Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The Failing Montenegro Justice System
In a leaked cable from 2007, a US embassy official in Podgorica wrote that one of the judges in the case of the murder of chief police inspector Slavoljub Scekic should have stepped down to avoid “the appearance of impropriety”.
One of the three panel judges, Cedomir Janjevic, “should have recused himself from the case from the start”, US embassy official Marsha Barnes wrote in a cable sent to the US State Department on July 20, 2007, in which she analysed the prosecutor’s claims that Janjevic’s impartiality was damaged because he had bought a house from the mother of one of the accused in the case.
The Wikileaks cable was first published by the Montenegrin daily Vijesti.
The Scekic case was one of the most high-profile cases tried in Montenegro in recent years. According to the prosecution, Scekic was murdered for investigating the bombing attacks of the luxury hotel Splendid near Budva by a criminal group trying to extort €2 million, Barnes reported. She noted that Scekic was also investigating several high profile murders.
In the section of the cable reserved for comments, Barnes wrote that she positively viewed the prosecutor’s request to remove the judge.
She cited evidence of the special prosecutor for organised crime Stojanka Radovic that panel judge Janjevic had bought a house in May 2005 and later a plot of land from Milka Bulatovic, mother of accused Ljubo Vujadinovic.
Vujadinovic was accused for assisting the murder of Scekic together with other nine persons, all of whom pleaded not guilty. Scekic was shot dead on August 30, 2005 in an ambush in front of his house. Financial dealings leading to Janjevic’s purchase from Vujadinovic’s mother happened between February and July 2005.
“The prosecutor’s view is that the transactions took place simultaneously with the planning and execution of the criminal proceedings that culminated in Scekic’s murder,” Barnes wrote.
Prosecutor Radovic found that there was “justified suspicion of objectivity of judge Janjevic”, because purchasing a house “entails establishing of close personal and private relations”, Barnes reported.
After the cable was sent, in September 2007 the president of the Podgorica high court Ivan Stankovic decided that the request to remove Janjevic from the case was unfounded, Vijesti reported. Stankovic justified his decision by stating “none of the reasons that might bring into doubt the impartiality of judge Janjevic exist”.
According to the president of Podgorica's High court, the relation of the judge and Vujadinovic’s mother was “not of the degree that would ... lead to doubts about his impartiality” due to the fact that the purchasing contract was concluded before Janjevic was appointed to the case.
However, in the leaked dispatch, Barnes wrote that the judge should have stepped down from the case, “even if his house purchase was innocent”. In the section of the cable entitled “Comment”, Barnes wrote that claiming innocence of the purchase was “a somewhat dubious assertion”.
Barnes wrote that Scekic was “believed to be an honest policeman”. She pointed out that the trial on Scekic murder “proceeds slowly”, and that it had been delayed at least six times.
“It is not certain how long it might take to complete one of the most challenging law suits before the Montenegrin judiciary,” Barnes concluded.
The first-instance trial was completed in August 2009, when five of the accused were convicted of the murder. Three were sentenced to 30 years in prison,one to 20 years, and one was given a two-year sentence. A sixth defendant, Milan Scekic, who was charged with being the shooter, was acquitted for lack of evidence.
According to Vijesti, the final verdict is expected to be delivered in March this year.
Posted by Conference Organizer at 10:29 AM