Montenegro – Anti corruption protests shake the tiny fragile Balkan country

Podgorica, Montenegro | 19 Feb 2019 (Tirana Echo) – Thousands have marched in Montenegro’s capital demanding the resignation of Milo Đukanović and his social-democratic government over corruption allegations, revealing that the pro western small NATO member is more fragile than previously thought.

Crowds of Montenegrins flooded the streets of Podgorica on Saturday evening chanting ‘Milo Thief’, ‘No more crime’ and ‘rebellion’, protesting against what seems like an ‘unchallengeable’ political leader in the tiny Balkan nation.

President Milo Đukanović, a veteran politician who has ruled Montenegro since 1991, has been accused by a former ally over corruption affairs and involvement in financial crime, causing a series of scandals which have shaken the country’s political scene.

Đukanović refutes the allegations and authorities are looking for his former ally Duško Knežević, who has fled the country.

Duško Knežević is the founder and president of the board of directors of Atlas Group Corporation (AGC) which is the largest financial group in Montenegro consisting of dozens of companies with far-ranging business interest, including banks and financial companies in Serbia, Cyprus, Russia and Great Britain.

The head of the troubled Atlas Banka accuses the Đukanović ‘clan’ of ordering his arrest and faking charges of money laundering and financial fraud, claiming that the president and his family are trying to take over his businesses and properties along Montenegro’s Adriatic coast.

The powerful businessman has also alleged that Montenegro’s banking sector is crumbling with three banks at particular risk. Since Knežević fled the country, he has revealed information over a €10mn villa as a gift given to President Milo Djukanovic, which he denies.

Prosecutors have now accused Knežević of heading a criminal group that organized and executed the laundering of €500m Euros through Atlas Banka, illegally receiving €1.9m.

Mr. Knežević, who has a previous history of bankruptcy, has been charged with abuse of office and the special prosecution office of Montenegro has issued an international arrest warrant for him. A Montenegrin court ruled several weeks ago that, once arrested, he must spend one month in detention.

The scandal has now escalated further as a video showing Knežević giving money to a member of Đukanović’s long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) was released. The money was allegedly donated to support Đukanović’s campaign in 2018 which returned him to the presidential seat.

Milo Đukanović has been the President of Montenegro since 20 May 2018. He served as Prime Minister of Montenegro in three governments from 1991 to 1998, as President of Montenegro from 1998 to 2002, and as Prime Minister again from 2003 to 2006, from 2008 to 2010, and from 2012 to 2016.

Mr. Đukanović is also the long-term president of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, originally the Montenegrin branch of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, which has governed Montenegro since the introduction of multi-party politics.

Montenegro is a candidate country for EU membership and is currently engaged under intense negotiations with the European Commission to pave the way for its eventual membership.

The tiny Balkan country of 620,000 citizens became a member of NATO in 2017 following a harshly fought campaign with its pro-Russian opposition parties, which accuse Đukanović of siding with the west to protect his political legacy.  

During the 2017 general elections, British intelligence officials said that Moscow stands behind a planned plot to steal Montenegro’s elections and kill its pro-NATO leader Milo Đukanović, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

Montenegro has been historically divided between pursuing pro-Western policies and sticking to an alliance with Orthodox Christian allies Serbia and Russia. Montenegro gained independence from Serbia in 2006.

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