Failed Justice Reform in Moldova. A Brief History.

Moldova spent around €35.5 million (685.4 million lei) in five years for implementing justice reform, during 2013-2017. In order to construct a corruption-free, independent, professional and impartial justice system, the European Union offered close to double that amount in the form of grants supplementing the state budget. In the end, however, the authorities absorbed less than half of the external funding offered, around €28.2 million. As Moldova failed to demonstrate progress in implementing reforms, the E.U. retracted its offer in 2017. Besides renovated buildings, the justice reform left behind unresolved criminal cases and public tenders won by interested firms, a controllable and politically influenced justice system. The National Anticorruption Center along with the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office opened two criminal cases for the mismanagement of connected funds. 

While investigating how the authorities spent the money allocated for the Justice Reform from 2013 to 2017, ZdG concluded that:

  • Since 2013 to 2017 Moldovan authorities spent around €15.9 million on buying new locations and renovating buildings, €1.7 million of which went to purchase a new location for the Superior Council of Magistracy in the heart of the city. More than €3.6 million in repairs and renovations went to 51 courts that were soon after reorganized and merged, thus more than 25 of those courts will have to vacate the renovated premises in the future. 
  • The Ministry of Justice paid over €1 million to purchase six information systems. So far, they have not been put to use nor have they reached the final beneficiaries, years after the procurement. The National Anticorruption Center raised questions regarding the way the  Ministry of Justice spent part of the money dedicated to justice reform, opening a criminal case for exceeding duties.
  • The Ministry of Health spent almost half a million euros on procuring DNA testing equipment, aiming to facilitate the process of investigating crimes. In August 2017, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and the National Anticorruption Center detained three persons suspected of exceeding their authority and rigging the tender to purchase the equipment for the DNA laboratory.

Moldova – E.U. financing agreement

The Moldovan Government and the E.U. signed a financing agreement on the Support Program for Justice Reform in Brussels, on June 14, 2013.  

Iurie Leancă and Štefan Füle signing the financing agreement on the Support Program for Justice Reform Foto: infoeuropa.md

The financing agreement signed by the Government of the Republic of Moldova and the E.U. offered €58.2 million as budget support and €1.8 million as complementary support. The money were meant to support the justice reform promised by the pro-European government installed in power after the 2009 parliamentary elections. And also supporting the implementation of the Reform strategy in the justice sector, adopted by the Parliament in 2011 and carried out in 2011-2017. 

The objective of the program was to create an accessible, efficient, independent and transparent justice sector, with high public accountability, in line with European standards, while ensuring the rule of law and human rights protection and supporting the Government in implementing the Justice reform strategy.

The Agreement implementation timeline was broken down into an operational phase during 2013-2016 and a closing phase during 2017-2018. The E.U. was going to supplement the state budget in four almost equal tranches: €15 million in 2013, €15 million in 2014, another €15 million in 2015, and €13.2 million in 2016. Another €1.8 million was offered in the form of a grant and intended for procurements and services.

ZdG takes a closer look at the efforts made by the government in reforming the justice system, analyzing how the money offered by the E.U. was spent. 

Moldova only absorbed €28.2 million from the €60 million offered by the E.U. 

ZdG asked the Ministry of Finance much money was spent on justice reform during 2013-2018.  In its answer the Ministry of Finance stated that in the years 2013-2018 €28.2 million (47 percent of the amount established in the Financing Agreement) of the E.U. budget support program was disbursed in the form of a grant to the single treasury account. 

The Ministry of Finance wrote to ZdG that the amount and the calendar for each disbursement were based on an assessment of compliance with the general and special conditions of the Financing Agreement. This type of budget support came in the form of non-refundable un-targeted assistance, disbursed directly to the treasury account of the Ministry.

The Ministry informed ZdG that the first fixed tranche of €15 million was disbursed without specific conditionalities, and the following (variable) tranches were to be disbursed depending on the level of implementation of policy measures, part of the special conditions described in the annexes to the Financing Agreement.

At the same time, the Ministry claims that, during that same period, financial resources amounting to €35.5 million (685.4 million lei) were spent from the state budget, surpassing external financing by almost €9.3 million (180 million lei).

