Cell of a Montenegrin criminal group discovered in Slovenia.

For seven years, a bloody clash of clans has claimed the lives of dozens of young men from rival Montenegrin criminal groups. New evidence shows that one of the groups, the Kavač clan, had a branch in Slovenia and was also active in Austria.

The Kavač and Škaljari groups, both from the Montenegrin coastal town of Kotor, began feuding in 2014 after the disappearance of a 200-kilogram shipment of cocaine. Since then, there has been a tit-for-tat spiral of attacks as the groups compete for control of a lucrative slice of the cocaine trafficking market in Europe, where profits are higher and risks are lower than in the US.1

In 2016, the violence spilled over into Serbia; since then, there have been hits in a number of European countries, including Austria, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and Ukraine.2 This is symptomatic of how the tentacles of criminal groups from the Western Balkans now spread around the world and how groups from the region have become major players in the cocaine business.

Until recently, the activities of these groups in Slovenia did not garner public attention, although the police seem to have been monitoring their activities through physical and electronic surveillance, use of undercover agents, international police data exchange and covert investigative measures.3 In May 2021, the Slovenian police submitted criminal charges to the state prosecutor’s office in Ljubljana against a cell of the Kavač clan that had been operating in Slovenia since 2018. The criminal charges, which have been seen by the GI-TOC, also shed light on the group’s activities in Austria.

According to the police, the Kavač clan’s Slovenian branch had been trafficking drugs (mostly cannabis and cocaine) to Slovenia from the Netherlands and Spain. It also appears that some cocaine was entering the country via the port of Koper. The drugs were usually stored in the mountainous and touristic Gorenjska region before distribution to Austria, Germany and Italy. The group is also alleged to have purchased semi-automatic rifles and automatic pistols in Slovakia, which they sold to organized criminal groups in the Netherlands, Serbia and Slovenia.

In May 2021, Slovenian police arrested almost 60 suspected members of the group. Their investigation reveals that the group was well-organized. It used encrypted communication, namely the Sky network (which has since been taken down). It operated a transportation network including cars and trucks with purpose-built compartments for concealing drugs. And members of the group had well-defined roles including being responsible for negotiating and purchasing shipments, organizing transportation, modifying vehicles, storing the loads, selling the drugs, recruiting new members, accounting and establishing companies to provide cover for criminal activities.

The encrypted chats reveal that members of the group had nicknames (sometimes more than one) including Lavitese, Sandman, Mr Nice, Damatinac, Caspar, Coco (Chanel), Tom Ford and Mr Fantastic.

It is suspected that since 2018, the criminal group smuggled at least 790 kilograms of cocaine, more than two tonnes of cannabis, 10 kilograms of heroin and 30 litres of amphetamine base. The actual amounts could have been even higher: in August 2019, members of the Slovenia-based group were arrested on a yacht near the Azores trying to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine.

In addition, the Slovenian police gave indications about the group’s activities in Austria. Shipments of cocaine were brought from Koper to Vienna and Salzburg in specially modified trucks that belonged to companies regularly used by the criminal group. There are also records of several shipments of cannabis sent from Girona in Catalonia, Spain, via France and Italy to Slovenia, Vienna and Salzburg. In each case, a truck with a secret compartment containing the drugs was preceded by a scout to inform the drivers that passage was safe. It is interesting to note that the packages of cannabis were colour-coded, either to indicate the quality of the drug or to facilitate onward distribution.

The group kept meticulous records of its deals, including logs of all income and expenses. According to the police, most of the income was in cash and represented profit from drug trafficking and sales. Expenses included payments to suppliers, for transportation and other costs for intermediaries, couriers, drivers and bags for drugs.4 For example, the records show how much couriers were paid to transport the drugs: one driver was paid €150 per kilogram of cannabis smuggled from Slovenia to Austria and €2 000 for each kilogram of cocaine. For major transactions, money was often physically carried by a courier. Slovenian police suspect that some of the proceeds of crime were transferred from Spain and laundered in Serbia.

According to the criminal charges, it is suspected that at least two members of the Kavač clan have been hiding in the vicinity of Vienna.

