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HomeBalkansBranislav Brano Micunovic: Shadowy Montenegrin Power Boss With Reputation for Impunity

Branislav Brano Micunovic: Shadowy Montenegrin Power Boss With Reputation for Impunity

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Despite decades-long accusations of ties to organised crime, Montenegrin businessman Branislav Brano Micunovic was only officially mentioned as a leading organised crime figure for the first time on Thursday, when the US Treasury Departmentblacklisted him.

Micunovic was unofficially known for decades as a powerful criminal figure in the small Adriatic country.

The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, OFAC, on Thursday imposed sanctions on Miconovic and another businessman, Miodrag “Daka” Davidovic, accusing them of criminal activities and money laundering.

The US said Micunovic has been a leading figure in organised crime in Montenegro for decades, dating back to the former Yugoslav era.

“He is most known for his illicit cigarette smuggling enterprise that corrupted and undermined the independence of Montenegro’s democratic institutions. Micunovic is being designated … for being responsible for, or complicit in, or having directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption related to the Western Balkans,” the OFAC press release said.

For years, the opposition and civic sector in Montenegro have described Micunovic, 70, as a close friend of Montenegrin strongman Milo Djukanovic and as a boss of organised crime groups in the region. But neither the prosecution nor the police ever investigated those claims.

Montenegrin investigative journalist Marko Vesovic said Micunovic was a very powerful figure.

“There were claims that no important business in Montenegro could be concluded without Micunovic’s permission, and that he had very close relations with Djukanovic. Claims that Djukanovic was subordinate to Micunovic were not uncommon,” Vesovic told BIRN.

“Micunovic had the status of a man who has the last word on all serious business in Montenegro,” he added.

After the change of political power in Montenegro, Micunovic was arrested on January 6, 2021 in the coastal resort of Budva. Police found two pistols in his car. But the state prosecutor soon released him; his bodyguard, meanwhile, was charged with illegal weapon possession.

The new ruling majority accused then Special State Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic of protecting Micunovic, which he denied.  But former Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said previous governments led by Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, had avoided mentioning Micunovic in their reports on organised crime.

“The first time Micunovic was mentioned as an organised crime figure in a Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment, SOCTA, report was while I was Prime Minister. I think this is just the beginning of US sanctions against people from the public or business life of Montenegro,” Abazovic said.

Allegations of murder and smuggling

Born in 1953, Micunovic was known in his hometown of Niksic as a boxer. He then went to study economics in Novi Sad, Serbia.

His name was first mentioned in the media after the 1983 murder in Germany of a former manager in the Yugoslav oil company INA and Croat emigrant, Stjepan Djurekovic.

After he fled to Germany as a political dissident, Djurekovic was killed in 1983 in the garage in near Munich where he printed anti-Yugoslav propaganda material.

Almost a decade later, the Serbian media reported that a group of criminals from Belgrade had been involved in Djurekovic’s murder, working on the orders of the Yugoslav state security service, UDBa, although these allegations were never confirmed.

In August 2016, Germany sentenced former UDBa officials Zdravko Mustac and Josip Perkovic to jail for Djurekovic’s murder, but Micunovic’s name wasn’t mentioned during the trial.

Micunovic never denied his connections with some prominent members of criminal underground in Serbia, however. He was close to controversial Serb paramilitary commanders, Djordje Bozovic “Giska” and to Zeljko Raznatovic “Arkan”, whose units were involved in grisly bloodshed in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

In March 2009, Giska’s mother, Milena Bozovic, told the Serbian magazine Revija D that Micunovic was a true friend who was in danger in Serbia.

“They would kill him here immediately; he must not come [to Serbia]. There are many controversial stories about him, but he helps people a lot,” Bozovic said.

In October 2000, Micunovic was accused of the murder of Radovan Kovacevic, who was killed in hospital after being seriously wounded in an armed confrontation in the Podgorica casino.

Media reported that Kovacevic was shot dead in front of the medical staff. Micunovic was accused of killing Kovacevic out of revenge, but in 2007 the appeal court acquitted him of all charges.

In 2007, together with two Montenegrin businessmen Veselin Vesko Barovic and Branko Vujosevic, and the former chief of Montenegro’s trade mission in Italy, Dusanka Jeknic, Micunovic was then put on trial in Bari, Italy, for involvement in international mafia-run cigarette-smuggling between 1994 and 2002.

Montenegro’s then Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovic, was himself also investigated in Italy. In January 2019, an Italian court acquitted Barovic, Vujosevic and Jeknic while the Micunovic case was declared obsolete.

In a rare interview, Micunovic told the magazine Revija 92 that he had no ties to organised crime but was engaged only in humanitarian work.

He also complained of ingratitude. “I would disgust myself if I talked about what I did and who the people under my protection were,” he said in 2008.

“Those who came to me with their problems know this best, although they immediately forgot about it, as soon as they seized any power in Belgrade,” he added.

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