External support for justice reform halted in 2017  

In October 2017, the E.U. Delegation to Chișinău announced in a press release that about €28 million would not reach the state budget because the authorities in Chișinău have shown insufficient commitment to implementing reforms in the justice sector over the years 2014-2015.

In a clarification response sent to ZdG in September 2019, European officials pointed out that the money was no longer available as the program closed.

Vladimir Cebotari, deputy, ex-Minister of Justice (2015-2017)

Vladimir Cebotari, Vice President of the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) was Minister of Justice in the period when the E.U. Delegation blocked the funding. Immediately, the ministry reacted, shifting the responsibility to its predecessors: “We expect the political factors responsible for the leadership of the Ministry of Justice, to take the blame for the shortcomings and errors of 2014 and the first part of 2015.” 

Cebotari came to the Ministry of Justice in July 2015, succeeding previous ministers Oleg Efrim (2011-December 2014) and Vladimir Grosu (February – July 2015), both representatives of the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova.

Oleg Efrim, ex-Minister of Justice (2011-2014)

Oleg Efrim, Ex-Minister of Justice, responded to Vladimir Cebotari’s message by mentioning that Moldova received the first tranche from the E.U. in full in 2013. Subsequently, in 2014, the E.U. offered money for reforms undertaken previously, in 2013. 

Efrim pointed out that his term ended in 2014. By that time, the E.U. penalized the implementers holding back €1.8 million worth of assistance due to missing amends to the Law on the General Prosecutor’s Office. “The only money received from the E.U. was for reforms made during my mandate. […] I did my best to have this money offered,” Oleg Efrim added.

Vladimir Grosu, ex-Minister of Justice (February-July 2015)

Ex-Minister Vladimir Grosu stated that an E.U. mission was expected at the end of 2015, beginning of 2016 to evaluate the implementation of the reforms and decide on the subsequent tranches. Grosu assumes that the Ministry of Justice, under the leadership of Cebotari, was not ready for the evaluation so they postponed the mission until 2017 to obtain even greater funding, but they failed.

“They [Democratic Party government] lost the third and fourth tranches. The first tranche was paid in full, then the second tranche was €13 million instead of €15 million, because the authorities did not pass the Law of the Prosecutor’s Office. That was the biggest problem. Then, in 2015, as Minister of Justice, I promoted the new draft law on the prosecution in first reading. But after the elections in 2014, the Parliament did not adopt anything of what had been started by the previous government. That lasted until the spring of 2015,” the former official pointed out.

Where did 86 percent of the justice reform budget go?

According to the information provided by the Ministry of Finance, in total, 13 institutions benefited from the €35.5 million (685.4 million lei) directed to the implementation of the Justice Reform Strategy from the state budget.

During the Justice Reform Strategy implementation, the Superior Council of Magistracy together with the Ministry of Justice received no less that €30.5 million (590 million lei), for justice reform in 2013-2017, which is 86 percent of the total budget spent during this period by the state institutions involved in the implementation of the justice reform. 

The Superior Council of Magistracy received most of the money for reforms from the state budget – about €17.5 million (337 million lei), which is almost half of the money allocated by the state.

The Ministry of Justice benefitted together with the subordinated institutions from about €13.1 million (253 million lei). 

The General Prosecutor’s Office benefitted from about €1.6 million (31 million lei), the National Institute of Justice received around €1.3 million (25.6 million lei), and the Ministry of Health, received 549,000 euros (10.6 million lei). 

Five state institutions received altogether about €34 million (657.2 million lei) out of the €35.5 million (685.4 million) allocated, that is 95 percent of the money destined for justice reform. ZdG requested information about how the institutions spent the financial means.

We found that the institutions that managed the funds for justice reform, including funds from the E.U., spent it on expensive purchases of cars and repairs of offices. In other cases, the institutions used the reform money to pay their employees’ salaries. In this context the National Anticorruption Center along with the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office opened two criminal cases for the mismanagement of funds in the Justice Reform Strategy.

Justice reform at the Superior Council of Magistracy

The Superior Council of Magistracy was the leading beneficiary of the funds destined for the implementation of the  project. According to the data provided by the Ministry of Finance, the institution received €17.5 million (337 million lei) for justice reform. 

