A ‘Lost’ File That Reached the Justice Court

On June 10 the Supreme Court examined the appeal of the prosecution in a case, in which a group of citizens from Calarasi and Straseni accused Constantin Oanta, who lives in Straseni, of involvement in human trafficking and of the organisation of illegal labour migration. Ana Manole, from Cojusna, Straseni district, Ion Robu and Anton Plop, from Calarasi, complained to the law court that, through his actions, Oanta caused them irrevocable material and moral damage.

Even if the case is seven years old, its resolution is unpredictable because the people involved in it, both the victims and the defendant, have lost their faith in the justice system.

Constantin OanţaAt the beginning of 2000, thousands of citizens of the Republic of Moldova opted to go abroad to escape from poverty at home. Dozens of travel companies, real or false, gathered considerable capital on the account of some poor suffering people, who borrowed large sums of money, giving it to these companies that assured them of access to Europe where officially they could not go. Dozens of newspaper articles revealed the shady dealings of such companies, as well as the fact that none of them would have been able to work without illicit support, provided by either government officials or even by state institutions. But their subjects remained at the level of newspaper investigations. Heads of the companies often continue their activities in new, recently established ones, after having been named by victims to the police, who were claiming their money was lost on forged visas and labour contracts.

The case we refer to in this context is almost a common one. The investigation started as a result of a request issued at Calarasi police station, that showed that in August 2001 and March 2003, Oanta received from Ana Manole, Ion Robu and Anton Plop the sum of $7,300, the equivalent of 94,000 lei “for his services.” He got the money deliberately and repeatedly, by introducing himself as an employee of a travel company which was issuing visas for citizens of the Republic of Moldova who decided to go and work in the Schengen area, as well as to Occidental countries in Europe (men to Portugal, women to Italy). According to the claimants, when meeting his ‘clients’, Oanta was sociable and self-confident. The investigation also found out he hadn’t declared to three people the real conditions they would have to face when leaving for Europe due to his help. In 2001 and 2003, Manole, Robu and Plop, as well as other people, who are not included in the file, had Oanta’s promise they would be given visas and labour contracts, but in reality they travelled on fake visas. Their final destinations were a few transit points from the Czech Republic and Hungary, after which they had to go by themselves to Italy.

Ion Robu, one of Oanta’s clients, said that when giving him $2,500 in one of the offices of the Hotel Chişinău he didn’t know what risks he would have to face on his way to Italy. After that, the investigation proved that Oanta has never had permission to carry out ‘travel’ activities. This fact was confirmed by the State Registration Chamber, which at the request of the investigators, replied that, in the Republic of Moldova, there has never existed any firm called Liv Ang Tours International who Oanta said he was working for. Besides this, the director of the Hotel Chişinău confirmed that in the period of 2000-2007, no firms with such a name operated from the hotel, where, according to the victims involved in the case, Oanta lived when the transactions took place.

“I wanted to get rid of poverty”

Robu lives at the edge of Pitusca village, Calarasi district. He has two sons, a house the same age as his sons, a small household and several juridical problems to be solved. “I don’t think he will give me my money back, but I want to see till the end, who and how makes the justice in this country.”

I ask him how he, a former driver at Calarasi Prosecution Office, could borrow $2,500 and, one day, give it, without any guarantees, to Oanta, for going to work abroad. The man recalled how he found out from his fellow villagers that Oanta was sending people to work in Italy. “I heard he sent about 12 people from neighbouring villages,” Robu said. He remembered how, one day, he went with somebody from the village to the Hotel Chişinău to meet Oanta. “He had a small office on the third floor. There was only a desk and a chair in the office – and that’s all. I do not remember if he had a telephone and there was only one figure on the door, which was the number of the room,” Robu recalled of the images of his first meeting with Oanta.

The owner introduced himself as an employee of the firm, but none of those concerned in the file saw its inscription, stamp, or any contract or paper with its letterhead.

“Oanta told us: ‘Guys! Each of you should bring me $2,500 (a lot of money at that time) and, you will leave in five days’,” Robu affirmed, emphasising how the meeting happened. They left Chişinău with Czech visas, without being aware of what would happen afterwards.

