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Montenegro: Authorities Seek To Repair Damage From High-Profile Sex-Trafficking Case

  • Julia Geshakova

Montenegrin authorities have invited a team of international experts, including representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, to review the way its judiciary handled a high-profile sex-trafficking affair. The move is an apparent attempt to repair the damage caused by the decision of Montenegrin prosecutors to end investigations into the case amid allegations of a political cover-up.

Prague, 25 June 2003 (RFE/RL)) -- Podgorica prosecutor Zoran Radonjic's decision to close the investigations into four suspects -- including a deputy state prosecutor -- who allegedly beat and raped a young Moldovan woman and forced her into prostitution was meant to put an end to the case. Instead, it sparked an international outcry.

The United States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and Amnesty International urged Montenegrin authorities to reopen the case, calling the prosecutor's decision "disappointing" and "alarming."

Trafficking in women is a problem faced by most countries in the western Balkans, and Montenegro is hardly the worst offender. But Radonjic's decision to drop the case without indicting the suspects has cast doubt over the government's repeated pledges to fight organized crime.

The government strongly denies accusations it may in any way have influenced the decision, pointing out that that particular case is only one out of nearly 30 the judiciary is currently investigating.

Rory Keane, a spokesman for the OSCE's office in Podgorica, told RFE/RL the organization is considering a proposal by Montenegrin authorities to send a team of experts to review the court documentation.

"Mr. [Dragan] Djurovic, [deputy prime minister] from the Montenegrin government, went before the OSCE Permanent Council last week in order to explain, put forward some recommendations. In front of the Permanent Council, he forwarded the recommendation that representatives of the international community, including the OSCE, could perhaps visit Montenegro in order to review the case file. The OSCE structures are still reviewing this offer by the Montenegrin authorities and looking at the modalities and will make a decision on this offer in due course," Keane said.

Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic says he expects the international team to arrive in Podgorica soon. Djukanovic told the "Vijesti" daily that all criticisms have to be heard, but added that Montenegro should not have to "undermine its judiciary system" because of such protests.

The case first came to public attention in November, when the Moldovan woman -- known only as S.C. -- turned up, badly beaten, at Women's Safe House, a nongovernmental organization in Podgorica. She said she had been the victim of human trafficking. Her allegations led to the arrest of four suspects, including the deputy state prosecutor.

Six months later, in late May, after interviewing more than 40 witnesses, prosecutor Radonjic closed the investigation, citing lack of evidence. Radonjic said the case could be reopened only if S.C. herself decides to press charges.

Liljana Raicevic is the head of Women's Safe House. Raicevic said she does not know whether S.C. -- who has already left the country out of fear for her own safety -- would go to court. But she told RFE/RL that Women's Safe House has documented S.C.'s testimony and could reveal the names of all those she implicates in the affair.

"There is no reason to cover up anything. All the names that are there, that are being mentioned, they are ordinary people, even if they are in high positions. But that does not concern us, and we will not hide anything. What if they are currently players in politics or business? That does not mean anything for us," Raicevic said.

The list of suspects, meanwhile, seems to be growing longer and more scandalous.

Just days before President Filip Vujanovic was inaugurated earlier this month, Raicevic, in an open letter, accused the president's brother, Dejan, of having witnessed S.C. being maltreated two years ago -- and of having done nothing to prevent it.

Dejan Vujanovic, a Podgorica lawyer, denies any involvement. President Vujanovic said he cannot interfere with the work of the judiciary.

Leaders of opposition parties are calling on Raicevic to reveal all she knows. The leader of the Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, is refusing to take the post of chair of parliament until the chief state prosecutor resigns over the case.

Drasko Djuranovic, director of the independent weekly "Monitor," said the case has moved into a phase where its ramifications will be hard to control. "Nobody knows any longer what are the real charges or how much they could be manipulated. Now we are reaching the ugliest phase, when rumors and lies can without any fear of court sanctions be passed off as legal and official versions, and when there is no longer any way to establish the truth," he said.

Djuranovic said Montenegro missed its opportunity to conduct a fair trial. That, he said, has opened the door to possible political manipulation. "For the woes they are facing or could face, people at the top of the state should blame their bad judgment. When the political uproar started, the only way to establish the truth was an open court trial so that guilt could be openly proven or rejected, so that the suspects could prove their innocence in court. Only in this way we could have shown whether Montenegro is lenient toward human trafficking or [whether] one case tendentiously had been turned into an affair with a political underlining," he said.

Nebojsa Vucinic, a professor of international law at the University of Podgorica, said Montenegro must reopen the case to prove it can act in accordance with international standards. But speaking on state television earlier this week, he dismissed the invitation to international experts as a "political gesture of goodwill" and said Montenegro does not need outside interference in its judiciary.

(Biljana Jovicevic from RFE/RL's South Slavic And Albanian Languages Service contributed to this report.)