The envelope that contained EUR 97,000 is just the tip of the iceberg. The visible part. The part that was recorded. Others did not record similar instances. Or they are still not in the same position as DK. But we have seen plenty already in the audio and video recordings of NGOs and political parties, showing polling-day party headquarters where money is distributed, given and taken in exchange for the votes…
One hundred days have passed since the publication of the recording which showed Dusko Knezevic handing an envelope with EUR97,000 to his schoolmate Migo Stijepovic “as agreed with Milo Djukanovic”. It is time for reminders and some provisional reckoning.
What about accountability? The result of all the political, media, civil and other reactions, urges, appeals and demands is very modest – no political accountability, or criminal liability, or civil-service or ethical responsibility has been established in the course of an institutionalised process. How meaningful is the fine imposed by the Agency for Prevention of Corruption? Not really. Which political party would not go for winning the election with the help of an envelope, if the fine is equal to what the boss and his company spend on a night out?
Where is the key protagonist? At the time, Migo Stijepovic was the Mayor of Podgorica; he was and still remains a member of the DPS Presidency, and is still Secretary General to the President of Montenegro, appointed by the President himself. He has not been dismissed (from either the party or the service), nor is he likely to be.
Everyone – apparat from the activists loyal to the regime, police officers, Anti-Corruption Agency staff or prosecutors – has been aware for decades that the money coming from tycoons and organised crime has been misused to fund DPS, mainly for vote buying.
The envelope that contained EUR97,000 is just the tip of the iceberg. The visible part. The part that was recorded. The others did not record similar instances. Or they are still not in the same position as DK. But we have already seen plenty in the audio and video recordings of NGOs and political parties, showing polling-day party headquarters where money is distributed, given and taken in exchange for the votes…
That is why the whole point about the envelope case is that it is not an isolated incident, as has been suggested by Tarzan Milosevic, DPS Director, and Sreten Radonjic, Director of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption. Thus, Tarzan Milosevic, speaking in the Parliament on 21 February this year, said:” Our party President and leadership were not cognizant. This was not standard practice; this was an incident. If this proved to have been standard practice, I would leave this office the next day”.
Milo Djukanovic was much more open when he said:” This was done by many business people, including Mr. Knezevic. There is no dispute about it. It all arrived to the appropriate address at
the Democratic Party of Socialists, meaning at the DPS accounting department. It was duly recorded there, and the required reports were prepared for the purposes of the state authorities.”
Djukanovic’s statement gives rise to the conclusion that” our party President“ was quite cognizant of such transactions and that records existed of other donors and donations.
In particular given what Djukanovic said at the same press conference in February this year: “What I can tell you with certainty is that it is not true that the amount of money given was the one mentioned by Mr. Knezevic…”
This Djukanovic’s statement shows that he was well aware of the transaction. Common sense instructs us that one can either be aware of the transaction and certain of the amount agreed to be handed by Knezevic to Stijepovic, or unaware of the transaction, as Djukanovic claimed earlier, therefore also unaware of the amount.
Katnic says he has not interviewed Djukanovic ”since the facts that could be obtained by interviewing Djukanovic had been obtained otherwise”, meaning from the interview with Migo Stijepovic after he ”climbed down the chimney into the Special Prosecutor’s Office”, and the interviews conducted with his fellow party members from the DPS local committee of Zeta, and financial documents seized from the DPS local headquarters in Zeta. All that Djukanovic has said indicates that not just he, but the entire DPS party headquarters had to be interviewed and documents seized from the very headquarters of DPS in order for the prosecution to arrive at the answer to the key question: who has been funding DPS and what amounts have been provided over the years, without any official disclosure?
Otherwise, it will be clear that the Special Prosecutor’s Office is toeing the line of DPS defence strategy, in order to establish that the “envelope” was an isolated instance, an incident or a mistake made by naïve or forgetful marginals from the party organisation who will ultimately (if at all) face sanctions which will be light, conditional and bearing no serious consequences.
What is the moral of the story? The moral is that (even the best) law on the financing of parties and campaigns is a weak instrument in tackling their cash financing. Nobody is a fool to publicly and officially admit to state institutions receiving any illicit funds. Moreover, it is certain that ”the most compliant of all the parties“, following the developments described above, will devise new mechanisms and methods to collect, distribute and conceal the “envelopes“.
This is why only a professional Special Prosecutor’s Office, applying its methods, including secret surveillance techniques and complex police-prosecutorial actions, can be successful in tackling the influence of the cash coming from (local and international) tycoons and (local and international) organised crime.
A number of people can attest that in the Spring of 2016 I personally suggested to Katnic and Ivica Stankovic an operation named ”Tape 2016“, acting on the hints that had been publicly available for years and decades and all led to the same place (DPS), in order to make sure that such practices were subject to prosecutorial investigation in the context of the 2016 election. Nothing happened in this regard, neither in the run-up nor in the aftermath of the election. This is why it is essential that the Prosecution Service is “aired”, so that the key positions can be assigned to people who are competent and ready to break the silence of the institutions and prevent the “envelopes” from impacting the 2020 election.
In the new circumstances, the Supreme State Prosecutor would prepare, on behalf of the State Prosecution Service, an Action Plan for tackling the criminal offences related to illicit financing of parties and campaigns, vote buying, which would serve as general guidance for the work of the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Anela Cekic’s forgotten diary from 2016 might serve as the basis for developing such a Plan. As part of the overall efforts towards establishing fair conditions for the election and independent Prosecution Service, the EU could provide a highly credible team of experts (from the EU member states recognised for excellence in the rule of law field) which would provide a kind of soft supervision and insight into the professionalism of the Special Prosecutor’s Office’s operation. The Supreme State Prosecutor would furnish appropriate reports on the undertaken prosecutorial actions and measures. NGOs could organise campaigns to highlight the social harm caused by the practice of vote buying, encourage resistance to such practices, support independent call centres for reporting vote buying and filing criminal complaints.
A long-term OSCE/ODIHR mission would monitor in particular the practices of illicit financing of parties/campaigns, vote buying, misuse of public funds and resources and the work of the institutions responsible for the fight against corruption and for the integrity of the electoral process.
The Agency for Prevention of Corruption, led by a new management, would implement, proactively and in a timely manner, a comprehensive range of measures and actions to identify any illicit practices, working in close cooperation with the Prosecution Service. Only such joint efforts would enable us to systematically tackle the practice that has been pushing the electoral process into lawlessness and violence and pushing the society into consecutive political crises.
President of the Managing Board