Draining the Swamp - Part II | America's Fake Freedom Lovers and Transnational Criminal Networks

Politically connected criminals are not indicted in Montenegro, the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Liechtenstein. Worse yet, the same individuals get praised by self-proclaimed U.S. conservatives and their non-profit entities. How much of the illicit wealth has benefited the Heritage Foundation, Mont Pelerin Society, and other “conservative” and “libertarian” think tanks including their members and employees? How much of that illicit wealth was intended to influence US laws? Americans with ties to transnational organized crime networks must not influence US judicial appointments and Capitol Hill hearings, nor be placed in positions of power or advise US administrations including America’s current President Trump.

Can America restore its core values and principles to exude credibility in advancing the fundamental rule of law governance? There is an urgency to address complicity with evil.

Ed Feulner, Heritage Foundation’s board member, former president, re-instated interim CEO and until recently chairman of the Asian Studies Center, joined the Trump transition team in August 2016. In order to prevent greater damage to America’s taxpayers, it would be prudent to re-examine the staff picks and policy advice, provided by Feulner and his loyalists, to Trump’s administration. Feulner has been praised in conservative circles for his fundraising capabilities, some of which have been questionable, such as in the case of Feulner’s involvement in representing Malaysia’s government.

The Washington, D.C. swamp has long exacerbated the lawlessness in Eastern Europe by embracing Europe’s organized crime networks in the U.S. Consequently, we are witnessing the erosion of the rule of law in America.

Following the ratification by the US Senate, President Trump signed the NATO accession protocol for Montenegro on Monday, April 10, 2017. If NATO membership had embedded a legal venue, enabling prosecution of organized crime, political corruption and money laundering cases of NATO’s new member states - on American soil, under US laws, and in US courts - it would have been a great idea to bring post-communist Eastern European countries under NATO umbrella.

NATO lost the opportunity three decades ago. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, NATO’s rule of law members failed to prevent war and plunder, confront organized crime, break the infamous Balkan Route which originates in Afghanistan, and prepare former communist countries to transition to rule of law based democracies.

Instead, the fall of the Berlin Wall was exploited with impunity by Western white-collar criminals who teamed up with former communists to pillage wealth. In the process, they strengthened transnational organized crime networks and diminished national security of individual countries in Europe and the US. Then NATO came along to provide a seal of approval.

Montenegro

Eight days prior to the second Paris attacks, a car filled with Kalashnikovs, hand guns, hand grenades, dynamite, and ammunition was intercepted in Bavaria, within Germany. A Montenegrin driver was arrested. The GPS data indicated that the car was heading to Paris. German police informed the Paris authorities about this incident. A series of coordinated terrorists attack ensued in Paris on November 13, 2015 killing 130 and injuring 368 people.

On November 14, 2015, Montenegro’s police issued an official statement on Montenegrin driver by relaying that he was “not a Muslim.” He was a smuggler, part of the transnational organized crime network.

The Balkan Route’s heroin, arms, human and organ trafficking merges with cocaine trafficking coming from Latin America. Reports indicate that Balkan heroin trafficking brings in more than $28 billion in proceeds annually, financing Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and ISIS. Ninety percent (90%) of the world’s heroin comes from opium grown in Afghanistan, and trafficked via Iran, Turkey, and the Balkan’s NATO countries into Western Europe and beyond.

The three common factors connected to the Balkan Route appear to have played a role in two Paris attacks (January and November 2015) and the Brussels attack (March 2016):

  1. Military grade weapons coming from the Balkans; mostly Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and smuggled by the Balkan organized crime network.
  2. Terrorists moving through the porous Balkan borders.
  3. Terrorism financing.

Montenegro’s corrupt officials have been working closely with the Washington, D.C., establishment for decades. Any ideological differences are topped by greed - Washington’s conservatives and libertarians can not be seen agreeing with America’s Democrats, in the way they are able to collaborate with Montenegro’s self-declared socialists, who were communists. Among Montenegro’s officials who have been visibly around the D.C. swamp are Milo Djukanovic, Professor Veselin Vukotic and Dr. Petar Ivanovic.