According to the information provided by the Superior Council of Magistracy in an official response, the Council spent the money received in 2013 on the new location of the Superior Council of Magistracy, located on Mihai Eminescu Street, in the center of Chișinău.  

The new location of the Superior Council of Magistracy, located on Mihai Eminescu Street, in the center of Chișinău.

A private company, Profmedstil, the former owner of the new location for the Superior Council of Magistracy, sold the building to the Council for around €1.7 million (32.7 million lei), the first tranche of €1.5 million (28.7 million lei), was paid by the end of the year in 2013. The building was bought in a single source procurement, and Profmedstil was the only company participating in the tender.  

In the following years, the Superior Council of Magistracy and the courts continued the so-called reforms with capital repairs and renovation of the new location or with purchases of furniture. Annually, from 2014 to 2017, over €1.2 million (25 million lei) destined for the reform were spent for the remuneration of judicial assistants, a position introduced in the legislation during the implementation of the Justice Reform. 

In 2014, for example, over 60 percent of the €4.9 million (96 million lei) destined for the Superior Council of Magistracy within the justice reform, about €3.6 million (70 million lei), were used for the construction and renovation of court premises.

According to the information provided by the Superior Council of Magistracy, in 2014, 51 courts and courts of appeal received money for repairs from the budget for the implementation of the justice reform. Most of the money, over €1.5 million (30 million lei), went to the reconstruction of the building of the Chișinău Court of Appeal.

The Chișinău Court of Appeal

ZdG previously wrote that, in total, the works cost about €4.2 million (82 million lei) and were carried by MCI & CO-CONSTRUCT. The company was owned, in turn, by another company that was then managed by Pavel Caba, former party colleague within the Moldova Noastră Alliance with Ion Pleșca, at that time president of Chișinău Court of Appeal.

Shortly after the capital repair of courts around the country, several courts were merged after the Parliament passed the law on the reorganization of the judicial map.

From the funds destined for justice reform in 2014 and 2015, the Superior Council of Magistracy invested no less than 155,000 euros (3 million lei) in the repair of the Nisporeni Court. In 2018, however, all the Nisporeni court judges left the renovated building, after Nisporeni Court officially merged with the Ungheni Court, in a location built from scratch. 

The new location of the Ungheni court

According to the Territorial Cadastral Service data, the building of the former Nisporeni court, renovated from the money for the justice reform, was granted, by a Government decision, in economic management to the Public Services Agency, thus remaining the state’s use.

From a total of 51 courts that received money for repairs in 2014, no less that 25 should cease to exist by 2027, according to the new law.  

Thus, from January 1, 2017, there are only 15 first-level courts in the country. In the coming years, the unification of the courts will gradually take place, so that more courts, including the offices of the 25 courts, renovated in 2014, should no longer be used to do justice.

The headquarters of the Ungheni Court inaugurated in February 2018. Photo: justice.gov.md

The most expensive work done on the money for justice reform

In 2015, following the established procedure, the courts received about €4.4 million (85 million lei) for the implementation of justice reform. The Chișinău Court of Appeal received most of the money, around €1.9 million (37 million lei). 

Similar to the 2014 list, the 2015 list of beneficiaries included several courts which were targeted in the April 2016 reorganization of the court map. 

The courts received around €4.3 million (84.2 million lei) for the implementation of the justice reform, spending around €2.4 million (46.9 million) for repairs, and another €1.9 million (37.2 million), as in previous years, to pay the remuneration to the 402 judicial assistants.

In 2016, Ion Pleșca, the then president of Chișinău Court of Appeal, received another 922,000 euros (17.8 million lei), in addition to the approximately €3.2 million (63 million lei) previously received, to complete the repair of the headquarters. 

In 2017, the Superior Council of Magistracy spent €1.6 million (32 million lei) to complete the construction works of Ungheni Court offices, and another 415,000 euros (8 million lei) to renovate the Buiucani office of the Chișinău Court. 

Prisons received the most money from the Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice, through its subordinated institutions, was the second most important beneficiary of the money within the justice reform strategy. According to the Ministry of Finance data, in the years 2013-2017, the Ministry of Justice received approximately €13.1 million (253 million lei). 

