Moldova, Explained by ZdG. October 7, 2019.

HAPPENING THIS WEEK

Greetings from Chişinău after a boozy wine day weekend! Here’s what’s happening this week: we feature a story on the troublesome revamping of the Superior Council of Magistrates, the main institution responsible for ensuring the independence of judicial power. In editorials, ZdG comments on the importance of the integrity of voters in the upcoming elections, starting with the local elections on October 20, 2019. In weekly investigations, we investigate former Prime Minister Pavel Filip’s hometown’s disproportionate string of projects initiated while the Democratic Party was in power. All of that and more in this week’s newsletter. Happy reading, with a glass of good Moldovan wine! 

And before we start, we want to know your preferences for ZdG’s English newsletter:

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      Editorials
      Investigation
      Foreign Briefs
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      Spotted

THIS WEEK’S FEATURE

JUSTICE REFORM: After Moldova’s oligarchic regime was ousted in June, the new coalition government placed the country’s law and order institutions high on their reform agenda, including the Prosecutor’s Office and the courts. But just like in other parts of Eastern Europe where corrupt courts and judges are creating obstacles to rule of law reforms, revamping the Superior Council of Magistrates is proving to be an internal struggle – one that is dividing public opinion and has Moldova’s international partners raising the alarm about the state of the justice system. ZdG breaks down the battle of judges against judges attempting to gain control over the main institution responsible for ensuring the independence of judicial power. 

FROM THE EDITORS

ELECTION READY: Despite the international community’s openness, Moldova’s governing coalition remains fragile and cracks keep on appearing as not all of its  members can bear the lack of transparency. Meanwhile, a young group of politicians in the Parliament are trying to show to its voters how transparent they are. In this week’s editorial, ZdG’s Executive Director Alina Radu argues that the electorate that will cast their vote for integrity in the upcoming elections is an important one – and President Dodon’s Socialist Party cannot obtain their vote, regardless of heavy investment in campaigning. Neither could Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party. Moldova’s citizens can no longer be deceived and those one million Moldovan citizens that have gone abroad aren’t just sending home remittances, but also lessons on democracy, integrity and rights.

THE FOREIGN BRIEF

TRANS-OIL: Moldova’s industry producing the largest chunk of agricultural exports has received a big influx of foreign investment. Trans-Oil, the country’s export monopolist of cereals and sunflower oil (57 percent of the country’s agricultural exports) secured a $150 million support package, including $30 million offered by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The investment is supposed to boost Moldovan food exports to the E.U., the Middle East and Northern Africa.  

SECURITY ZONE: Tensions are growing over border issues with the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria. Local self-declared authorities have installed illegal border checks in the zone monitored by the international peacekeeping group and are now refusing to walk back. The negotiations at the Joint Control Commission, a trilateral peacekeeping force made up of Moldova, Russia and representatives of the Transnistrian region, have stalled again after Tiraspol refused to put the subject on the agenda – despite the calls from the OSCE and even against the will of its only ally Russia, which backs the breakaway territory through the support of its troops stationed in the region.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE: Moldova’s former parliamentary speaker fired up a harsh public attack on the new government at the recent session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In his speech, Andrian Candu, who’s part of Moldova’s delegation at the European Council, accused the current governing coalition of a witch-hunt against the leaders and members of opposition parties and of politicizing the Constitutional Court. Candu was Moldova’s Parliament President while the Democratic Party was in power and he remains a party member. His former party boss, oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, is on the run and incriminated in a number of criminal cases in Romania and Russia.

BRUSSELS VISITS: This week Prime Minister Maia Sandu paid her third official visit to Brussels since her inauguration in June. On September 30, she met with the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The High Representative confirmed that the E.U. will increase budget support in response to the Government’s ambitious reform agenda, mentioning that the E.U. appreciates reforms being undertaken and has high expectations for Moldova’s government. That same week, on October 3, the High Representative paid an official visit to Chișinău, which was seen as a sign of a renewed partnership between Moldova and the European Union. Mogherini optimistically called it “a new start with Moldova.” However, it is still unclear whether these warm sentiments towards Chişinău’s new government will hold in Brussels after the new Commission starts work in November. 

