His first real job was as the Prime Minister of Montenegro. He has either been the President or Prime Minister for most of the nearly three decades of his career and the life of his country. While he casts himself as a progressive, pro-Western leader who recently helped his country join NATO and is on track to join the European Union, he has built one of the most dedicated kleptocracies and organized crime havens in the world.
For his work in creating an oppressive political atmosphere and an economy choked by corruption and money laundering, OCCRP honors Milo Djukanovic, Prime Minister of Montenegro, as OCCRP’s Person of the Year for his work in promoting crime, corruption and uncivil society.
“We really see this as a lifetime achievement award,” said OCCRP editor Drew Sullivan. “Nobody outside of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has run a state that relies so heavily on corruption, organized crime and dirty politics. It is truly and thoroughly rotten to the core.”
Nominating Djukanovic this year was Vanja Calovic, Director of the Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector (MANS), a civil society organization based in Montenegro.
“This is a deserved award,” Calovic said. “Djukanovic, the last European dictator, has captured our country for his own private interests and turned it into safe haven for criminals. While he, his family and friends enriched themselves, ordinary people suffer from poverty, injustice and lawlessness, while those who dare to talk about the corruption become his targets.”
Each year, OCCRP reporters and partners nominate and vote for the Person of the Year. The Prime Minister came in first in a vote with more than 50 journalists in the network participating. Previous winners have been Russian President Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, and the Romanian Parliament.
Finishing a close second and third in the polling respectively were the wife and children of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. The relatives of the Azerbaijani president own large chunks of the country’s economy and have worked to plunder the economy at the expense of the people. The Macedonian PM has wiretapped opposition parties and journalists, prosecuted political opponents and whitewashed murder investigations.
Djukanovic has a long history of befriending organized crime figures, involving himself in corrupt practices and bribing voters. He has been one of the world’s worst caretakers of government, often giving public money to cronies including organized criminals. His actions have left Montenegro with massive debts. Some of his career highlights include:
- Djukanovic and his close associates engaged in extensive cigarette smuggling with the Italian Sacra Corona Unita and Camorra crime families. He was indicted in Bari and freely admitted the trade but said his country needed money. He invoked diplomatic immunity to get the charges dropped.
- While he claims to have stopped the smuggling, OCCRP found an island off the coast financed by his family bank and owned by his good friend Stanko Subotic, a controversial businessman who was three times indicted but never convicted of cigarette smuggling related activities. The island was run by Djukanovic’s head of security and was being used to smuggle cigarettes with some of the same organized crime figures who were previously involved.
- He has made Montenegro a safe haven for a slew of controversial and organized crime figures over the years, including Darko Saric, Stanko Subotic, Naser Kelmendi, Safet Kalic, Brano Micunovic and others.
- When a state bank was privatized, it went to his family, and his government put huge amounts of the state’s money in it. Then they used it to launder money for organized crime and give big loans to organized crime, themselves and their friends. When the loans were not repaid, Djukanovic bailed out the family bank by forcing the Parliament to adopt a special law. There is no proof the bailout loans were ever repaid. To provide needed cash for the insolvent bank, he sold the state electrical company and required the proceeds go to the family bank. When the Central Bank objected to the illegal activity at the bank, Djukanovic fired the governor and replaced him with someone from the family bank, thus violating the longstanding independence of the Central Bank.
- His government has almost never looked into any scandal reported by the media. His handpicked prosecutors are famous for investigating leaks to journalists but not crime figures or corrupt deals–unless to do so benefits Djukanovic.
- He has sold large chunks of the Montenegrin coastline to very dodgy figures including controversial Russian businessmen, Azerbaijani companies controlled by that country’s First Family, and corrupt Middle Eastern interests.
- In 2015, Djukanovic borrowed close to US$ 1 billion for construction of a 41-kilometer-long section of highway, pushing the public debt to more than 60 percent of the GDP and violating European debt standards.
- Since 2006, Djukanovic has used state money to provide € 300 million in state guarantees for loans taken out by private companies. There was no interest required. More than half of those loans — €184 million– were never repaid, leaving Montenegrin citizens stuck with the debt. Most of it–€130 million—is owed by Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum tycoon and one of the world’s richest men.
- Djukanovic’s government offered citizenship to then-wanted regional drug kingpin Darko Saric. Citizenship would have been granted had Serbia allowed Saric to give up his Serbian citizenship.
- State newspapers have been used to smear journalists and activists who point out the rampant corruption.
While he pays lip service to fighting corruption and occasionally makes an arrest, it is usually in his own interest, such as the recent indictment of a political adversary.
Montenegro and Djukanovic still offer a haven for organized crime and we suspect this will continue until Djukanovic leaves office for good. Djukanovic is, however, good at playing various political interests against each other and has so far avoided serious international sanctions.