Cigarette Smuggling: The Thorn In Pro-European Milo Djukanovic’s Side

Prime Minister of Montenegro

Eurobsit has previously reported on Montenegro as a crossroads for illegal trafficking, especially for cigarettes. Milo Dukanovic, who has almost always been in charge the country, has never managed to tackle this trafficking, and this now endangers the Balkan State’s entry into the European Union… and his return to power does not seem to offer any prospects for major change.

Montenegro is a small Balkan country situated between Serbia, Bosnia Herzagovena and Albania, with much of its border along the Adriatic Sea, and it only gained its independence in 2006. Its geographical location and the laxity of its political leaders have meant the country has become a popular transit point for cigarette smuggling into Europe. Ever since the breakup of Yugoslavia, this illegal trade has been flourishing. Up until the 2000s, the Italian and Balkan mafias ran widescale cigarette smuggling, helped by Montenegro’s government but also its tobacco industry, in a bid to get around rising taxes in the European Union2. These networks used to be known as the ‘Montenegro Connection’. Milo Dukanovic was involved in this illegal trade at the time, but his diplomatic immunity has allowed him to evade the law.

This trafficking came to a halt in the early 2000s, but started up again several years later in this country which has often been nicknamed ‘the Tortuga of the Adriatic’3. Trafficked goods would reach the country by sea and then be absorbed into the black market for tobacco in neighbouring countries, while also spreading as far as the European Union. In the Balkans, the illegal trade of goods has been greatly facilitated by organized local mafia-run crime, and by government corruption4.

While campaigning, Milo Dukanovic made EU membership a key political priority. On the day of his reelection, he declared: “this is victory for the European future of Montenegro”. But although the country is already a member of NATO, it will be several years before Podgorica can join the European Union. The Union indeed takes a very dim view of cigarette smuggling across the country, as some European deputies have commented: “corruption, organized crime and freedom of the press continue to be causes for concern5.

Indeed, illegal trade in tobacco is of concern for European institutions, given existing losses of 10 billion dollars a year in tax and customs takings6 due to this trafficking.

1 ‘Monténégro : Milo Djukanovic revient au pouvoir en gagnant la présidentielle’, Le Monde, April 2018.

2 ‘Comment l’industrie du tabac autorise la contrebande de tabac au Montenegro’, Slate, July 2015.

3 This refers to Tortuga island, a major smuggling crossroads featured in the film ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’.

4 Tobacco: Smuggling in Montenegro, OCCRP.

5 ‘La polémique enfle autour de l’adhésion du Monténégro à l’UE’, la, March 2017.

6 ‘Le Monténégro, plaque tournante du trafic de cigarette en Europe’, Les Yeux du Monde, June 2017.

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