ZDG INVESTIGATES

HOMETOWN INVESTMENTS: When Pavel Filip became Moldova’s Prime Minister in 2016, his hometown suddenly became the beneficiary of an inordinate number of development projects. To accommodate this increase in public works, the former Democratic Party Government allocated more money to the commune – and the distribution of funds appears to be far from fair. ZdG investigates how much the state spent on Pănășești commune under the PDM, and examines how this became a means of serving the political interests of the former Prime Minister Filip, building a positive political image for him ahead of the February 2019 Parliamentary elections. 

“BORMAN” CASE: After his momentary release from prison on September 20, 2019, Moldovan authorities detained alleged drug trafficker Oleg Pruteanu (aka Borman) in relation to a criminal case opened in Russia. The case is targeting an alleged international drug trafficking ring; one that Russian authorities claim involves not just “Borman,” but also former Democratic Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc and former PDM deputy Constantin Țuțu. While the Moldovan press and public speculated that the case materials could provide links to Plahotniuc (whose location abroad is currently unknown), the Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Cases confirmed that so far only materials implicating Borman have reached Moldova.

MOLDOVA IN WORLD NEWS

MOLDOVA & RUSSIA: Despite the close ties between the Kremlin and Moldova’s President Igor Dodon, there are a number of controversial issues that Chișinău and Moscow have yet to resolve. ZdG’s partner outlet Hromadske International breaks down the current state of Moldovan-Russian relations, demonstrating that negotiations over Russian gas and the Transnistrian Settlement aren’t the only points of contention.

NATO’S DECLINE: The influence of pro-Russian political leaders, as well as Russian or pro-Russian media, is causing a decline in support for NATO membership in Moldova, writes Madalin Necsutu for Balkan Insight. President Dodon’s recent speech at the United Nations General Assembly emphasizing Moldova’s military neutrality is just one example of this kind of anti-NATO messaging, which according to experts is part of a growing scaremongering campaign benefiting the pro-Russian Socialist Party.

SPOTTED THIS WEEK

ZDG IN GERMANY: Our Executive Director Alina Radu sends an insider note from the Global Investigative Journalism Conference, which recently took place in Hamburg: 

“Imagine you are in a place where everyone talks about investigative reporting all day long, giving out tips, telling stories and sharing experiences. And by everybody, I mean 1,600 journalists from 130 countries, packed into 250 sessions. What did we talk about? As corruption and money laundering evolves globally, so does investigative reporting: new ways to get and check information, new models to visualize it, new ways to present it. Yes, it is challenging as ever and it costs increasingly more time and money — but it is also more relevant than ever: a number of big investigative journalism stories have moved and shaped the events in Moldova and neighbors over the last year. And yes, this is the right place to get inspired and hopeful for our own investigative effort: when 290 journalists filled the room of capacity for 150 to learn from the revolutionary Bellingcat experience of using new tech to reimagine investigative reporting.”

IMF IN MOLDOVA: A mission from the International Monetary Fund is paying a visit to Moldova from October 2 to 8, 2019. In Chișinău, the team’s staff and head of the mission, Ruben Atoyan, will carry out a fact-finding mission, looking at recent economic developments and discussing policies aimed at maintaining macroeconomic and fiscal stability, in the context of the state budget for 2020. In September, the IMF approved a $46 million loan tranche from the $179 million program of financial assistance to the country and agreed to extend the program until March 2020. Currently IMF outstanding credit is at around 3% of Moldova’s GDP, on a steady decline for the last seven years when it was 7%.

RACE FOR THE CURE: On October 6, 2019, the group Run Pink Moldova organized the country’s first ever Race for the Cure event in Chișinău’s Valea Morilor park. The event aims at initiating a movement of unprecedented solidarity for women fighting cancer. For the first time ever, Chișinău is now among the 140 cities around the world hosting this global event. 

WINE DAY MOLDOVA: From October 5-6, 2019, Moldova celebrated its 18th National Wine Day holiday. According to the Border Police, crossing points saw an influx of people over the weekend, with as many as 53,009 crossings, half of which were foreign nationals. The National Wine Day organizers also reported an increased number of tourists attending the event.

Thank you for your continued interest!  To keep up with our Moldova coverage throughout the week, you can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter@ZiarulDe or check in at zdg.md/eng for our latest stories in English. More subscription options coming soon. Until next time!

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