ZdG requested information from the Ministry of Justice about how the money was spent. However, the figures provided by the Ministry of Justice were different from those offered by the Ministry of Finance. The total amount that the Ministry of Justice claims to have spent is lower by about €2.5 million (50 million lei) than the sum provided by the Ministry of Finance.

When analyzing how the Ministry of Justice used the money, especially through subordinate institutions, ZdG found out that most of the money went to repair work. 

The National Penitentiary Administration received €4.9 million (95 million lei) for development and implementation of construction or reconstruction plans of the detention institutions. The same institution used another €1.4 million (28 million lei) for the development of the material and technical support and the infrastructure in all custodial places in accordance with European standards and the installation of video surveillance equipment in all places of detention.

The Ministry of Justice and its subordinated institutions also used the money on developing various studies, guides, leaflets, or creating several electronic programs. 

Also, in the period 2013-2014, the Ministry of Justice spent about 586,000 euros (11.3 million lei) on ensuring adequate working conditions to make the staff activity more efficient, and another 135,000 euros (2.6 million lei) on training for personnel.

In the years 2013-2015, the Ministry of Justice paid over €1 million (20 million lei) to purchase six information systems.

In December 2018, the National Anticorruption Center raised questions regarding the way the  Ministry of Justice spent part of the money dedicated to justice reform. They opened a criminal case for abuse of duties.

The National Anticorruption Center declared for ZdG that the six information systems were transmitted from the management of the Ministry of Justice to the management of the Legal Information Resources Agency, and, so far, they have not been put to use nor have they reached the final beneficiaries, years after the procurement.

According to the National Anticorruption Center, the Ministry purchased the information systems (e-execution, e-legislation, e-procurement and e-detention) without having a technical concept. Subsequently, this was a reason invoked for the systems not functioning. 

According to the materials of the criminal case, information was identified and possible relations were established between the persons who manage the designated private companies winning the tenders for the six information systems, and public persons, members of the working groups, as well as decision makers of the Ministry of Justice.

Asked by ZdG, Gheorghe Nicolaescu, director of the Legal Information Resources Agency, confirmed that, in September 2019, the systems could not yet be used. 

He stated that this is due to the recent changes in legislation, given that any technical system needs a technical concept and a regulation, which must be approved by the Government. Nicolaescu added that he could not give us any details about what was done in the years 2013-2015, before he took office in March 2019.

In the same context, Oleg Efrim, the ex-minister during the procurement period, stated that he is not aware of the criminal case. He did mention that several state institutions were involved in the implementation process of the systems. The fact that they were not successfully implemented and launched is another story, claims Efrim.

Office of the Prosecutor General buys cars and makes repairs

The Office of the Prosecutor General received about €1.6 million (31 million lei) from the state budget for justice reform in the period 2013-2016. 

In 2013, the institution got around 280,000 euros (5.4 million lei). According to the information provided by the Office of the Prosecutor General upon ZdG’s request, most of the money, about 135,000 euros (2.6 million lei), was spent to repair the territorial prosecutor’s offices in Orhei, Leova, Anenii Noi, Soroca and to purchase eight cars from Daac Auto company. 

Office of the Prosecutor General paid 111,000 euros (2.15 million lei) to the United Nations Development Program (U.N.D.P.) for the creation of the E-dossier platform, and another approximately 31,000 euros (600,000 lei) were paid to purchase equipment for juvenile witnesses hearings. 

The Office of the Prosecutor General paid around 3,000 euros (59,000 lei) for 250 chairs and 6 prestige armchairs from Acvilin Grup company, managed by the family of Iurii Luncașu, the businessman found dead in the middle of August.

In 2014, around 705,000 euros (13.6 million lei) entered the Office of the Prosecutor General accounts. And this time the Office of the Prosecutor General used the 622,000 euros (12 million lei), to pay for cars and the repairs of several offices of territorial prosecutors. 

All 19 cars were purchased at the cost of around 218,000 euros (4.2 million lei) from Daac Auto company, managed by the municipal councillor Vasile Chirtoca, while the repair works of the offices were divided between several companies.

