Podgorica’s High Court on Thursday jailed 11 indictees in a case involving illegal construction work at Zavala hill in Budva in 2007 and 2008.
Rajko Kuljaca, former mayor of the coastal resort, and Dragan Marovic, his deputy, were found guilty of abuse of office to the benefit a private company, Zavala Invest, and to the detriment of the municipal budget, of more than 800,000 euros.
Kuljaca was jailed for five years, while Marovic, the brother of Svetozar Marovic, former president of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, was jailed for four.
Nine others, mostly indicted for helping Kuljaca and Marovic, received a total of 21 years in jail. One, Djordje Pinjatic, was an MP for Montenegro’s ruling Democratic Party of Socialists.
Following the verdict, Marovic denied guilt and said he was not surprised by the length of his jail sentence. «I will recognize this sentence once they put forward any proof for what they accuse me,» he said.
His defence lawyer, Zoran Piperovic, called the High Court judgment an embarrassment.
«The judge spoke for half-an-hour, and no one understood what she wanted to say,» Piperovic said.
The Zavala affair is one of the largest corruption scandals to have erupted in recent years in Montenegro.
Marovic, Kuljaca and othe local officials from the municipality of Budva were arrested in 2010.
In March, Kuljac’s successor as Budva mayor, Lazar Radjenovic, was also arrested, on suspicion of having lost the city 2 million euro in 2007 because he had given coverage with no guarantee for the private company, «Luna SP».
The arrest of the mayor put the spotlight back on the issue of corruption in Montenegro and within the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, led by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.
Whereas some say the arrests and trials show that Montenegor is finally dealing with high level corruption, other say all that is occuring is a settling of scores within the strongest party.
The EU has made a more effective fight against organized crime and corruption one of Montenegro’s seven key priorities if it wants to advance towards EU membership. It has been frequently urged to prosecute more high-profile corruption cases.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule has underlined several times that the fight against high level corruption and organised crime must remain a priority.