After being in power for most of the last 25 years, rotating as a Prime Minister and President of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic finally stepped down in October 2016. He continues to control vast businesses and a private university. Djukanovic’s family runs the First Bank (“Prva Banka”), reported for cronyism and money laundering for organized crime.

According to the BBC, PricewaterhouseCoopers’s audit of “Prva Banka” (The First Bank), controlled by Djukanovic’s family, suggested, “most of the money deposited at the bank came from public funds, while two thirds of the loans it made went to the Djukanovics and their close associates.

According to a cable sent by former US Ambassador to Montenegro Roderick Moore:

“PM Djukanovic himself owns just under three percent of shares in the prominent local bank, Prva Banka. His brother has a nearly 47 percent stake in the bank, and his sister has a one percent stake, giving the family controlling interest. Prva Banka was the only Montenegrin bank to benefit from a government bailout package (40 million Euros total) as a result of the global economic crisis.” 

Based on the research by The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) published by BBC, among the recipients of large Prva Banka’s loans was Darko Saric, a convicted drug smuggler. Talking about Milo Djukanovic, OCCRP’s editor Drew Sullivan stated: “Nobody outside of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has run a state that relies so heavily on corruption, organized crime and dirty politics. It is truly and thoroughly rotten to the core.”

Italy’s anti-mafia prosecutor, accused Montenegro’s then-Prime Minister Djukanovic of “having promoted, run, set up, and participated in a mafia-type association.”

In its 2016 International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs report for Montenegro, U.S. State Department of State mentioned:

“Montenegro is a transit country for illegal drugs entering Western Europe along traditional Balkan smuggling routes. The most prevalent drugs trafficked through Montenegro are marijuana (produced in Albania), heroin (from Afghanistan transiting through Kosovo and Albania), and cocaine from Latin America. There is growing law enforcement evidence that Montenegrin traffickers are directly involved in smuggling cocaine from South America to Europe.”

Montenegro Report 2016, issued by the EU Commission for European Neighborhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations puts it mildly: “Fighting organized crime and corruption remains fundamental to countering criminal infiltration of the political, legal and economic systems.”

EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy & Enlargement, Johannes Hahn, was a CEO of Novomatic, the world’s largest gaming and casino company, at the time when, according to Bloomberg, “Casinos in Paraguay, Peru and South Africa, countries where Novomatic operates, were tagged by the U.S. as money-laundering conduits for criminal bosses and drug barons.”

Milo Djukanovic (left) with Veselin Vukotic (center).
Milo Djukanovic (left) with Veselin Vukotic (center).

Professor Veselin Vukotic and Prime Minister Djukanovic are co-owners and business partners at the University of Donja Gorica.

Heritage Foundation’s Ed Feulner was a fellow board member with Novomatic’s former CEO, Franz Wohlfahrt, at the Vienna-based think tank F.A. Hayek, which co-hosted events with Djukanovic and Veselin Vukotic’s university in Montenegro, endorsed by EU Commissioner and former Novomatic’s CEO Johannes Hahn. The world’s largest gaming and casino company Novomatic and Heritage Foundation’s donor funds jointly sponsored the Austrian think tank’s events in Europe.

Novomatic’s Wohlfahrt is currently under a bribery investigation connected to Austria’s former finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser.

While Montenegro’s Privatization Council was chaired by the then-Prime Minister Djukanovic, Vukotic was his deputy chair. The Privatization Council’s decisions on various public tenders and privatizations of state-owned assets would not withstand an independent court’s review. Djukanovic and Vukotic reportedly co-owned the brokerage company Monte Adria Broker, involved in corruption scandals connected to the privatization of Montenegro’s telecommunication and energy companies.

US Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) penalized Deutsche Telekom’s company in Hungary, Magyar Telecom, with $95 million in 2011. The company was found in violation of the US Foreign Corrupt Pracitices Act (FCPA) for bribing government officials in Montenegro and Macedonia in 2005-2006. According to SEC, Magyar Telecom paid €7.35 million ($9 million) to Montenegro’s government officials “under four bogus consulting contracts to facilitate the TCG [Telekom Crne Gore] acquisition on favorable terms.” “The executives in this case were charged with spearheading secret agreements with a prime minister and others to block out telecom competitors,” said Stephanie Avakian, Acting Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement on April 24, 2017.

Veselin Vukotic’s name appears in the Panama-registered company Montemena Investment Fund aka Monte Mena, whose director is also Mohamed Rachid, Yasser Arafat’s former economic adviser convicted in absentia for fraud and embezzlement of more than €30 million ($39 million) in 2012. According to the report by MANS (The Network for the Affirmation of NGO Sector), the brave consortium of Montenegro’s journalists, Monte Mena purchased attractive land on the Adriatic Coast for €42 million ($56 million) in 2007. Just a week before, the same land changed owners for a price of €14 million ($18.8 million). The land was originally confiscated from private owners by the communist regime.

Montenegro’s media reported about Rachid receiving more than €13 million ($17 million) in loans from the Djukanovics’s First Bank. According to Montenegro’s online media portal Monitor, Mohamed Rachid maintained a business relationship with Djukanovic not only through banking transactions but also by sharing the same director who worked for Djukanovic’s company Primary Invest and Rachid’s Monte Mena Investment. Monte Mena’s legal representative was Ana Kolarevic, the sister of Prime Minister Djukanovic.

According to published reports, Monte Mena received €5 million ($6.7 million) from Hypo Alpe Adria Bank in 2007. The company did not develop the property and the owners seem to have walked away from the property while keeping the “loans”.

Petar Ivanovic was vice president and a board member of Hypo Alpe Adria Bank in Podgorica (2007-2008), during the time when the cocaine king Darko Saric laundered €100 million ($134 million) through the same bank branches in Podgorica and Liechtenstein. According to media and investigative reports, Ivanovic was on the same plane with fugitive Saric, flying from Podgorica to Geneva, on the same day when Saric’s cocaine shipment was confiscated in Uruguay.

Ivanovic worked as Chief Economic Advisor to then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic (2009-2010) and was a board member of the brokerage house Monte Adria Broker, owned by Vukotic and Djukanovic. He is a lecturer at the private university owned by Djukanovic and Vukotic.

Veselin Vukotic and Petar Ivanovic are also members of the US-based 501(c)3 Mont Pelerin Society. In his CV, Ivanovic mentions two Mont Pelerin Members as his reference:

Bridgett Wagner, The Heritage Foundation

Richard Rahn, CATO Foundation and columnist for Washington Post

US Think Tank’s Clientelism Damaging America, Europe and the Balkan Region

The Heritage Foundation’s papers propping-up NATO’s accession for Croatia and Albania (2009) and then Montenegro, must be seen in a wider context of clientelism that The Heritage Foundation appears to have been practicing for decades. In this process, the 501(c)3 requirements of a charitable organization and FARA may have been violated while principled and conservative donors deceived.

The Heritage Foundation has been one of the most vociferous supporters of corruption-ridden Montenegro in Washington. The conservative think tank's papers and events have whitewashed serious concerns presented by the Balkans' brave independent journalists, think tanks, anti-corruption activists and civil society groups. 

In Montenegro, Dusko Jovanovic, editor-in-chief and owner of prominent Dan newspaper, known for his critical reporting, was shot dead leaving his office in 2004.  The World Press Freedom Index for 2017, states, “One of the biggest problems journalists are facing in Montenegro are violent verbal and physical attacks.”

