Dritan Abazovic, Montenegro’s outgoing Prime Minister, has called for an investigation into tobacco smuggling after naming names on the issue.
After submitting documentation on Monday, Abazovic said he wanted to outline the “road map” of smuggling in Montenegro in a bid to precipitate an investigation into tobacco smuggling.
“I presented operational data and I expect the prosecution to determine whether it is correct or not. I was talking about specific names, but I cannot say what they are now. I was explaining the schemes,” Abazovic told reporters.
“I left certain documentation, gave them directions and listed several specific examples that point to that,” he said.
Prior to his cabinet’s ousting on 19 August by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), the opposition Democratic Montenegro and smaller parties in the ruling coalition, Abazovic accused organised crime groups that smuggle cigarettes and illicit drugs of funding a number of political groups behind the government’s no-confidence vote.
Over the course of a number of large-scale police and customs operations in recent years, Montenegrin authorities have seized several hundred tons of smuggled cigarettes, and more than two tons of cocaine in the notorious southern port of Bar.
Following the breakdown of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the port of Bar has become known as a hub for cigarette smuggling. Illicit tobacco is then re-exported from the port, alongside cigarettes made in Montenegro.
Official records show that 21 of the 26 companies with storage facilities in Bar use the facilities to store tobacco. In July this year, authorities announced new measures to ban the storage of tobacco in Bar as part of efforts to curb tobacco and cigarette smuggling.
Montenegrin Customs recently seized 3.5 million euros worth of tobacco in the port of Bar. On 10 February, the Customs Office reported that tobacco worth more than 10 million euros had been stolen from port hangars since December 2021.
Three people, including customs officers, were later arrested on suspicion of smuggling more than eleven thousand boxes of cigarettes out of the port.
On 2 March, the then-head of the Customs Office, Milena Petricevic, reported an incident of tobacco theft worth 225,000 euros. She said the port’s security cameras had been disabled during the event.
In May 2019, an investigation by reporters found that Montenegro had again become a hub for a global tobacco smuggling ring, helping channel millions of counterfeit cigarettes into the EU with “ghost” ships, forced paperwork and shell companies.
Image by H.M. Revenue & Customs via Wikimedia