Saturday, June 30, 2007

MONTENEGRO: EX-PRESIDENT BULATOVIC ADMITS TO STATE'S ROLE IN CIGARETTE SMUGGLING


Podgorica, 29 June (AKI) - The former president of Montenegro, Momir Bulatovic, has admitted that his country was involved in a multi-million dollar cigarette smuggling scheme to Italy while the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) was under international sanctions in 1990s. “We lived on it and it was a state project,” Bulatovic told Podgorica media on Friday. He said he was asked by the Italian ambassador to Belgrade whether Montenegro was involved in cigarette smuggling and replied affirmatively.

“I told him: of course we are smuggling cigarettes because you have imprisoned us and put us under sanctions, and we will stop when the sanctions are lifted,” Bulatovic explained.

Serbia and Montenegro were subject to international sanctions because of last decade Balkan wars and Bulatovic argued that it was the only way to survive. “How else can a prisoner behave but as criminals,” he said.

Bulatovic said he insisted that cigarette smuggling be stopped after the sanctions were lifted in 1995, but that prime minister Milo Djukanovic decided otherwise, which led to the split between president and prime minister. Bulatovic later sided with Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and became prime minister of FR Yugoslavia.

Djukanovic has been investigated by Italian prosecutors for masterminding cigarette smuggling scheme, and prosecutors in the southern city of Bari have said that an indictment against him was imminent. Serbian police recently arrested a group of people allegedly belonging to “cigarette smuggling mafia” linked to Djukanovic’s scheme, but Djukanovic has repeatedly refuted charges.

“The situation with the Italian judiciary is much more serious than it appears and the amount of money turned over by the cigarette smuggling is enormous even by European and Italian standards, Bulatovic said. Apart from benefiting the state, huge sums of money went into private pockets, he added.

Djukanovic resigned as prime minister last year after leading the country to independence from Serbia, but is still considered the most powerful figure in Montenegro. Bulatovic said that western countries took no action against Djukanovic so far, because they needed a “symbol of democracy” and a “good guy” in the struggle against Milosevic who was toppled from power in October 2000. He was later charged with war crimes and died in the Hague jail in March last year.

Bulatovic said Djukanovic was “to blame for many things”, but added he would not testify against him before foreign courts.

(Vpr/Aki)

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