts against organised crime and terrorism.

The EU's new approach to membership negotiations, which is being implemented for the first time with Montenegro, means that Chapters 23 and 24 will be kept open until the negotiations end.

Experts agree that the country has much work to do in order to meet European standards.

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"Montenegro is still at the very beginning of the fight against corruption and organised crime. We still do not have institutions capable of unbiased procedures, transparent public information or internal accountability for failures," Daliborka Uljarevic, executive director of the Centre for Civic Education in Podgorica, told SETimes.

Some Budva residents said they are aware that their city is a focal point for corruption because of its attractiveness to businesses.

"Everyone now wants to do business in Budva because the prices of the land," Rados Radusinovic, a real estate agent from Budva, told SETimes. "Apartment prices are extremely high and that is why this city became one of the top tourist destinations on the Adriatic Sea in the past several years. That is why the government needs to pay special attention on the people who are doing business here, as well as in other coastal cities."

What steps can Montenegro take to improve its anti-corruption efforts? Share your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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