Op-Ed: Is This Mafia State Joining NATO?
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Montenegro’s Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in Washington, D.C., on April 8, 2014. The purpose was to address Montenegro’s interest in joining NATO.
The people of the Balkans depend on countries like America and officials like Biden to communicate to individuals like Djukanovic that corruption and international money laundering are major concerns, and that they expect to see measures put in place to stamp out this illegal activity.
As America has put enormous resources toward work to identify and prosecute those involved in money laundering, it expects its friends in the international community to help in this war against illicit transactions. Since 1995, Western taxpayers have sent over $100 billion in aid to Balkan nations.
Djukanovic’s leading role in Montenegro’s Communist Party (and its successor, the Democratic Party of Socialists) and his 20-year reign as president or prime minister of Montenegro are riddled with allegations of corruption, physical attacks on journalists, and ties to organized crime.
According to D.C.-based Global Financial Integrity, Montenegro’s $6.2 billion in illicit financial outflows (138 percent of GDP) via crime and corruption from 2001 to 2010 has hemorrhaged the economy. Around 40 percent of Montenegrin youth are unemployed.
Montenegro’s War on Journalists
Global media and anti-corruption groups continue to express concern over Montenegro’s unrelenting war on journalists.
The assassination of a media editor in 2004, the recent bomb explosion at print media outlet Vijesti on Dec. 26 of last year, beatings of journalists, and the brutal attack on Lidija Nikcevic of daily newspaper Dan (Today) in January 2014 demonstrate a disturbing pattern.
On Sept. 6, 2013, the Southeast European Times reported on Montenegro’s government being behind the attacks of critics: “A former member of the police’s special anti-terrorist unit told reporters on August 21st that his colleagues were involved in organized beatings of journalists, writers and opposition figures for years.”
A U.S. Embassy cable sent on July 3, 2007, describes in detail the reported illegal trafficking of drugs, arms and humans through Montenegro: “The ‘secret’ [Agency for National Security] register … said several groups in Montenegro that deal mainly in drugs and arms smuggling are connected with criminals from neighboring countries, Western Europe and South America.”
Montenegro lies on the Balkan Route. The route into Europe serves as a corridor for over $20 billion per year in heroin originating in Afghanistan and for the trafficking of drugs, arms, human beings and organs. Organized crime and corruption have fueled the Balkans’ illicit trade, financing terrorist groups including al-Qaida and Hezbollah.
Alleged Banking Corruption
According to the BBC, PricewaterhouseCoopers’s audit of Prva Banka, controlled by Djukanovic’s family, suggested “most of the money deposited at the bank came from public funds, while two thirds of the loans it made went to the Djukanovics and their close associates.”
According to a cable sent by former U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro Roderick Moore:
“Djukanovic himself owns just under three percent of shares in the prominent local bank, Prva Banka. His brother has a nearly 47 percent stake in the bank, and his sister has a one percent stake, giving the family controlling interest. Prva Banka was the only Montenegrin bank to benefit from a government bailout package (40 million Euros total) as a result of the global economic crisis.”
Based on research by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project published by the BBC, among the recipients of Prva Banka’s loans was Darko Saric, a convicted drug smuggler.
With unreformed Croatia and Albania having become NATO members, America’s taxpayers ought to be deeply troubled by another corrupt Balkan state joining the organization. Political expediency will weaken America’s economic and security interests.
President Ronald Reagan’s resounding words are a reminder for today’s elected leaders: “Trust, but verify.”
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