© AP Photo / Risto Bozovic
In a bizarre twist concerning a convoluted year-long trial into an alleged 2016 Montenegrin coup plot, which Podgorica claims involved “Russian state agencies,” Montenegrin prosecutors have called for the arrest of a former CIA officer they say was involved.
Joseph Assad, an Egyptian-born US national and former CIA counterterrorism officer whom Podgorica has charged with involvement in the October 16, 2016, plot to take over the government, has categorically rejected all charges and called on the US government to deny Podgorica’s extradition request.
“This is a deception campaign against a loyal American who had no role in any crimes or coup in Montenegro,” Assad said in a statement issued over the weekend by his lawyer.
According to the former agent, the only “conspiracy” in the coup plot case was one by authorities against the Democratic Front, a Montenegrin opposition alliance, which Podgorica has accused of involvement in the alleged coup plot.
In a statement, Assad implied that the coup plot case had been turned into a political circus, pointing to the prosecution’s destruction of evidence, and other issues, such as the release of an individual earlier claimed to be the plot’s leader.
In a brief statement for The Guardian, Montenegrin prosecutors said Assad was being charged with “creating a criminal organization,” offering no further details. Assad worked in Montenegro as a security advisor for Aron Shaviv, a high-profile British-Israeli political consultant hired by the Democratic Front ahead of the October 2016 elections. Shaviv was said to have hired Assad, with whom he had worked before, after facing constant harassment from Montenegro’s security services during the campaign.
If extradited, Assad, who gained worldwide recognition in 2015 together with his wife for their role in helping Iraqi Christians escape Daesh (ISIS)*, will join 14 other suspected coup plotters, including nine Serbs, three Montenegrins and two Russians (being tried in absentia), who have been charged with planning to overthrow the Montenegrin government and assassinate long-time leader Milo Dukanovic in a plot allegedly hatched by “Russian state agencies.”
Moscow has dismissed all claims of involvement in any plot, with officials calling the allegations “absurd” and “irresponsible.” Last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained that Russia had not been “presented with any facts related to any of these unfounded accusations.” The Montenegro plot claims, according to Lavrov, were “on a par with other baseless accusations toward us and our country, including hacker attacks against the entire West,” and “meddling in the election campaigns of the majority of Western countries.”
Montenegro formally joined NATO on June 5, 2017. Last month, US President Donald Trump sparked a minor scandal after appearing to question why American troops should be sent to fight and die for Montenegro in the event of a war. The president called Montenegrins a “very strong” and “aggressive people,” warning that “they may get aggressive and congratulations, you’re in World War III.” Trump’s remarks prompted NATO officials and US senators to privately assure the alliance’s members of continued US support.
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.