Montenegro’s parliament dismisses anti-corruption leader

Montenegro’s parliament dismisses anti-corruption leader
A billboard put up by anti-corruption NGO MANS, headed by Vanja Calovic-Markovic.
By bne IntelliNews July 8, 2018

Montenegro’s parliament voted to dismiss Vanja Calovic-Markovic from the council of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption (APC) in a highly controversial decision that critics say was politicised and suggest was intended as retribution against Markovic for her NGO's exposes concerning President Milo Djukanovic and his family.

The parliament decided to dismiss Markovic over allegations of conflict of interest, without waiting for a court’s ruling on this issue. Markovic, who is executive director of the anti-corruption NGO MANS, has been accused of securing a contract worth €149,000 to her NGO with the APC. According to the contract, MANS was supposed to report suspicious cases of possible corruption during the October 2016 general election.

“The dismissal of Calovic-Markovic was a politically charged move and raises concerns previously outlined by the European Commission in its 2018 report on Montenegro. The report highlights challenges around conflict of interest cases, particularly those concerning members of civil society organisations and media,” Transparency International said in a statement following the parliament’s decision.

Transparency International also noted that Markovic had not been given any opportunity to respond to the accusations prior to the parliament’s decision, which was in violation of the EU legislation.

MANS also reacted to the parliament’s decision, saying that it was part of a “political cleansing” undertaken by Djukanovic, the current president of Montenegro and a veteran leader of the long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS).

“[I]t is completely clear that the replacement of Calovic-Markovic is a revenge for revealing criminal activities of Djukanovic and his closest circle, and an attempt to stop the fight against corruption,” MANS said in a statement.

Under Calovic-Markovic’s leadership, the NGO has published numerous studies and statements connecting Djukanovic and his family to allegedly corrupt deals and arrangements. The most recent among these was the deal on the sale of Rudnik Uglja coal mine to power firm EPCG. Djukanovic’s brother, Aco Djukanovic, was one of the two biggest shareholders who benefitted from the deal. According to MANS, the price paid for the stake was above Rudnik Uglja’s actual worth.

“The dismissal also adds to the mounting political pressure that MANS faces in its work to fight corruption, undermines citizens’ trust in political institutions and counteracts national accession efforts to join the European Union,” Transparency International said in its statement.

Meanwhile, MPs also voted to dismiss Irena Radovic from the post of deputy central bank governor. According to Radovic, her dismissal was a consequence of her decision not to support the policy of the governor Radoje Zugic, who is among Djukanovic’s most loyal party members. Zugic allegedly ordered Radovic to impose tougher control over some banks while leaving others to operate without any supervision, daily Vijesti has reported.

Zugic requested her dismissal claiming incompetence and lack of professionalism.

In April, the European Commission slammed Montenegro for its lack of progress in the fight against organised crime in its progress report and said that the country needs to make further progress in most other areas.

“Despite some progress, corruption is prevalent in many areas and remains an issue of concern,” the report has noted.

Although the operational capacity of institutions has improved, the EU has concluded that all institutions should demonstrate a more proactive attitude.

“Challenges to the credibility, independence and priority-setting of the Anti-Corruption Agency need to be addressed,” it also noted. The country must also make progress in financial investigations and seizure and confiscation of assets. It should also continue investigations and convictions in high-level corruption cases, the EC said.