The former president of Serbia and Montenegro, Svetozar Marovic, was arrested on December 17 in connection with a wide-reaching corruption investigation in his home town of Budva.
Corruption was one of the main concerns listed in the European Commission’s latest progress report on Montenegro, which noted the need for a credible track record in fighting high-level graft. The arrest of an official at Marovic's level - as well as being a former president he holds a senior position in the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) - indicates growing independence of the prosecution.
The arrest was ordered by the Special Prosecutor's Office for Organised Crime, according to Montenegrin news service CDM. The website of the prosecutor’s office says it has ordered the arrest of “S. M.” on reasonable doubt that he was involved in the so-called "Budva affair".
Marovic has been under investigation for four years on suspicion of abuse of office leading to suspected damages of over €120mn.
The case concerns the construction and management of the Plaza shopping mall in Budva, a joint project between the municipality and a private company, Trade Unique. Marovic and several others are suspected of colluding to benefit the Trade Unique.
“Following interrogation, the special prosecutor has decided to detain [S.M.] for 72 hours,” the prosecutor’s office statement reads.
Several members of Marovic’s immediate family - his son Milos, his brother Dragan and aunt Mirjana - are already in police custody in connection to the same case, while his daughter Milena Marovic-Bogdanovic and his son’s mother-in-law, Dragica Popovic, are under investigation, CDM reported.
Other key actors in the Budva affair have been arrested over the last two months. On August 13, police arrested several high-ranking municipal officials, including the town’s current mayor Lazar Radjenovic and former mayor Rajko Kuljaca.
Marovic was the sole president of the loose union between Serbia and Montenegro between 2003 and its disintegration in 2006. During this time, he worked with Montenegro’s current prime minister Milo Đukanović to help Montenegro break away from Serbia, and is currently head of the political council of Đukanović’s DPS.
Montenegro recently received an invitation to join Nato and is also aiming for EU membership, but high levels of official corruption are holding the country back.
In its October 2015 enlargement progress report, the EC noted that Montenegro has achieved some level of preparation in terms of the fight against corruption and organised crime, but needs further improvement. It criticized the low number of effective investigation, prosecution and final convictions in corruption cases, in particular regarding high-level corruption. The report also noted that the country needs a credible track record in the fight against corruption and organised crime in order to advance in its accession negotiations.