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Montenegrin Judges Accused of Bribe-Taking in ‘Coup Plot’ Trial

Higher Court judge Suzana Mugosa urged prosecutors to investigate after media reported that judges hearing opposition leaders’ appeal against their conviction for planning a coup were bribed to overturn the guilty verdict.

The Higher Court judge Suzana Mugosa on Monday called on prosecutors to investigate the Appeal Court’s ruling in a 2021 case against opposition leaders accused of involvement in a Russian-backed coup plot, alleging that judges in the trial were bribed.

The judges denied the allegation that they took bribes and urged prosecutors to investigate Mugosa for making the claim.

In February 2021, the Appeal Court annulled the first-instance verdicts issued in the coup plot trial of opposition leaders Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic and others, asking the Higher Court to told a retrial.

In the first-instance verdict in May 2019, the Higher Court had sentenced 13 people, including Mandic, Knezevic, two Russian military intelligence officers and eight Serbs to jail terms of up to 15 years for planning a coup.

They were found guilty of plotting to commit “terrorist acts” and undermine the constitutional order of Montenegro during parliamentary elections, with a view to overthrowing the country’s pro-Western government and preventing it from joining NATO.

Mugosa was the presiding judge at the Higher Court trial, which was condemned the opposition at the time as politically directed.

Mugosa said on Monday that she believes that the Appeal Court ruling overturning the Higher Court verdict was swayed by bribery.

“I hope that Special State Prosecution will investigate all the circumstances surrounding the both Higher Court and Appeal Court decisions because I’m also convinced that the of the Appeal Court’s decision was bought,” Mugosa said in a statement.

The Appeal Court called on the prosecution to investigate Mugosa’s accusation.

“Judge Mugosa’s accusation is inappropriate and violates the dignity and reputation of the judiciary’s role, the judiciary and public trust in judicial institutions. In order to protect the integrity of this court and the judges, we urge the Special State Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the Mugosa allegations and to demand she provide evidence for her claims,” the Appeal Court said in statement.

The Montenegrin Judges’ Association also criticised Mugosa for commenting on the Appeal Court’s decision, urging her to respect the judges’ code of ethics and avoid commenting on trials in the media.

On November 19, media published transcripts of incriminating conversations held on the communications app Sky ECC between high-ranking police officers Petar Lazovic and Ljubo Milovic in January 2021. In the conversations, the men tried to arrange the bribing of Appeal Court judges.

The Special State Prosecution said on Monday that it will open an investigation into alleged abuse of office in the judiciary during the ‘coup plot’ trial.

Milan Knezevic, one of the leaders of For the Future of Montenegro, a pro-Sebian political party, urged the prosecution on Tuesday to investigate alleged corruption in the judiciary.

“Because of her claims about corruption in the Appeal Court, the prosecution should question Judge Suzana Mugosa… the Montenegrin judiciary needs radical reforms,” Knezevic told public broadcaster RTCG.

In its most recent report on Montenegro’s progress towards membership of the European Union, the European Commission said there has been a lack of progress on judicial reform, stressing that the courts continue to be perceived as vulnerable to political interference. The European Commission also warned of continuing high-level corruption within state structures.

Source : balkaninsight