PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Judges in the trial of suspected coup plotters against Montenegro's government on Monday rejected a defense request to free the suspects from prison, partly because of their Russian connections.
The trial of 14 suspects opened in the small Balkan nation last week. The defendants are charged with "creating a criminal organization" to thwart Montenegro's pro-Western government's bid to join NATO and install a pro-Russian leadership in Montenegro.
Two suspected Russian members of Moscow's military intelligence, identified as Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, are charged with coordinating the Oct. 16 foiled coup attempt from neighboring Serbia. They were allowed to leave Serbia for Russia and are being tried in absentia, along with two Serbs.
The chief judge said Monday the detained suspects cannot be released from detention because they could intimidate prosecution witnesses in coordination with the two Russians.
"There is a legal ground for detention," chief prosecutor Milivoje Katnic told the judges. "If we release them from prison, they could get logistics support from the indicted (Russians), who are unavailable to the prosecution."
Katnic said the two Russians "had strong and sophisticated" support from Russian authorities during the foiled coup attempt.
Eight of the 14 suspects are in detention. Two pro-Russian Montenegrin opposition leaders who are not in detention have requested the return of their impounded passports so they could travel to Moscow.
Russia has denied involvement in the alleged plot.
Montenegro joined NATO in June as the Western military alliance's 29th member, despite strong opposition from Moscow, which considers the small Adriatic country a historic Slavic ally and is opposed to NATO's enlargement.
The indictment said the defendants, most of them Serbs, planned to take over Montenegro's parliament on election day and assassinate then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.
AP Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.
This story has been corrected to say that eight of the total of 14 suspects are in detention.