“When we reached the Czech Republic, where, according to Oanta’s promises, his son would meet us and was to give us passports and labour contracts for Italy, we were told to go further by ourselves. Thus, some of us went on foot, others – by cars, in luggage to Italy. I went there hidden in the luggage of a car. When we reached the Italian border, the guides let us out on the other side. We didn’t want to get out. We asked them to take us at least to the station, so that we would know which way to go; they refused to do so. We went a large distance on foot. It was night, I know we were walking for about two hours through the fields, without stopping… In the morning we found out we were in Padova and were caught by police. They imprisoned us and gave us five days to leave the country, but we went to another city in Italy. We were sleeping in abandoned houses, under bridges, in churches, we had to face a lot of things,” Robu remembered.

I asked him how he managed to work and make money during this time. He said he worked only for half a year, in the construction field. But, this time, he also had bad luck, as he was imprisoned again, for 60 days, exactly on the day he went to receive his salary.

“My documents were not in order, I was keeping them in an abandoned house where I was sleeping during the night. Somebody taught us not to take our documents with us, in order not be expelled immediately when police stop us. After two months, I was released, also in Italy,” the man said. He stated that in 14 months of wandering, he has known different canteens in Italy, where he sometimes had lunch, different places to hide, where he was sleeping during the night. He has also known three Italian prisons, one Hungarian and one Austrian.

“After one of my arrests, I started for home hitchhiking. In Austria, I was arrested and kept in prison for two weeks. After that, they didn’t let me go further. They sent me back to Italy, as I proved to them that I came from there. When I reached Italy, I started for home again, that time going through Hungary, where I was caught and expelled to Austria. Then, being tired of all this, I told them that if they didn’t send me home to Moldova, I will take a car, as I am a driver, and will destroy everything I meet on my way. Then they brought me to Caritas nr. 6, where I stayed for three weeks. After that, I was finally sent home,” Robu continued his story.

A file lost on the way from the law court to Calarasi post office

“I have destroyed my health and the health of my family. When I came back, I looked for Oanta to ask for an explanation. He told me he didn’t want to see me. Then I spoke to Calarasi police. He was arrested for three days. During the investigation, he confessed what he did. We had all the papers which proved that we had been detained, we had all proof of our deportation. Besides, in the next 10 years, I have no right to enter Italy. The woman from Cojusna had the most terrible experience; she was tied to the ceiling of the wagon. In this manner, she travelled to Italy for six hours. When she was found, flesh was falling off her bones. She stayed in the hospital rehabilitation centre for six months, and when she felt better, she was deported and now wants to find out the truth.

But, from the very beginning, we felt that Oanta had relations and that he was protected by somebody and our efforts could be in vain, they say he baptised Nogai’s children. I remember that, one day, the prosecutor was asked to set him free for a few days as it was his birthday. Who can ask for such a thing? They allowed him to go, and he promised he would pay us the lost money in one week. Time passed, but we were not called to the court, and Oanta forgot about his promise. Three months later we asked the prosecutor where the file was; he said it was at court. At the secretary’s office, we were told it was at Nogai’s office, who was the head of Calarasi Court. Then Nogai said he had sent it to the Central Law Court. I went further. In Chişinău I found out there was no file there. I came back to Calarasi, to the prosecutor, but he asked the judge about that. The judge told us he had given it to a cleaning lady and she lost it,” Robu told us.

He showed us dozens of letters addressed to President Voronin, to the General Prosecution, to the Senior Council of Magistrates. “I received good replies,” he affirmed, showing me a letter received from SCM on June 20 2005. “The question of a a lost penal file was discussed at the meeting of SCM, on June 16 2005. Now, the disciplinary procedure regarding the head of Calarasi Prosecution, Boris Nogai is to be established.”

Robu stated that, after these letters, the head of Calarasi Prosecution asked him not to make an issue of the lost file, otherwise he risked losing his job. “Then, I gave up. I told myself – let justice do what it can, because anyway, I didn’t have the money and the power to continue the research and to hire a lawyer. Meanwhile, my wife left for Italy through a travel firm. For that, she borrowed about 4,700 euros. We didn’t have an alternative. I was unemployed, and she was a librarian with a salary of about 200 lei,” Robu said. He said that he hadn’t seen his wife for four years, and that all the bad things that had happened to him were because of that risky trip, due to Oanta’s contribution.