Individual members of Mont Pelerin Society, Atlas Network (formerly Atlas Economic Research Foundation), and the Heritage Foundation, led by Bridgett Wagner, vice president for external relations at the Heritage Foundation and her mentor Ed Feulner, board member and interim CEO of the Heritage Foundation, have embraced Montenegro’s corrupt officials and introduced them to influential circles in the United States.

The Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED), co-founded by Petar Ivanovic and Veselin Vukotic, received three “Templeton Freedom Awards”. The duo co-founded Montenegro Business Alliance, which received the Templeton Freedom Award in 2007.  `Ed Feulner has rotated as president and treasurer of the Mont Pelerin Society since 1978. While Ed Feulner was a treasurer of Mont Pelerin Society, Veselin Vukotic was one of its vice presidents. Due to Feulner’s questionable fundraising track record, cross-directorships with other influential think tanks and aspirations to influence America’s public policy and laws - America’s think tank donors and the public must scrutinize statements and studies which risk endangering America’s national security, elevating the influence of transnational organized crime networks and eliminating rule of law governance.

University of Texas Prof. Steve Pejovich, who is also a member of Mont Pelerin Society, during his speech at the University of Donja Gorica (UDG), praised the UDG and Veselin Vukotic among those who “are going to be remembered in post communist countries as the ones who did more for the cause of freedom.” Svetozar (Steve) Pejovich is Bridgett Wagner’s mentor and her former professor at the University of Dallas, where Wagner currently serves as a trustee.

Pejovich does not hide the fact that he knew how Montenegro operated like a mafia state. In his report on the Conference tour in 2010, Pejovich stated, “Did Djukanovich also profit from smuggling. I hope he did. That is so because the earnings from smuggling are an important, perhaps the most important, measure of smugglers’ contributions to the well-being of society. Rewarding those who make contributions to our well-being enhances incentives to increase such activities.

Risking their lives, the Balkan region’s investigative journalists have been relentlessly working to expose organized crime and political corruption in the hopes of freeing their nations from criminal networks.

Politically connected criminals do not get indicted in Montenegro, the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Liechtenstein. Worse yet, the same individuals get praised by self-proclaimed U.S. conservatives and their non profit entities. How much of the illicit wealth has benefited the Heritage Foundation, Mont Pelerin Society, and other “conservative” and “libertarian” think tanks including its members and employees? How much of that illicit wealth was intended to influence US laws? Americans with ties to transnational organized crime networks must not influence US judicial appointments and Capitol Hill hearings, nor be placed in positions of power or advise US administrations including America’s current President Trump.

Principled leaders in the US ought to rise up and drain their surrounding swamp. It is vitally important to restore America’s principles respecting the rule of law, life, liberty and private property and exude credibility as a city on a hill and nation upholding the rule of law. The opportunity society is slipping away for decent and hard-working Americans, citizens in the Balkans and the rest of Eastern Europe.

“Montenegro’s Former President and Prime Minister Djukanovic is unsuccessfully trying to reinstate the Montenegrin society of the dark nineties, a period in which he flourished. Like every other dictator, Djukanovic fears the free media, which he is increasingly less able to control.  While we write about criminals issued with international warrants, Djukanovic is hanging out with them, representing them as strategic investors. He knows that sooner or later our texts will be key evidence on which he will be convicted of corruption and organized crime.  Instead of allowing the investigation into the events related to the coup to proceed impartially, without political influence, with his daily statements, Djukanovic is prejudicing the moves of the prosecution and probably even courts, for which even the EU warned that are under the political influence. In this way, the former prime minister prevents the real truth to be found, and favors a false narrative which benefits him politically. We should not be surprised that Djukanovic’s behavior is raising tensions in the country, because the public is focused on the conflict between Washington and Moscow, and not on corruption and crime of Djukanovic’s regime.” - Nikola Markovic, the editor of the Montenegro’s daily newspaper Dan, March 8, 2017
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