Podgorica (Montenegro) (AFP) – A Montenegrin court jailed a group of Serbian nationals Wednesday for five months over an alleged coup plot during October’s election, the latest such sentences.
The five struck a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty in exchange for light sentences, as another three of their compatriots did last month.
“Five citizens of Serbia admitted to being part of a criminal organisation whose plan was to break into the parliament of Montenegro violently,” with the aim of seizing it, the prosecutor said in a statement.
Montenegro’s state prosecutor has alleged that the plot included a plan to assassinate then prime minister Milo Djukanovic on election day on October 16.
Authorities have accused “Russian nationalists” of orchestrating the alleged plot, saying pro-Moscow Serbs were hired to carry it out.
Montenegrin prosecutors suspect 25 people, mostly Serbian citizens, of links to the alleged coup and have launched a manhunt for two Russians who are on the run.
The suspects include two leading pro-Russian lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Front (DF), Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, whose parliamentary immunity was lifted last month so that they could face charges.
DF leaders have repeatedly denied involvement in a coup plot, claiming the government set them up. Both Mandic and Knezevic have also denied knowing any of the sentenced Serbs.
A prominent Montenegrin lawyer Branislav Lutovac told AFP that “the case of attempted terrorism is full of contradictions”.
The eight who were convicted were given “light sentences for serious crimes,” Lutovac said, adding however that guilty pleas will “enable the prosecutor to use them as evidence against other defendants”.
The case should make for “a very interesting trial,” Lutovac said.
Montenegro hopes to become a NATO member later this year, a move considered by Russia to be a “provocation”. Moscow opposes the alliance’s further enlargement in the Balkans.
Montenegro’s accession will reinforce NATO’s presence in the Balkans as Greece, Croatia and Albania are already members.