Organised crime in Montenegro on rise amid claims of gang links to government

Shortly after sunset on Tuesday evening a man approached Olivera Lakić, an investigative journalist, outside her apartment in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, and calmly shot her in the leg from close range. Lakić saw the silhouettes of three men fleeing the scene as she fell to the ground.

A tourist paradise of mountains, canyons and an Adriatic coastline, Montenegro also has a serious problem with organised crime. For years the picturesque tranquility has been regularly shattered by car bombs and shootings, and in recent months there has been a spike in the violence.

coup attempt aimed at toppling the government and killing Đukanović.

Milo Đukanović, president of Montenegro. Critics say police inaction over bombings is rooted in government connections to criminal networks. Photograph: Boris Pejovic/EPA

“There have been 25 physical attacks on Vijesti journalists or premises in the past decade. And this is the country that is supposedly the most reformed western Balkan country and on its way to EU accession,” said Ivanović.

Last month Đukanović attacked Vijesti for promoting “fascist ideas” by criticising his son’s business dealings. On paper the Montenegrin government has a programme to fight organised crime, but local activists say the reality is more complicated.

“This state has never had a genuine strategy to fight organised crime,” said Daliborka Uljarević, executive director of a leading Montenegrin NGO, adding that elements of the government had been complicit in criminal networks. “This is not a tango you can dance on equal footing. It captures you, and once you play with organised crime you’re controlled by it.”

Journalists have also frequently become targets. Last month a car bomb exploded outside the house of Sead Sadiković, an investigative journalist who lives in the town of Bijelo Polje. Sadiković was at work preparing his weekly television broadcast when the bomb went off.

“There were many threats before that, and various provocations as well,” Sadiković told the Guardian. “I reported all of them to the prosecution, without any concrete results so far.” He blamed “politically motivated hate mongers who were irritated by my reporting” for the attack, adding: “I don’t know what the authorities will do, but I’m not very optimistic … whenever someone speaks out in Montenegro, bombs go off or noses are broken.”

Omer Šarkić, a 55-year-old employee of the state pension service, who organised a protest in Podgorica last month after the bomb attack on Sadiković, said he was disappointed that only about 100 people went out to protest.

“These killings affect everyone in Montenegro, we’re sitting here now and we don’t know if someone might open fire right now,” he said, in an interview at a cafe in central Podogorica. “It’s like a war. First it happens far away from the cities but now it’s getting closer and closer. Ordinary citizens are now in danger but nobody is doing anything about it.”

Šarkić blamed political connections to the killings for police inaction. “Montenegro is such a small country that everyone knows each other and we know who the criminals are, but the police apparently are the only people who don’t. The criminals are connected to the government and that’s why everyone is so quiet.”

Additional reporting by Una Hajdari