Duxprim Service, a company founded by Mihail Hadârcă, the father of Igor Hadârcă, PhD in Law, and of judge Victoria Hadârcă won the highest contract, worth around 155,000 euros (3 million lei) for the repair of the Prosecutor’s Office in Cahul.

At the time when his father’s company won the contract with the Office of the Prosecutor General Igor Hadârcă was a member of the Superior Council of Prosecutors, elected by Parliament in December 2013 for a four-year term. In the same year, the Hadârcă family firm also repaired the Prosecutor’s Office in Basarabeasca at the cost of around 45,000 euros (866,000 lei).

In recent years, the company has been basically subscribed to carrying out works for the renovation of some buildings, especially in the justice sector, most of them being funded by the money for Justice reform. Thus, Duxprim Service company has lately won auctions of about €2.6 million (50 million lei) for the repairs of the Buiucani and Center offices of the Chișinău Court. At the same time, the company obtained approximately 777,000 euros (15 million lei) to repair the building of the Ministry of Justice and another 238,000 euros (4.6 million lei) for the reconstruction of the National Institute of Justice building.

Igor Hadârcă, a former member of the Superior Council of Prosecutors, stated that the tenders won by his family’s company have not been influenced by his position. Hadârcă added that the activity of the company is not done on public money and, as a starting point, the company carries the works on its own money, receiving payment after the works have been completed. 

He also mentioned that because the payments were not done on time, the company was practically unable to operate, accumulating debts for about four years. Hadârcă added that they finally received the money this year. He mentioned that the company participated in tenders not only in the justice sector, and they had won auctions before he became a member of the Superior Council of Prosecutors.

In 2015, the Office of the Prosecutor General received around 130,000 euros (2.5 million lei), around 62,000 euros of which (1.2 million) were directed again to Duxprim Service to complete the capital repair of the prosecutor’s offices in Cahul and Basarabeasca. 

The rest of the money was allocated for the repair of the prosecutor’s offices in Ștefan Vodă and Fălești, as well as for the procurement of equipment to support the e-dossier program. 

In 2016, the last year when the Office of the Prosecutor General received money from the Justice Reform Strategy, around 477,000 euros (9.2 million lei) entered the institution accounts, around 259,000 euros (5 million lei) of which were spent for the installation of video cameras and tourniquets, and another around 207,000 euros (4 million), as in 2015, for the acquisition of the computing equipment to support the e-dossier program.

The reform at the National Institute of Justice

In 2013, the National Institute of Justice, the fourth most important financial beneficiary of the Justice Reform Strategy, received about 518,000 euros (10 million lei), spending most of the money on capital investments, specifically around 440,000 euros (8.5 million lei) for the restoration of the administrative building of the institution. 

The rest of the amount was used to pay employees’ salaries, around 88,000 euros (1.7 million lei), for buying goods and services around 28,000 euros (545,000 lei), for creating the Legal Information Center, a new structure within the institution, around 28,000 euros (539,000 lei) and for social and medical insurance costs.

In 2014, around 171,000 euros (3.3 million lei) reached the National Institute of Justice. 

In 2015-2016, the Institute received around 119,000 euros (2.3 million lei), the biggest part of the money, around 67,000 euros (1.3 million) was allocated for employees’ salaries. 

In 2017, the Institute received around 446,000 euros (8.6 million lei) within the Justice Reform Strategy. Half of this amount was transferred to U.N.D.P. Moldova following a co-financing agreement to carry out consolidation works of the institute premises. 

According to the institute the technical experts found deficiencies in the structure of the building’s resistance, which does not meet the requirements for the anti-seismic resistance, as the block was built 100 years ago. The institute added that this funding has been supplemented by a considerable contribution from the US Government. 

The rest of the amount, around 238,000 euros (4.6 million lei), was redirected for the layout of the institute’s territory, including the fence consolidation and the construction of a garage with three sections. The works were carried out by Duxprim Service, the Hadârcă family’s company, following a tender won in June 2017.

Ministry of Health pays in 2013 for equipment that becomes operational only in 2019 

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protection, received about 549,000 euros (10.6 million lei) within the Justice Reform Strategy project and spent the money on procuring DNA testing equipment, aiming to facilitate the process of investigating crimes. Before the device was bought a working group for public procurement had to select the company that was to deliver the equipment to the Center of Legal Medicine.

