After months of post-poned trials and seven years of litigation, the Belgrade Court of Appeals acquitted controversial businessman Stanko Subotic of cigarette smuggling charges in a final ruling which cannot be appealed by the prosecution.
According to the final verdict published on the court’s website on December 24, the court said that the statute of limitations had expired for events that occurred in 1995. It rejected other rulings for events that happened in 1996 including that Subotic, along with Nikola Milosevic, Milan Rankovic and Ivana Krcmaricic committed abuse of office and upheld the acquittal made by the Higher Court of Belgrade in July of last year.
The Belgrade Court of Appeals ruled the allegations made against Subotic and his accomplices were “unfounded.” Those freed by the final ruling include the ex-Director of the Federal Customs Administration Mihalj Kertes and Subotic’s nephew Nikola Milosevic.
Subotic, a well-known Serbian businessman, with close ties to the current Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Montenegrin President and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, allegedly organized and operated a cigarette smuggling ring from Macedonia to Serbia between 1995 and 1996.
Djukanovic has called Subotic “a friend.” Both Subotic and Djukanovic were indicted in a cigarette smuggling case in Bari, Italy although charges were later dropped.
Subotic was indicted in 2007, along with 14 other alleged accomplices, in a high-profile case dubbed the “tobacco mafia” trial by local press. He was tried in absentia in 2008 as he had been based in Switzerland at the time, according to an earlier OCCRP report.
Despite an Interpol warrant, Swiss authorities refused to extradite him because Swiss law did not recognize the criminal charge of “abuse of office” in relation to a private company while Serbian law did not distinguish between state and private companies in the charge.
Subotic offered to pay up to US$ 5.6 million in bail and stand trial more than once but the Special Court rejected the offers. In October 2011, Subotic was convicted to six years imprisonment but the Belgrade Court of Appeals overturned the verdict in March 2013 and ordered a retrial. In the period following, the Serbian Criminal Code changed to eliminate the “abuse of office” charge in relation to private companies.
The lesser charge gave Subotic the opportunity to pay bail and defend himself. When his Interpol warrant expired and the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) came to power in July 2013, Subotic returned to Serbia.
Last July, the Special Court acquitted him of the charges. Judge Dragan Milosevic denied political pressure played any role in the reversal of the verdict claiming that new evidence proved Subotic was not in control of a company involved in the smuggling but rather the Yugoslav National Army.
The prosecution, however, claimed too much weight was given to a single witness in the case, a Macedonian company liquidation manager, Jordan Ristovski. According to the prosecution, his evidence should not have been accepted because he admitted to the theft of documents which were provided to judges in the case.
With the final ruling by the Belgrade Court of Appeal, Subotic will have all his previously confiscated assets in Serbia and Montenegro returned, reported local news outlet Vesti Online.