“The war between Montenegrin clans does not stop”. The case of Igor K. shakes German public opinion

Mike Powell Tmitymykagc Unsplash Scaled E1582800680135

The war between Montenegrin clans is once again attracting public attention in Germany. Igor K., a 35-year-old Montenegrin criminal, was seriously injured after an attack on him near Podgorica (MNE) at the end of January. He was then transferred to the Medizinische Hochschule in Hanover (MHH) on February 7. The attack took place as part of the clash between Škaljarski and Kavački clan, which we had already examined last May following the violent killing of two members of the Škaljarski clan in Forst (Brandenburg).  The news of Igor K.’s admission to Germany appeared in the media a few days late and immediately caused controversy.

The reconstruction of the facts

On January 28, after being hit by a hail of bullets while in his car, Igor K., He is urgently transported to the local hospital where he is admitted with seven gunshot wounds. In order to obtain better treatment, he was then transferred to Hanover, where his presence mobilized a large numeber of policemen (around 250) to ensure h24 patient safety, as well as the safety of hospital staff and MHH patients.

The close surveillance of the Montenegrin criminal has alerted German public opinion. The taxpayers’ association (Steuerzahlerbund) protested about the deployment of security forces in large numbers, claiming that the cost should be charged to the private patient and his family. The Hannover police said that such precautions and security measures were necessary for this type of case. The Minister of the Interior of Lower Saxony Boris Pistorius (SPD) made it clear that the arrival of Igor K. was neither wanted nor requested by anyone, but since a patient was found to be in a serious condition the treatment and the security measures had to be provided for everyone’s safety. The Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony also explained that the patient arrived at the clinic as an urgent case and that the MHH doctors could not refuse to help. Dirk Toepffer of the CDU, as reported by the BILD, claims that the admission of Igor K. was an irresponsible and dangerous act, which caused financial damage to taxpayers as well as to the image and credibility of the country.  Representatives of other political parties also joined the chorus. Among others, Marco Genthe of the FPD stressed that is necessary to make clear whether the stay at the Medizinische Hochschule in Hanover was paid in laundered money.  

In fact, the cost of the treatment – around 90,000 euros – was paid by Igor K., but the question was raised as to where this high amount of money came from. The 35-year-old Montenegrin was already known to the police in his home country. In 2017, he was subjected to a police operation that led to the seizure of mobile phones, knives, a machete, two cars and 182,450 euros in cash, presumably proceeds of usury and drug trafficking.

Considering the implications and the media coverage, the city of Hanover, in agreement with the Ministry of Pistorius, has decided to expel the Montenegrin criminal, because ”the patient’s stay at the MHH represents a threat to security and public order”.  Igor K. therefore received an expulsion notification. Transported by helicopter to Turkey, he will continue his treatment in Istanbul.

The background

Igor K. is considered a member of the Škaljarski clan and the attempt on his life can be traced back to the clash that this criminal group has been conducting for some years now with the Kavački clan for the control of lucrative drug trafficking. Škaljarski and Kavački clan were originally united into one criminal group in the city of Kotor. However, the arrest in 2014 of the powerful drug trafficker Darko Šarić left an important space in the Montenegrin criminal underground to fill, and it was here that the splitting within the Kotor group began. Darko Šarić led a very sophisticated and flexible criminal group of Montenegrin Serbs. He relied on important connections with the institutions and police forces in the region, and was considered an efficient and reliable partner by the South American cartels in the cocaine traffic in Europe. The proceeds of the drug trade were then recycled by the narcoboss into various legitimate activities within the Balkan region, such as acquisition of coffee-shops. restaurants building plots and farmland, as well as the provision of loans and the conclusion of fictitious contracts. His arrest and the end of his criminal rule left an attractive space for criminals in the region who were willing to do anything to establish themselves in the drug trade.

The trigger was the disappearance in 2014 of 200kg of cocaine belonging to the Kotor criminal group in an apartment in Valencia. This episode sparked a bloody internal feud, which so far has led to the deaths of more than 40 people. The clash between Škaljarski and Kavački clan has ended up involving other criminal groups active in Serbia and Montenegro, which have split between the fighting factions. According to the investigative journalism portal KRIK, the Škaljarski clan is said to be supported by the Serbian criminal Luka Bojović, leader of the renewed Zemun clan and currently imprisoned in Spain. The reins of the criminal group are now held by his close collaborator Filip Korać, who has long been unknown to most, but who has recently received enormous visibility after Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić spoke out publicly calling Korać an extremely dangerous person and a real threat to the Serbian population. On the other hand, however, the Kavački clan in Serbia can count on the support of criminal elements linked to the Janjičari, an ultras group of the Belgrade Partizan, led by Aleksandar Stanković, also known as Sale ‘Mutavi’ (the mute), until his murder in 2016. The group of ‘Sale Mutavi’ has important coverage by the police forces and institutions of the country. The son of Serbian President Vučić himself is in friendly relations with some members of the Janjičari group, and has been photographed on more than one occasion in their company. 

