Montenegro is infamous for deep-rooted corruption, different types of smuggling and giving space to dirty political relations in its realm through granting honorary citizenship program. It has also been described as one of arms depots for foreign powers, including the Gulf countries as a legacy of the civil war in the 1990s. This tiny country, with a population of less than a million, is in dire need of foreign investment. Dahlan, has established very close relations with the country’s strongman president, Milo Djukanović. Thus, there appears ample opportunity for the country to bring in Emirati money in exchange for doing Dahlan’s bidding.
“[Dahlan] is a very respectable person from the world of security, especially in the Middle East, a man who is recognized on the wider global security map, a man who has extremely friendly relations with Montenegro.”
Milo Djukanović, Montenegro’s former prime minister
A report released by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) in 2020, reveals that Dahlan purchased a state-owned luxury mansion in the Serbian capital of Belgrade. Interestingly, this mansion was then sold to one of his close aides, Adham Abomadalala, who was the first Palestinian ambassador to Montenegro. This was, in fact, not surprising at all. Dahlan has been involved in Montenegro as early as 2006.
Dahlan’s relations with Montenegro, then part of a confederation with Serbia, began in 2006 when his Saudi-based brother Abed Rabbo launched a real estate company in Montenegro and Serbia. Two years after the country’s independence from Serbia, in 2008, Dahlan registered Levant International Incorporation in Podgorica. Diana Buttu was appointed as the company’s head. Buttu, a Palestinian-Canadian lawyer was once a spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization. She has been strongly critical of Mahmoud Abbas and advocates on behalf of Dahlan instead. A few months later, Dahlan registered another company, Manarah, to develop real estate projects while Levant International Incorporation was for consulting and management. Manarah’s headquarters is in Abu Dhabi but has branches in Montenegro, Serbia, and Egypt. Its CEO is Bassil Jabir, another figure close to Dahlan. In late 2008, Dahlan, flew to Abu Dhabi to mediate a business deal between the Emirates and Montenegro. The royal family of Abu Dhabi was interested in investing real estate sector in Montenegro, which was facing a severe economic crisis at that time.
This interest grew further as Dahlan was granted Montenegrin citizenship in 2012 at the request of then-prime minister Milo Djukanović. Djukanović has been a key figure to Dahlan’s interests in the country. Pointing out the relations between Djukanović and Dahlan, William Dartmouth, a former member of the UK Parliament and of the UK Independence Party, called on European Court of Human Rights not to admit Montenegro in its body since the country has been a field for illegal operations. He also claimed that Dahlan was running dirty businesses in the country’s capital thanks to his close relations with Djukanović without further elaborating on details.
The Montenegrin media has also highlighted this relation so often that came to the fore after an alleged coup attempt against Djukanović. On 16 October 2016, Montenegrin authorities arrested 20 Serbian and Montenegrin citizens on the same day as the parliamentary elections, claiming that putschists planned to raid the parliament and kill Djukanović. The Western bloc accused Russia of destabilizing the country for blocking its eventual accession to NATO. In return, pro-Russian Montenegrin opponents claimed that Dahlan was one of the main figures, who devised a fake coup attempt in the country. Whether true or not, Djukanović secured the largest number of seats in the parliament, and subsequently assumed the presidential position since 2018.
Djukanović has repeatedly denied the claims that Dahlan and he were partners in business or benefitting from each other. In an interview in 2020, Djukanović said of Dahlan “He is a very respectable person from the world of security, especially in the Middle East, a man who is recognized on the wider global security map, a man who has extremely friendly relations with the former Yugoslavia, and Serbia and Montenegro. He often stayed as a tourist, but also as a friend of a number of people who live in this area. And that’s all, there is no story about business.”
However, it was 2010 when Djukanović mentioned a “friend” who was going to introduce their poor country to the wealthy UAE through linkng them to Abu Dhabi’s Al Nahyan royal family. Dahlan kept his word, and the UAE ascended to championship in foreign investments in Montenegro. The amount of UAE investment was €92.8 million in 2017. Whereas, Switzerland, the second largest foreign investor, had invested only €35 million.
In 2014, Djukanović said Dahlan was a friend of Montenegro and the region but had no investments in the country. Yet, a year later, Dahlan’s name was circulated in the media again, this time in relation with another real estate project. This €300 million project was going to be realized by Royal Group. Montenegrin media reported that this company was in fact owned by Dahlan., This sparked outrage among the opposition parties since they were against the sale of a beach to a foreigner, who acquired citizenship in a controversial way. Subsequently, the company revoked its offer.
Apparently, Montenegro is a country where Dahlan comfortably fulfils his needs for his operations in other countries given the fact that the Balkans have become an arms depot for foreign powers, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Soon after his appearance, Montenegro sold off its state-run arms exporter, Montenegro Defence Industry MDI to a Serbian and Israeli group for a paltry €680,000. The buyers were supposedly a consortium of Serbian-based CPR Impex and Israeli ATL Atlantic Technology Ltd. Both known entities who would have little reason to buy a poorly performing parastatal arms company unless they had advance notice of what was to come. ATL Atlantic Technologies, is a Tel Aviv-based arms company established in 2009 and owned on paper by Agmon Shaked with links to Serge Muller. Muller who would later be called “Mr Blood Diamond” and arrested after the MDI sale signing ceremony inside his company car as he crossed into Albania to fly back to Israel. CPR Impex is owned on paper by Petar Crnogorac, who was under investigation for the sale of weapons to Libyan Islamists led by Khalid al Sharif. Al-Sharif represented the Libyan Ministry of Defense but is a former jihadist and member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Muller’s criminal charges may be worse; he was wanted in Belgium for cocaine smuggling, money laundering and essentially accused of trading weapons for cocaine with the brutal Colombian rebel group FARC. All these relations have been documented.
Shortly after that, Saudi Arabia began buying massive amounts of government-owned weapons from Montenegro to arm rebels and militias in Syria and Yemen. One of Saudi Arabia’s first orders was for weapons from CPR IMPEX. Since August 2015, Montenegro has sold 250 tons of ammunition and 10,000 anti-tank systems to Saudi Arabia from their own government stockpiles. Investigations have shown that the exact same munitions were also purchased from the Montenegrin government at auction. When Montenegro joined NATO in 2019, it began purchasing Israeli and US weapons systems in a $35 million deal announced by then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Officially Mohamad Dahlan was granted Montenegrin citizenship thanks to his efforts for improving the bilateral political and economic relations between the country and the UAE but in retrospect he was just standing at the firehose of Saudi money at the exact right time. In 2020 UAE and Montenegro posted $31.3 million in trade and the UAE is Montenegro’s largest trade partner in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).