By Nedjeljko Rudovic
It happened again this week: charges were filed linking government officials and businessmen to the illegal construction of lucrative property. In this case, police filed charges Monday (December 26th) against Gzim Hajdinaga, former mayor of the coastal town of Ulcinj, and controversial businessman Naser Keljmendi. Allegedly without obtaining a permit, Keljmendi’s company was allowed to build the “Casa Grande” hotel in Ulcinj.
In a similar case over the construction of the large tourist complex “Zavala” in Budva, also built without a permit, the court is now dealing with a few high profile members of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS).
A prominent NGO in Montenegro, the Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector (MANS), describes the court cases as another example of an “urban mafia” operating in Montenegro.
“The problem of illegal construction in Montenegro and the number of illegal buildings that were built in the past two decades confirm that these are systemic problems.
The most extreme cases show that there are very strong links [between] public officials and those who wish to profit through illegal construction or criminal activities,” MANS official Dejan Milovac told SETimes.
His group has regularly filed criminal charges against local and state officials for abuse of power.
The ministry of sustainable development and tourism says that there are problems in urban development that must be addressed, but stops short of acknowledging the extent of organised crime’s hand in the issue.
“Urban Mafia is an extremely difficult qualification. There should be very carefully set boundaries between urban problems, common to the developing countries, and such qualifications,” Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism Predrag Sekulic told SETimes.
MANS filed criminal charges in the so-called “Zavala” scandal four years ago. Last December, it led to the arrests of Budva Mayor Rajko Kuljača, his deputy Dragan Marovic, DPS MP Dordije Pinjatic and several local businessmen.
The scandal emerged after it was uncovered that the Russian company “Mirax” started to build a tourist resort on the coast without a license.
All of those arrested were close associates of DPS vice president Svetozar Marovic. Dragan Marovic is his brother. The fact that this is the only case before the court and that it excludes the Minister of Urban Planning at the time, Branimir Gvozdenovic, suggests there may be an internal struggle within DPS. Marovic is a rival of DPS chief Milo Djukanovic.
Another extreme case of illegal construction is “Miriste”, where a building in Budva was constructed on land owned by controversial businessman Branislav Micunovic, a close friend of Djukanovic’s. After the eight-floor building was illegally built near the sea, the municipality of Budva and the ministry concluded it to be in accordance with urban planning laws.
MANS’s Milovac calls the “Miriste” case an “extreme example” of the connections between politicians, businessmen and illegal building.
“Local and state officials made tremendous efforts to cover up the whole affair, and after that, to justify the violation of the law,” he emphasised.
Milovac claims urbanisation in Montenegro is often accompanied by input from tycoons during the planning stage and pressure on mayors, local parliaments and building inspectors. “That’s why we talk about the existence of the urban mob in Montenegro.”
“MANS sent to the prosecutor’s office schemes outlining illegal networks that we have been able to uncover during our investigation of corruption in the urban sector. Unfortunately, we have not seen greater improvements when it comes to prosecution,” said Milovac.
However, minister Sekulic insists that prosecuting abuses is crucial, as is prevention: “The most important thing is the complete opening of the state authorities to public [scrutiny]. Therefore, since January 2011, we’ve put all construction permits on our website. We have also established a system of electronic notification of illegal construction.”