After the violent episodes that took place on Serbian territory in the context of this war between clans, the government strongly supported the need to fight the criminal phenomenon in Serbia. Despite this, the action taken by institutions and law enforcement agencies to some observers has so far seemed to be one-sided, i.e. directed exclusively against the faction close to the Škaljarski clan.

The confrontation between these criminal groups is reaching vast dimensions, with murders also being carried out in other European countries. The Škaljarski clan is currently having the worst of it. Some members of this group have moved abroad but are however reached by their opponents. The conflict is now conducted outside any scheme. The goal is the annihilation of the opponent. The families of the criminals, their collaborators – such as lawyers, for example – are affected, and attacks are increasingly being carried out even in the presence of defenceless witnesses. There are cases of innocent victims who are accidentally hit by the criminals because they are sitting at the table next to the target of the shooting. The rival groups are particularly violent and brutal, as the attack on Igor K. shows; in this war without borders the clans resort to explosives and car bombs, but also to other forms of intimidation and retaliation.

Statistics also show that in most cases the material perpetrators get away with it. Last November, at an event organized by mafianeindanke in Berlin on the topics of corruption and organized crime, KRIK Serbian journalist Bojana Jovanović showed us their database of criminal and mafia murders on the territories of Serbia and Montenegro from 2012 to date. Out of 163 murders, only 13 (about 8%) have been solved, while in 97 cases (almost 60%) the perpetrators are unknown.

Recent developments in criminal confrontation

Last May we published a first in-depth analysis of the dynamics of this clash, in light of the events in Forst (Brandenburg), where two members of the Škaljarski clan, Darko M., and Nikola J., had been killed in an apartment in the German town, while two other criminals of the same group had been injured in the ambush.

The most recent period shows the surge of violence.

On 19 January, Igor Dedović, one of the leaders of the Škaljarski clan, was killed in a restaurant in Athens. Together with him, Stevan Stamatović, his close collaborator, was also eliminated. The two were killed in the presence of their wives, children and numerous guests of the restaurant. At this point the clan seemed to be left without a guide because Jovan Vukotić, the boss of the criminal group, was in prison in Serbia. Later, on 8 February, Vukotić has been extradited to Montenegro, where he is charged of attempted murder. He is also under investigation in Greece for trafficking 135kg of cocaine.

On 28 January, took place the attack on Igor K., who – according to the Serbian newspaper Blic – has close relations with Milić Minja Šaković, an important member of the Škaljarski clan who is in turn linked to Stevan Stamatović, took place.

Only about ten days later, four men close to the same clan, three Montenegrin citizens and one Bosnian citizen were arrested at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Belgrade. According the Serbian tabloids, they were supposedly organizing heavy criminal actions.

The most recent episode of violence, however, shows a different direction. Šćepan Roganović, a figure close to the Kavački clan and the third member of the Roganović family to be eliminated in the feud, was killed on 13 February in Herceg Novi (MNE) after the last on the list was his cousin Vladimir, killed in front of a restaurant in the centre of Vienna in December 2018.

The situation remains tense. The authorities in the region are not achieving particularly effective results in the fight against organised crime. The need to provide citizens with greater protection and security presupposes that the police forces and institutions of the countries concerned are more determined in the fight against the criminal phenomenon and, above all, that they cut off all links and forms of connivance with criminal groups at war.

Montenegro on the route of criminal trafficking

Montenegro is an important junction along the trafficking routes to the European Union. The Montenegrin clans, in fact, can rely on a privileged geographical position. Montenegro is a coastal state and its ports – particularly that of Bar – have always played a key role. Already in the 90’s, during the conflicts in ex-Yugoslavia, the Montenegrin criminal groups were protagonists in the smuggling of cigarettes towards Italy. For this smuggling they were able to rely on collaboration with representatives of the institutions and police forces of Montenegro, as well as with important Italian criminal organizations – Camorra and Sacra Corona Unita – and giants of the tobacco industry. Important political figures, such as the current President of Montenegro Milo Đukanović, were also involved in what was a real state smuggling. Relations between institutions, organized crime and security forces were also consolidated after the war and facilitated the inclusion of Montenegrin criminals in drug trafficking. Montenegro is located along the Balkan route, a key passage in the trafficking of opiates arriving from the Middle East (Afghanistan) and bound for European countries. But, at present, the country is a key hub for cocaine smuggling from South America. As pointed out in a recent report by ”The Global Initiative Against Organised Crime”, Montenegrin ports play an important role in these traffics, thanks to the good infrastructure, the coverage guaranteed by the police forces and the large workforce available to criminal groups.

Finally, the internal situation in Montenegro is causing concern. The country is permeated by a patronage and corrupt system. This is not the best for a country which, as a prerequisite for EU membership, must commit itself to fighting organised crime and corruption. The country’s institutions have recently made this commitment publicly.

According to some observers, the charges against criminals in the fight are stricter and tougher than those in Serbia, for example, demonstrating a seemingly greater commitment on this front. Therefore, we can only await developments in this matter, without forgetting that the only way to combat the criminal phenomenon is through the commitment of all the forces in the country, without compromising and legitimising the presence of these criminal groups. This is the only direction in which the fight must be pursued, with the aim of guaranteeing the security and safety of the citizens.