“The file was stolen or ‘bought’ by somebody”

I asked Nogai, who was the head of Calarasi Prosecution at that time, today judge in the same institution, how it happened that the penal file concerning Oanta’s actions had disappeared. “Only God knows that,” he replied. He specified that, after the decision to examine the file at the Central Law Court had been taken, a region where the infraction had been committed, he prepared the documents and gave them to the courier to take to the Post Office. “The courier put her signature on it that she had taken the file. Thus, it was only her who could be asked questions about the loss of the file,” Nogai said. The judge considers that somebody lost the file in order to make him lose his job. “The file was either stolen or ‘bought’ by somebody, because if it had been just lost, it would have appeared later on,” Nogai explained. He recalled that SCM decided that Nogai didn’t execute efficiently his responsibilities of a leader, nor those of a judge. “SCM also decided that files, especially the penal ones, cannot be transmitted through ‘Aunt Masha’ and that a secret mail should be used for this. Even if such a decision was taken, the situation hasn’t change so far, and files are still lost from time to time,” Nogai affirmed.

We asked if he was Oanta’s relative and what happened to the courier who brought Oanta’s file from the law court to the post office. ”A relative? Who told you that?” the judge replied, specifying that the woman who had to take the file to the post office was fired. She is the one who could have thrown it away or sold it, he concludes.

However, how was the file recovered, if many of the attached documents were original, and the claimants didn’t make legalised copies?, I asked him. Nogai said that the most important documents were recovered, including Oanta’s statements, where he confessed that he had taken from the three people the sums of money indicated by them in their complaints issued to the police.

Robu is dissatisfied with the way things went after the lost file had been recovered. “They made that file as they wanted to. It contains a lot of mistakes, my sons did not come home, they went to to another village. Besides, I didn’t put any signatures on the recovered dossier, and I have no idea what it contains…

When I was called to court, I stayed there for a few minutes, I couldn’t understand anything and the trial finished. They have never asked me to come to the Court of Appeal, even if a prosecutor from the centre, a woman, told me they would call me for sure. As far as I know, at the central court, Oanta was fined 1,000 lei, despite him taking $7,300 from the claimants. I don’t believe he will give us the money back, even if the law court decides differently, because the cheaters register their fortune in somebody else’s name and when the executor reaches them, they are poor and they have nothing,” Robu specified.

After the Court of Appeal from Chişinău upheld the sentence of the Central Law Court which, on June 6 2007, considered Oanta guilty of having committed infractions provided by art. 126, second paragraph, Penal Code, amended in 1961, it condemned him to paying a fine of eight minimal salaries. The prosecutor Sergiu Bodorin addressed an appeal to the Supreme Court saying that the sentence was inadequate.

Besides, the article according to which Oanta was condemned refers to the “illegal activity of an entrepreneur,” to “money swindling,” and not to other actions committed, in fact, by him. Nothing is said about the organisation of illegal migration and trafficking for big sums of money, of those three claimants, even if Ana Manole’s photos, taken in the rehabilitation centre of an Italian hospital are difficult to look at.

On the other hand, Oanta’s lawyer, Gheorghe Malic, makes reference to the “unclear” character of recrimination, accusing the victims of misleading the law court. He is accusing them of not informing Oanta when guides from Hungary and Austria proposed them risky ways of going to Italy. “Why didn’t they come back home and why didn’t they call Oanta when they were proposed to go illegally, without visas? They haven’t also asked Oanta when they entered under a train,” the lawyer explained, opting for the release and the complete rehabilitation of the offender, as “the act of the infraction” didn’t exist. Thus, the defence also made an appeal, as it didn’t agree with the decision of the Court of Appeal which condemned Oanta to paying 80 minimal salaries in exchange of those $7,300 taken from the claimants.

They are bedbugs. Lice.”

