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Montenegro: Authorities Arrest Deputy Prosecutor, Crack Down On Trafficking In Women

Montenegrin authorities have arrested the country's deputy state prosecutor on suspicion of involvement in trafficking in young women, part of a renewed crackdown on organized crime in the country.

Prague, 3 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A special Montenegrin police unit has arrested Deputy State Prosecutor Zoran Piperovic and three other men as part of an investigation into organized prostitution and trafficking in human beings.

The case is significant because Montenegrin authorities for the past decade have not prosecuted senior officials for corruption or involvement in organized crime.

Piperovic was arrested on 30 November and remanded in custody for 30 days. He says he is innocent and that he is being framed by police. The other suspects -- Irfan Kurpejovic, Ekrem Jasavic, and Bajram Orahovac -- were arrested for allegedly holding a Moldovan girl captive and forcing her into prostitution.

The 19-year-old Moldovan woman -- identified in the media only by her initials, S.C. -- escaped her captors and is currently being sheltered by Women's Safe House, a local NGO. Her testimony led to the arrests.

The NGO's coordinator, Ljiljana Raicevic, says the young Moldovan woman has not yet given a deposition to the investigating judge and still needs time to recover before she will be able to provide details.

Raicevic alleges the authorities have been lax in their prosecution:

"It is known that several criminal [suspects] are at large. Quite simply, they are arrested, the police collect evidence. We advise the girls to testify against [their captors]. The case then goes to court and gets lost. "

Raicevic is calling for Montenegro's chief prosecutor to resign based on testimony by victims and the arrest of his deputy, Piperovic.

Vukcevic, for his part, does not rule out resigning: "I cannot avoid objective responsibility, and I shall decide on this at a later date."

Vukcevic says he had no idea that Piperovic was under investigation and learned of the arrest by reading the Sunday newspapers.

The Podgorica daily "Vijesti" reports today that in a search of the home of one of the suspects, Bajram Orahovac, police found confidential documents hidden under a mattress. The documents -- addressed to Vukcevic -- were two daily information bulletins supplied to top state officials that contained intelligence about trafficking.

In a search of the flat where the Moldovan woman was held captive, police also found a hidden camera among the purposes of which is believed to be to compromise high-ranking customers.

Montenegro's national coordinator in the fight against trafficking in people, Vladimir Cejovic, commends the local media for refraining from publishing the names of the victimized women, but says Montenegro must do more: "Trafficking in people is one of the biggest problems facing the international community. It has galvanized the international community into fighting it. It is an international problem that is being closely monitored by all international organizations working on Montenegrin territory."

Due to its geopolitical position, Montenegro has served as a major center for the smuggling of arms, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gasoline, cars, and refugees, as well as young women being forced into prostitution. The country's new prime minister and former President Milo Djukanovic is under investigation by an Italian magistrate for his alleged role in cigarette smuggling in the early 1990s.

So far this year, Montenegrin authorities have charged 29 people with involvement in trafficking in human beings and organized prostitution. Montenegro has placed 46 foreign women who were victims of forced prostitution into shelters in Montenegro or repatriated them to their countries of origin -- mainly Moldova, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia.

But Montenegrin authorities during the past decade have refrained from prosecuting senior officials for corruption. Pressure by the international community over the past three years has changed that.

Montenegro's justice minister, Zeljko Sturanovic, says suspects will be brought to justice regardless of who they are: "The Justice Ministry over the past year has reviewed the criminal code to ensure that criminal acts such as trafficking in people are being processed as envisioned in the norms for such a situation. Criminal [suspects] are being detained regardless of their standing."

And Deputy Prime Minister Dragan Djurovic says that if Piperovic's involvement is proven, he will bear the legal and moral consequences. He says Montenegro must show that it is resolute in the fight against trafficking.

However, despite these official assurances, experts on organized crime in Montenegro say the police have traditionally been restricted in their ability to uphold the law.

Nebojsa Medojevic is a Podgorica-based independent expert in organized crime and an activist in an NGO called the Group for Changes. He issued a statement saying, "There must be no privileged or protected individuals or institutions in the efficient fight against crime in Montenegro."

In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Medojevic said authorities for the past decade have operated from a position of examining whether violations of the law constituted official corruption -- referred as being in the "state interest" -- or were simply common crimes. As a result, he says, common crimes, such as vehicular violations, were prosecuted to the maximum, while corruption and smuggling were ignored:

"Our legislative and justice branches operate according to a network which let the big fish go but caught the small fish. So now we have a crisis of institutions which do not function according to the law but rather by need, according to the instructions of those in power or very frequently by some sort of financial oligarchies that are close to the political oligarchies."

If Montenegro's new crackdown is to be taken seriously, more senior officials will be coming under investigation after a decade of lawlessness. Cracking down on the sex trade, however, remains a regional problem that is still a long way from achieving any sort of success.