BNE Intellinews | 10 April 2019
Head of Montenegro’s troubled Atlas Banka sues president, central bank governor
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia April 10, 2019
Dusko Knezevic, head of Montenegro’s troubled Atlas Banka, which is undergoing bankruptcy procedures, has filed a claim against President Milo Djukanovic, central bank governor Radoje Zugic and the bank’s temporary administrator Tanja Teric, accusing them of abuse of office and creating a criminal organisation, broadcaster RTCG reported on April 10.
Knezevic claims that Djukanovic, Zugic and Teric breached several laws and illegally started the bankruptcy procedure. He says that, by launching bankruptcy procedure, the three accused caused a multi-million damage to the bank’s shareholders.
It was unclear why the claim includes Djukanovic, though Knezevic has previously hit out at the tiny country’s president, accusing Djukanovic of corruption and claiming a warrant was issued for his arrest upon pressure from a clan related to the president.
The businessman is the subject of an international arrest warrant after Montenegro’s special prosecution accused him of heading a criminal group that organised and executed the laundering of €500mn through Atlas Banka. Knezevic illegally received €1.9mn, prosecutors said. Knezevic denies the accusations.
Problems at Atlas Banka were reported last year. Together with another Montenegrin bank Invest Banka Montenegro (IBM), it was put under temporary administration by the central bank in December as an audit showed that the capital of the two lenders did not comply with the minimum risk requirements.
While IBM will go bankrupt, Atlas Bank decided to increase its capital, and in January, announced an invitation to its shareholders to subscribe for new shares worth €22mn, seeking to increase its capital and resume normal operations. However, no existing owner showed interest in the new shares, the central bank said. Previously, the bank’s main shareholder was expected to buy the new shares.
In February, the temporary administrator decided to launch a public call for the recapitalisation after no existing owner subscribed for the issue. At the beginning of March, a public call was announced, but it also failed to attract interest.
Knezevic objected to the public call, claiming the decision was illegal as it breaches the rights of existing shareholders. He also claimed the bank was illegally taken from him.
Despite Knezevic’s vocal opposition, in April, the central bank decided to initiate a bankruptcy procedure for Atlas Banka after attempts at recapitalisation failed. Zugic revealed that Atlas Banka’s temporary administrator had stated the bank’s value was overrated.
Knezevic’s Atlas Group, the majority owner of Atlas Banka, said that it plans to appeal the bankruptcy decision with an international court, seeking payment of €500mn in damages from the government.
He also appears to be mounting a lobbying campaign against the Montenegrin authorities from outside the country. On April 8 he wrote on his LinkedIn account about a “[v]ery productive meeting” with British MP Zac Goldsmith, at which he voiced "concerns about the conduct of the Montenegrin government and its abuse of public institutions to the detriment of the people”.
“We discussed the urgent need for a change in leadership of the country, and an end to the domination of President Milo Djukanovic, so that Montenegro may become a true democracy,” Knezevic wrote after the meeting.
Knezevic’s accusations against Djukanovic have also been a driving force behind a series of anti-government protests in Montenegro. He claims to have been one of the biggest donors to the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) over the last 25 years. The DPS has downplayed Knezevic’s importance as a donor, but protest organisers say he gave €97,500 to the party, a figure that gave rise to the name of the protest movement: “97,500 — resist!”