New Details in the Case of Vladimir Plahotniuc, the Country’s Biggest Oligarch

New Details in the Case of Vladimir Plahotniuc, the Country’s Biggest Oligarch
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11 May 2020 | 05:53

Interpol has not yet announced Vladimir Plahotniuc, the country’s tycoon, in international search and the interim head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, Serghei Gavajuc, ensured that the investigations in Plahotniuc’s case are ongoing. In 2020, the U.S. Embassy announced that Plahotniuc is in the U.S.A. Subsequently, the authorities in Chișinău are aware of his exact location. However, the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office claims that Plahotniuc’s location remains unknown. 

Recently, deputy Lilian Carp made public several new details from Plahotniuc’s case. According to the deputy, while tracing the financing means the investigation revealed two new foreign companies, which the former leader of the Democratic Party, Vladimir Plahotniuc, mentioned in his declaration of assets, completed prior to the parliamentary elections from February 2019. The representatives of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office confirmed the information, mentioning that this is an assumption that is now under criminal investigation. 

Deputy Lilian Carp, from the ACUM Bloc parliamentary faction, states that during December 17, 2016 – June 14, 2019, Plahotniuc received financial means of around €9.55 million in the form of loans, dividends, and benefit distribution from Vanguard International and Vanguard International Group, two foreign companies. 

„The investigation traced the financial means that Vanguard International and Vanguard International Group, two foreign companies, and were transferred to Vladimir Plahotniuc. There are reasonable doubts that the financial means that were transferred to Plahotniuc through the two foreign companies were from Bass Systems the domestic company. Bass System and Moldtelecom, the state-owned company signed procurement contracts for machinery, software, and services in the IT sector,” Lilian Carp specified. 

The prosecutors did not mention that Vanguard International and Vanguard International Group have been subjects in the criminal scheme that has been investigated. Following Lilian Carp’s statement, ZdG asked the Prosecutor’s Office for an opinion.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office representatives, Lilian Carp’s statement is an assumption which is under verification in the criminal investigation. 

„The money from the Vanguard companies’ accounts, affiliated with Vladimir Plahotniuc comes from several offshore entities from Hong Kong. The offshore entities provided services to more companies from different territories. The Bass Systems company also made financial transactions with the Hong Kong companies. Subsequently, the Prosecutor’s Office requested international legal support from Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore, aiming to establish the financial relations between all these companies, the legality of the transactions, and to identify the beneficiaries and the persons responsible for these actions,” the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office answered to ZdG’s inquiry. 

ZdG spoke with the interim head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, Serghei Gavajuc. He told us that Plahotniuc’s case is under investigation and additionally the prosecutor’s office created an investigative commission.

„In case we will have new information, we will let you know. All high profile criminal cases, all of them, will be publicized.”  

The Vanguard Companies Appear in the Plahotniuc’s Assets Declaration Submitted Before the Parliamentary Elections 

Plahotniuc mentioned in his declaration of assets, completed during the electoral campaign for the Parliamentary elections from February 24, 2019, the Vanguard International company. Plahotniuc mentioned that he obtained dividends from this company worth over €4,5 million, and almost 350,000 dollars. Plahotniuc also declared that he had invested in eight companies, amongst which were Vanguard International and Vanguard International Group companies. Plahotniuc also mentioned that he is the owner and has a 100 percent share in Vanguard International and Vanguard International Group companies, one in Abu Dhabi and the other in Apia Samoa, a small city from a Pacific Ocean island. Plahotniuc mentioned he owns shares worth around 23,000 euros and 100,000 dollars and that he is a shareholder in these two companies. However, he never wrote the date when he became involved in these businesses.  

The Bass Systems Lawyer Denies Any Connection Between the Company and Plahotniuc 

The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office has seized three companies in the criminal investigation in which Plahotniuc is accused of large-scale money laundering:

  • 100 percent shares from the social capital of BB-DIALIZA company, worth around €1.66 million (31.82 million lei). 
  • 100 percent shares from the social capital of BASS-SYSTEMS company, worth around 154,000 euros (2.95 million lei). 
  • The GMG Production company –  around 563,000 euros (10.8 million lei). 

Ziarul de Gardă previously mentioned that, in February 2020, prosecutor Alexandru Cernei ordered to remove the seizure on equity capital and several operational accounts belonging to Bass Systems company, one of the most important IT companies from Moldova. 

According to the interim head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, Serghei Gavajuc, the seizure placed on the other two companies remains in place. The prosecutors have seized the share capital of Bass System company in October 2019. According to the new information, the prosecutors are investigating a potential connection between Bass System and the Vanguard companies, founded by Vladimir Plahotniuc. 

Representatives of the Bass System company denied any involvement of the company in illegal activities, mentioning that the company has become a victim of a denigration campaign. 

ZdG spoke with the lawyer of the Bass System company, Ion Păduraru. He told us that the company has no connection to Vladimir Plahotniuc. 

