Moldova, Explained by ZdG. December 2, 2019.

HAPPENING THIS WEEK

Greetings from Chişinău! Here’s what’s happening this week: in our feature, we bring the story of the legendary National Folk Dance Troupe Joc which is now on the brink of disaster due to deficient management by a politically appointed director and the irrational use of financial resources. In editorials, we analyze the outcomes of the Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow, asking if the upcoming visit of Russia’s President to Moldova will bring another federalization plan for Moldova. In weekly investigations, we follow up on the case of a judge with illicit assets that came under examination of the authorities even though it was uncovered by ZdG three and a half years ago. We also bring you the latest developments in the cases opened in Vladimir Plahotniuc’s name, Moldova’s fugitive oligarch and how his charity foundation became so silent. All of that and more, in this week’s newsletter. Happy reading!  
 

THIS WEEK’S FEATURE

POLITICS RUINING CULTURE: For three years the authorities ignored the requests of the artists from the National Academic Folk Dance Troupe Joc, who kept leaving due to miserable salaries and inhumane working conditions. In 2017, the then Minister of Education, member of the Democratic Party, Monica Babuc appointed a new general director. After the arrival of the new general director, the government led by the Democratic Party poured public money into the Joc troupe, around 116,000 euros. However, despite the large investments made by the government, the troupe’s performance has not improved, with a small number of concerts and artists who continue to drop out. ZdG analyzes the situation of the legendary Folk Dance Troupe Joc which is now on the brink of disaster and concludes that the financial resources were mismanaged and the artists’ salaries amounted to around one-fourth of what the members of the Board of Directors picked up monthly.  

FROM THE EDITORS

RUSSIAN MONEY: After his visit to Moscow the Prime Minister announced that Russia promised to loan Moldova $500 million for investment projects. ZdG asked the experts to find out if Russia will grant this loan and under what lending conditions. All the experts interviewed claimed that the lack of transparency and information about the loan are suspicious. Two of the experts agree that Russia wants to promote its own interests rather than contribute to Moldova’s development, while the other two affirm that Russia might not follow through with the promised loan. Also, a loan from Russia could weaken Moldova’s position in negotiating with the breakaway Transnistrian region and make the country a pawn in Russia’s hands. 

PUTIN’S VISIT: Upon his return from an official visit to Moscow, Prime Minister Ion Chicu forgot to announce the upcoming visit of Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov in Moldova, the first one since 2011. However, Lavrov’s visit to Moldova won’t be a protocol visit, because Russia rarely just tours the world. Russia’s diplomatic efforts are focused on the Transnistrian region. Henceforth, Lavrov comes to Chișinău to prepare Putin’s visit to Moldova, which might lead to Moldova’s federalization according to the Kozak Plan from 2003. ZdG’s Politics Editor Petru Grozavu argues that if Moldova falls prey to Russia, the country could split into two as the possibility of a Unionist platform in the Parliament is already becoming increasingly relevant. 
 

THE FOREIGN BRIEF

NEW AMBASSADOR: After three months, on November 29, President Igor Dodon signed the decree appointing Dmitri Croitor as Moldova’s next ambassador to Turkey. Three months ago when the President announced that Moldova’s next ambassador to Turkey could be a former Bashkan of UTA Gagauzia, the Presidency’s press service refused to disclose his name. For President Dodon, Turkey is an important partner, having received significant donations and contracts in the past, including the renovation of the Presidency building. 

FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE TO PAY: International companies that provide certain services for individuals in Moldova, such as Facebook, Google or other online applications, may be required to register on Moldova’s territory and pay the added value tax for their services. The proposal is included in the draft Law amending the fiscal and customs policy for 2020. And while the representatives of the Ministry of Finance think that this will bring revenues of around €5.2 million, an IT entrepreneur says that this will greatly slow the development of digital products online.

 HUMAN RIGHTS IN TRANSNISTRIA: A new report on the impact of the Russian troops in Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine was released by Promo-Lex in association regional partners. In Moldova, the interest in this subject is increased due to the numerous cases of human rights violations in the Transnistrian region, many of them being sent or examined at the European Court of Human Rights. Even though decisions were issued in 58 cases, in which over 2,200 people were recognized as victims of human rights violations and abuses by the de facto Transnistrian administration, the human rights situation continues to be ignored, and the Russian Federation avoids complying with the ECtHR decisions and payment of a cumulative amount of about €5.5 million.

