A cross-border team of investigative journalists delves into the criminal smuggling of cigarettes from Bulgaria to Montenegro — a story involving high-profile figures from the political elite.

The team is led by Montenegrin journalist Marko Vesovic, who collaborates with Vladimir Otasevic and Atanas Tchobanov from Bivol, a Bulgarian investigative news portal.

Their reporting reveals significant discrepancies in trade data on tobacco products coming from Bulgaria to Montenegro. It also finds that large quantities of cigarettes without excise stamps are sold in unlicensed locations in Montenegro.

An investigation into the origin of counterfeit cigarettes flooding into Montenegro leads to a company associated with controversial Bulgarian politician and oligarch Delyan Peevski. The team also implicates Bulgarian public figures who have been investigated for corruption in the past.

The project reveals that while many “duty-free” Bulgarian cigarettes are sold in Montenegro, others are sent elsewhere. The investigation highlights the inadequate response of state authorities, despite small steps last year by Montenegro’s new government to crack down on cigarette smuggling.

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