„From a legal point of view, this is an irresponsible declaration. The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office’s press release was politically motivated. Till now, there is no employee from the company who would be under investigation. These are all lies,” says the lawyer.  

ZdG asked the lawyer about a potential transaction between Bass Systems and the Vanguard companies, a theory which is investigated by the prosecutors. The lawyer told us that Bass Systems sent no money to Vanguard companies and the later ones did not receive any money from the Bass Systems. 

„The owner of Bass Systems, Onisim Popescu, and Assentis Holding company from Cyprus obtained dividends from the Bass Systems. They received dividends that were transferred to the accounts of Assentis company. They are tracing and following these amounts of money, but they forget to mention that over 65 percent of these amounts came back to the company. The money earned from the contracts with Moldtelecom has left the country only for acquiring the equipment installed at Moldtelecom, nothing else. What do Plahotniuc’s dividends have to do with the activity of Bass Systems? What is Plahotniuc’s connection to this money? These are lies,” stated the lawyer. 

Ion Păduraru also told us that the seizure placed on the equity capital and some operational accounts of the Bass Systems company was made based on a judicial warrant, and in February 2020, prosecutor Alexei Cernei ordered the removal of the seizure. 

The lawyer claims that initially there were some issues at the Public Services Agency. The agency was requesting a warrant and not an order to remove the seizure. „After two days, they gathered in a meeting and agreed that a judicial warrant was not necessary,” specified Paduraru. 

The Authorities, Searching for Plahotniuc

In the fall of 2019, the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Plahotniuc’s, the country’s biggest oligarch and the former leader of the Democratic Party. Later on, the prosecutors requested the Interpol to announce Plahotniuc in the international search. In February 2020, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Pavel Voicu, mentioned that there is no answer from the Interpol regarding the international search yet. In April 2020, the interim head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, Serghei Gavajuc, also announced that the Interpol issued no international search warrant for the former leader of the Democratic Party yet. 

„We do not have information from Interpol yet. We sent them additional information, and they should decide on issuing an international search warrant. Currently, we do not have any information. In some cases, the Interpol does not ask for additional information, but in this case, it did. We responded fast and provided the information, but we still do not have a response,” says Gavajuc. 

Nine months after Plahotniuc disappeared from the political arena (his location was still unknown), on March 19, 2020, the U.S. Embassy to Moldova confirmed that Plahotniuc is currently in the United States. We asked if there is any extradition procedure, based on this information, but the interim head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office told us that the authorities are not aware of Plahotniuc’s exact location. 

 „Extradition is a special procedure foreseen in the Criminal Procedural Code. When the person’s location is identified in a specific place and is already detained (based on an arrest warrant) the state where he was detained informs us and then the extradition process is launched, through the General Prosecutor’s Office. However, we didn’t begin such a procedure, but this is not our fault. This is because his location remains unknown. The U.S. Embassy did not communicate to us where exactly he is located,” specified the interim head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, Serghei Gavajuc. 

The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office declared that the criminal prosecution commenced on September 23, 2019.   

According to the prosecutors during the years 2013-2015, Vladimir Plahotniuc created a criminal scheme with the purpose of converting, transferring, acquiring, owning, and using some goods that he definitely knew constituted illicit income. 

In order to conceal the illicit nature of the goods, Plahotniuc set up – through intermediaries – several domestic and foreign companies including Longford Partners Ltd, Introstyle Solution Ltd, Rowallan Overseas, Nobil Air Limited, Tukumaan Limited, Srl Finp Invest, etc.

The money – about $18 million and €3.5 million in illicit funds – was circulated through those companies. 

Plahotniuc was aware that the money constituted illicit financial means, obtained through non-performing bank loans from Banca De Economii, Unibank, and Banca Socială. These three banks were involved in the 2014 “Billion Case,” which according to the Kroll 2 report involved $1 billion – or around 12 percent of Moldova’s GDP – stolen through illicit loans. 

On September 23, 2019, the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office also commenced another criminal prosecution in Plahotniuc’s name, under article 243 paragraph (3) letter b) of the Criminal Code on the laundering of money in very large proportions. 

According to the materials of the second case, during 2013-2014, Plahotniuc’s company Tukumaan Limited paid:

  • an approximately $7.2 million loan to Finpar Invest;
  • 381,344 euros for air transport services for passengers to Nobil Air;
  • €1.55 million and $1.14 million in transfers to an account opened at ABLV Bank in Plahotniuc’s wife’s name, through the company Asian Development Limited.

The Prosecutor’s Office mentioned that the two criminal cases have been linked in a single procedure. Opening the two criminal cases was possible due to the information exchange from June 2019 between the Moldovan and Swiss authorities, and also thanks to the analysis of the economic agents affiliated with Vladimir Plahotniuc done by the Office for Preventing and Fighting against Money Laundering.

AUTHOR MAIL eng.zdg@gmail.com

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