Montenegro on Thursday issued an international arrest warrant for a former CIA agent for alleged involvement in what the government said was a failed pro-Russia coup designed to prevent the Balkan country’s NATO membership.
The suspect, Joseph Assad, a US citizen born and raised in Egypt, was in the country in the run-up to its March 2016 parliamentary elections as a security adviser to an Israeli-British political consultant then working with the pro-Russian Democratic Front party’s campaign.
The political consultant, Aron Shaviv, said he was being harassed at the time by Montenegro’s security services as part of an effort to hamper Democratic Front’s campaign, the British daily The Guardian reported on Sunday. Shaviv himself is not reported as a suspect.
Shaviv also worked with the Likud party’s last campaign in Israel’s March 2015 national elections, producing ads for Benjamin Netanyahu.
Shaviv was producing humorous television spots for DF’s campaign in Montenegro’s 2016 election, and had turned to Assad for help after growing suspicious that he was being followed by government agents.
Montenegro’s state TV said last week that prosecutors now allege Assad used the Shaviv gig as cover for helping the coup plotters plan their escape. They claim he was part of a “criminal enterprise” led by two Russian military spy agency officers, named in the trial as Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov.
The Russians and 12 others, mostly Serbs, are on trial over the alleged election day plot that included plans to assassinate then-prime minister Milo Djukanovic, storming parliament and taking over power. The Russians are being tried in absentia.
Moscow has denied accusations that it took part in the plot.
Prosecutors are investigating whether Assad was hired to help the 14 suspects with an escape plan. He was named during testimony by another former CIA agent, Brian Scott, at the trial.
Assad has refused to testify and denied wrongdoing, telling The Guardian in a Saturday statement that “this is a deception campaign against a loyal American who had no role in any crimes or coup in Montenegro,” and insisting the only conspiracy in the case was the Montenegrin authorities’ conspiracy against the DF party.
Assad and his wife, Michele, both former US counter-terrorism officers, gained international attention when US media said they helped more than 100 Iraqi Christians to escape Islamic State’s violence and flee to Europe as refugees in 2015.
Assad’s whereabouts are currently unknown. He is said to be heading an Abu Dhabi-based security agency.
Montenegro joined NATO last year despite strong opposition from its longtime ally Russia.