Montenegro Investigates Massive Tobacco Theft From Troubled Port
The Port of Bar, a notorious hub for tobacco and drugs smuggling, is again in the news after it was confirmed that more than 10 million euros' worth of tobacco has been stolen from hangars since December 28.
The head of Montenegro’s Customs Office, Milena Petricevic, said that more than 10 million euros worth of boxes of tobacco had been stolen since December 28, 2021, from hangars in the Port of Bar – notorious as a hub for cigarette smuggling,
Last Wednesday, police arrested a customs officer, Dejan Dabanovic, and Mimo Perocevic, owner of a private truck company, suspected of smuggling 11,349 boxes of cigarettes out of the port.
“The cigarettes were taken six times from December 28, 2021, when the first theft was recorded, to the beginning of February, in a total of eight trucks. After the theft was registered, we also suspended eight more custom officers,” Petricevic told the daily Vijesti.
On February 7, the port had to be evacuated when an unknown person called management and warned that a bomb was planted somewhere in the port.
A day later, the customs office warned that 10.5 million euros’ worth of tobacco had been stolen from the hangars of the Montenegro Duvan Commerce and Tobacco Trade MNE companies.
While some media reported that the tobacco was not removed when it was announced that a bomb had been planted in the port, Petricevic denied this.
On Tuesday, police questioned the driver of the truck company that transported the tobacco, and the customs officer and the owner of the truck company. The Special State Prosecutor’s Office said it suspected them of smuggling tobacco and of abuse of authority.
“Prosecutor found that the customs seal was damaged while inspections determined that 11,349 packages of various types of cigarettes were missing,” the prosecution office said.
Last July, the Special State Prosecution Office investigated a similarly reported theft from the port, this time of 1,160 boxes of cigarettes, worth half a million euros. Authorities said unknown persons broke into the hangar of the Aurora and Atlant Mont companies and stole the cigarettes.
Media reported that the hangars were owned by Dragan Vujacic who was tried before the Higher Court for cigarette smuggling in 2005 but acquitted in 2013.
Since the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Bar has become known as a hub for cigarette smuggling, where tobacco from abroad is re-exported and cigarettes made in Montenegro are shipped.
Police in 2019 seized 1.7 million cigarette packs worth some 3.9 million euros. In August 2018, police arrested 10 customs officials from the port for smuggling cigarettes – but no convictions followed.
In May 2019, a BIRN investigation showed that Montenegro had again become the hub of a global tobacco smuggling scam, funnelling millions of copycat cigarettes into the EU through the use of “ghost” ships, shell companies, and using fake paperwork.
On July 2 last year, the government announced the start of a legal process to prohibit the storage of tobacco products in Bar as part of measures to prevent tobacco and cigarette smuggling. On January 31, Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said the port was now becoming a “less safe” hub for smuggling, but security still need to be improved in terms of container control.
He said containers in the port were now passing through the scanners, while the police and the National Security Agency, ANB, were being deployed in the port.