Felix Salmon

What is Kroll doing for Montenegro?

By Felix Salmon
August 19, 2010

Landon Thomas’s report from Montenegro is full of fun datapoints, including the fact that the prime minister, Milo Djukanovic, officially gets paid only 1,256 euros per month. There’s also a delicious irony in the fact that he avoided prosecution by Italian authorities by declaring diplomatic immunity. And then there’s this:

As part of the plan to lure investors from around the globe, Mr. Djukanovic, who is also chairman of Montenegro’s investment promotion agency, said last week that any person willing to invest 500,000 euros or more could become a citizen of Montenegro…

Government officials say that the new applicants under the citizenship program will be thoroughly vetted by outsiders like Kroll, the risk consulting company.

Kroll, of course, is the company which was instrumental in allowing Allen Stanford’s $8 billion Ponzi scheme to go on for as long as it did. It’s also the kind of company which tries to hire freelance journalists to be its spies, because they are seen to be independent and above suspicion:

With one Google search, anyone could see that I was, in fact, a journalist. If I went to Lago Agrio as myself and pretended to write a story, no one would suspect that the starry-eyed young American poking around was actually shilling for Chevron.

I’m not entirely impartial here. Back when I was a freelance journalist, one editor would do things like ask me to write a story for his magazine, and then, after I filed it, tell me that I was an idiot to write it without a signed commission letter and that he wouldn’t run it or pay me. He went on to become a top Kroll executive in Brazil.

But putting all that to one side, I’m a bit confused about what exactly Montenegro is trying to achieve by making a big show of hiring Kroll to vet potential citizens. It’s not going to convince anybody that Montenegro isn’t plagued with corruption — quite the opposite. And Kroll doesn’t come cheap, even if you’re a country of only 670,000 people — so the country has to be getting some benefit from this contract. I wonder what it might be.

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