Eyecon Medical won the auction, and the contract of around 506,000 euros (9.76 million lei) was registered with the Public Procurement Agency on January 10, 2014. 

In August 2017, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and the National Anticorruption Center announced that Ion Cuvşinov, ex-director of Center of Legal Medicine, Andrei Pădure, his deputy, and a specialist from the institution were detained, suspected of exceeding their authority and rigging the tender to purchase the equipment for the DNA laboratory. However, Cuvşinov’s case is still on the desk of the magistrates of the Chișinău Court.

Investigations in the criminal case established that the Center of Legal Medicine representatives would have given guarantees to a Romanian company (Eyecon Medical) that they would favor it at the tender for the procurement of the equipment necessary to equip the DNA laboratory. Following the discussions, the public officials agreed to develop the specifications, so that the parameters and technical specifications of the requested equipment coincide with those of the medical equipment that the Romanian bidder would propose. As a result of the criminal actions of the mentioned group, an unfair, conspired tender was organized, minimizing competition and facilitating a priori the economic agent.

The prosecutors also stated that the equipment purchased was not sufficient for the operation of a forensic genetics laboratory for human identification, and the technology to be applied by this laboratory was not validated by the international scientific community for human identification. Thus, without the validation procedure, the laboratory can’t be accredited, and the results obtained in an invalidated and non-accredited laboratory are null.

The DNA laboratory was put into operation only in June 2018, but started functioning in mid-2019. During this period, Moldova was the only country in Europe that did not have a DNA laboratory. “The lab works now. That’s all I can tell you,” said Valeriu Savciuc, the current director of Center of Legal Medicine, avoiding discussions about the criminal case or the period when the equipment could not be used.

Audit of the Court of Accounts

In November 2016, an audit of the Court of Accounts established that money destined for the implementation of the Justice Reform Strategy was inefficiently used. In some cases, the decision makers used public funds, in the total amount of around €7 million (135.9 million lei), in an irrational, unfounded, inefficient and ineffective manner, both for the procurement of goods and for capital investments. 

The institutions responsible for the implementation of the Justice Reform Strategy failed monitoring the implementation process which, alongside with the irresponsibility of the decision factors lead to an inefficient management, affecting the expected achievements. 

Also in nine cases, the allocated budgetary resources, totaling €2.2 million (42 million lei), were unjustifiably redirected and used for other purposes, which have no tangency with the result indicators. 

The audit revealed that the efforts made by the responsible key players were not conclusive and efficient, which compromised the expected impact of the judicial reform, however no criminal cases targeting the persons accountable for money mismanagement, were opened.  

ZdG asked the opinions of two former Ministers of Justice and a representative of the civil society regarding the implementation of the Justice Reform Strategy in the country. 

Oleg Efrim, Ex-Minister of Justice during the implementation of the Justice Reform Strategy, believes that, even though the strategy was good the final goal of the strategy was not reached. He added that it happened because politicians would do nothing but ensure that justice serves their own interests.

“Considering that €28 million came from the E.U., it turns out that the state has not spent so much on justice reform. It is difficult to say that this money has been effectively spent, but I can say that the money served to increase the funding of justice considerably, which was underfunded until then. Namely underfunding is the first and most primitive way of keeping justice under control. I am inclined to believe that most of the money was spent for the citizen’s benefit. That we don’t have the expected results yet, that’s a different issue,” Efrim mentions.

Vladimir Grosu, another Ex-Minister of Justice, stated that the reform largely achieved its purpose at the level of policies but not in the implementation of laws. He considers that the investment of money was worth it, even though it was used on repairs. Grosu mentions, however, that despite the changes that were made, the quality of the justice act did not increase to the level of expectations.

Former officials’ opinion is shared by the representative of the civil society who monitored the Justice Reform Strategy implementation and results, Nadejda Hriptievschi, program director at the Center for Legal Resources of Moldova. Hriptievschi believes that the reform targeted only technical improvements, mentioning that the reform did not succeed because it coincided with political instability. “A reform depends a lot on the quality of the political class,” concluded the expert.

Victor MOŞNEAG, v.mosneag.zdg@gmail.com

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