The Austrian connection

This is not the first link between the Kavač clan and the Austrian capital of Vienna. In December 2018, Vladimir Roganović, a member of the Kavač clan, was shot and killed outside a popular restaurant in the city centre.5 More recently, Dario Djordjevic from Serbia was arrested in Vienna in June 2021 as part of the global operation Trojan Shield.6 He allegedly planned a number of assassinations for the Kavač clan.7

Drug trafficking routes between south-eastern Europe and Austria are well established. In 2021, a court in Salzburg convicted several members of a criminal group from the region for smuggling cannabis, cocaine and synthetic drugs from Slovenia to Austria in 2019 and 2020.8

The Slovenian investigation shows that the Montenegrin clan war extends even into the European Union. It also illustrates how well the groups are organized and reveals their trafficking routes and modes of operation. Furthermore, like the recent takedown of the AN0M encrypted messaging app,9 this case shows the extent to which criminal groups exploit communications technology but are simultaneously also vulnerable on such platforms.

The case also raises a number of questions. Why is a criminal group from Montenegro importing cannabis from Spain when there is plenty of it in the Western Balkans? Is this due to the increased supply in Spain,10 combined with reduced cultivation in Albania? Are there other cells of criminal groups from the Western Balkans active in EU countries? How vulnerable are Adriatic ports and marinas to drug trafficking and what more can be done to enhance controls?

During its presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2021, Slovenia has an opportunity to use the lessons learned from this case to strengthen cooperation in the Western Balkans and between the EU and the region in order to more effectively tackle organized crime.11


  1. Jeremy McDermott, James Bargent, Douwe den Held and Maria Fernanda Ramírez, The cocaine pipeline to Europe, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and InSight Crime, February 2021, https://globalinitiative.net/analysis/cocaine-to-europe/

  2. Walter Kemp, Making a killing: What assassinations reveal about the Montenegrin drug war, Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, July 2020, https://globalinitiative.net/analysis/montenegro-assassinations-drug-war/

  3. Damijana Žišt, Kavački klan je imel “podružnico” v Sloveniji, ki jo je sestavljalo skoraj 60 članov, Večer, 24 May 2021, https://www.vecer.com/kronika/kavacki-klan-s-podruznico-v-sloveniji-10243529

  4. Jelena Jovanović, U klanu kavčana advokat i računovođa, Vijesti, no. 7841, 6 July 2021, 2-3, https://www.vijesti.me/vijesti/crna-hronika/554159/u-klanu-kavcana-advokat-i-racunovodja

  5. Kristina Amerhauser, Not killed on their home turf: What is the significance of assassinations when they are carried out on ‘neutral’ territory?, Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, 30 January 2019, https://globalinitiative.net/analysis/not-killed-on-their-home-turf/

  6. Europol, Press conference – Operation Trojan Shield/OTF Greenlight, 8 June 2021, https://youtu.be/e443mE8l-_0

  7. Mafia-Boss „Dexter“ mitten in Wien gefasst, Kronen Zeitung, 9 June 2021, https://www.krone.at/2432877

  8. Prozess gegen Balkan-Drogenbande: Zwei weitere Dealer erhielten Urteil, Kosmo, 21 April 2021, https://www.kosmo.at/prozess-gegen-balkan-drogenbande-zwei-weitere-dealer-erhielten-urteil/

  9. Luke Harding and agencies, Hundreds arrested in global crime sting after underworld app is hacked, The Guardian, 8 June 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/jun/08/anom-encrypted-app-fbi-afp-australia-federal-police-sting-operation-ironside-an0m

  10. Patricia Ortega Dolz, Elisa Lois, Rebeca Carranco, Nacho Sánchez and Jesús A. Cañas, Spain and its narcotraffickers, El País, 3 February 2021, https://english.elpais.com/spanish_news/2021-02-03/spain-and-its-narcotraffickers.html

  11. For example, through the European Council’s Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation on Internal Security (COSI). For more information about COSI, see: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/council-eu/preparatory-bodies/standing-committee-operational-cooperation-internal-security/