In Straseni, on Ştefan cel Mare Street, behind a high wall, Oanta’s house is situated. It is Saturday and the owner is at home. We asked him if he is still sending people abroad for work. He said no. We try to find out what he thinks about the sentences of the law court. “But who has sent you? They are bedbugs. Lice.” He said he put in a for word for them, they stayed in Europe for one year, and then, they came home to ask for their money back,” his wife helps him. We ask them if it’s true that the guide from the Czech Republic, who ‘organised’ their transfer to Italy, is really his son. “Who told you that? Our son is in Germany, not in the Czech Republic,” the woman said. Oanta refused to talk to us, however, he promised that, after June 10, he will write a book about everything that is happening to him.

We asked the prosecutor, Bodorin, why the law court preferred to examine the file only from the point of view of practicing ‘illegal activities of an entrepreneur’ and ‘swindling of goods’, without taking into consideration the aspect of illegal migration or human trafficking. Bodorin explained to us that Oanta had been condemned according to the items of the Penal Code from 1961, available at the time when the crime has been committed. That code doesn’t contain any articles which include such infractions.

Thus, we find an ‘official’ explanation for the fact that all the heads of illicit firms, which in the period of 2001-2003, trafficked thousands of people abroad, for huge sums of money, were not condemned according to the infraction committed by them in reality. The Code of Laws is guilty, because it doesn’t include items referring to such infractions, and behind this code, ‘the availability’ of the judges to protect traffickers stands.

“There are several journalists who are not very competent and they are misinterpreting the subject.”

The Deputy Prime Minister Victor Stepaniuc accused the press that Republic of Moldova, together with North Korea or Saudi Arabia, were included in a blacklist of countries which do not follow the minimal standards for preventing human trafficking and which didn’t make any significant efforts to reach these standards.

Accusations were made as a result of the launching of the Report on Human Trafficking for 2008, launched by the US Secretary of State on June 4 2008, which places the Republic of Moldova in the category of countries which do not cover the minimal standards for removing severe forms of human trafficking and which do not make any significant effort to reach these standards.

The report establishes that, in the period of March 2007 – March 2008, the Republic of Moldova didn’t face, and didn’t make any effort, to fight human trafficking.

Besides the lack of some clear progress in the dossiers of some civil servants accused of being accomplices to trafficking, the report mentioned that the measures taken by the government for protecting these victims were insufficient. In the reporting period, the government didn’t elaborate any active measures to identify the victims and didn’t offer funds to NGOs which provide the necessary assistance to victims of human trafficking.

In the following 90 days after the report has been launched, the US President has to file to Congress orders regarding the countries included in the third Category. These countries, including the Republic of Moldova, could have some restrictions imposed on them from the US Government, including restrictions in providing a full program within the World Challenge Corporation and negative votes from the United States in providing assistance on the part of international financial institutions.

In the following two months, the government of the USA will work together with the government of the Republic of Moldova for the sake of improving the way the human trafficking phenomenon is covered. The actions of Moldova during the last 60 days, especially the efforts to solve the problem regarding supposed complicity of public servants, will be re-assessed.

On June 6 the government in Chişinău formulated a reaction to the fact that the Republic of Moldova was put by the USA on a blacklist of countries which do not cover the minimal standards for combating human trafficking and which didn’t make much effort to reach them.

According to the Moldovan Government, this situation is due to “bad information and the international public opinion” about the real situation here.

“We suppose that the report of the American Government contains mostly information from the press, from non-governmental organisations which are not always well-informed and credible,” Stepaniuc said. “I would not like to ask for too much from the press of Republic of Moldova, but there are several journalists who are not skilful who sometimes misinterpret the problem.

“I hope that in 60 days, we will make a final report on this problem and, only then, we will have the possibility to think of what happened after these 60 days,” Stepaniuc added.

As for the so-called involvement of some civil servants in cases of human trafficking, Stepaniuc affirmed that it was not clear from the report of the US Department of State who it refers to, but he hopes that after some time, the authorities will re-examine the situation.

The countries placed in the third category, such as the Republic of Moldova – together with other 13 states, including North Korea and Saudi Arabia – risk being issued a series of penalties, including financial ones on the part of the USA or international institutions.

Aneta Grosu

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