BRIDGE OVER NISTRU: A bridge over the Nistru river, in the Security Zone, will be subject to complex technical expertise, the decision was taken during the meeting of the Joint Control Commission. Therefore, tests and examinations of the bridge elements that unite the Criuleni and Lunga localities will be conducted in the upcoming year under the Moldovan State Road Administration supervision. Strengthening infrastructure could help to strengthen the connectivity between the two banks of the Nistru river, contributing to the Transnistrian conflict settlement.  

ZDG INVESTIGATES

ZDG SCOOP IN PROSECUTION: Three and a half years ago ZdG wrote about a judge at the Supreme Court of Justice, Oleg Sternioală, who lived in an undeclared luxury house registered in the name of his retired parents. However, law enforcement authorities initiated a criminal case only this year. ZdG brings you the details of the case and the recent actions taken by the prosecutors, concluding that although prosecutors have determined that the judge purchased the property with illegal money, and that, in recent years, the Sternioală family reported smaller revenues compared to the acquired goods, the Court took the judge’s side, stopping the criminal investigation against him. 

PLAHOTNIUC’S CASE: At the beginning of October, representatives of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office informed that the former leader of the Democratic Party, Vladimir Plahotniuc, is suspected of money laundering in very large proportions. Although he was announced in international search, the authorities were unable to obtain information about his whereabouts. At the same time, the second suspect, likewise, could not be found, while Plahotniuc’s accomplices, who were detained for 30 days, were released by the court. While studying his case, ZdG found out that his charity foundation Edelweiss which was active while Plahotniuc was in power, became silent once the tycoon left the country. 

MOLDOVA IN WORLD NEWS

BLITZKRIEG AGAINST THE RULE OF LAW: Slightly disregarded during the last five months, geopolitics has returned to the center stage in Moldova after the Socialist-ACUM parliamentary coalition collapsed mid-November. Denis Cenușă writes for New Eastern Europe that the absence of a pro-E.U. pole in the governing coalition creates a misbalance, this being the reason Moscow agreed to re-open the market for more Moldovan goods, drop the price for gas and offer credits. However, the E.U. stakeholders could encourage the pro-E.U. opposition and civil society to discourage the government’s sliding towards the East. The electorate’s pro-European attitudes are still alive in Moldova.   

FAILED REVOLUTION: East-West and identity politics play a convenient role in masking deeper political problems—namely inequality, poverty, corruption and clientelism, and preventing deep-seated reforms. The problem is a system of nepotism, patronage, and entrenched corruption, writes Una Hajdari for Foreign Policy. In Moldova, the state capture—the exercise of influence by ruling elites and businessmen over policy, laws, or economic regulations for their personal benefit—has always been the norm. Moldovan politicians realized that all they needed to do was pretend to be pro-European, and the international community would stop breathing down their necks. Explaining every political crisis in a former Soviet country as a tug of war between East and West misses the point.

WHISTLEBLOWER CASE: After exposing political pressure on Moldova’s public prosecution in 2003, Iacob Guja lost his job. Rebuffed by the Moldovan courts, Guja took his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), being the first whistleblower case to be considered by the ECtHR, Madalin Necsutu writes for BalkanInsight. Due to his case, the ECtHR created a precedent for subsequent rulings in the protection of officials who put their own livelihoods and lives at risk to expose wrongdoing. Guja won the cases and Moldova was ordered to pay 10,000 euros in damages.

MOLDOVA’S BUDGET: Moldova’s government has approved the new state budget for 2020, including a deficit of around 3 percent of GDP — one-third more than in 2019. However, financing remains unclear. Public debt is also expected to rise from around 28 percent of GDP at the end of this year to around 29 percent of GDP at the end of next year Bne IntelliNEWS writes. 

MIMICKING REFORMS: A government steered by President Dodon risks bringing Moldova back to where it was before June, with a political elite mimicking reforms while misusing power for private gains Cristina Gherasimov writes for Chatham House. The biggest danger is that instead of continuing the reform process to bring Moldova back on its European integration path, the new government may focus on strengthening the old patronage system, this time with President Dodon at the top of the pyramid. And while the Government led by Maia Sandu had political will it lacked political experience of how to create change. This is why political will needs to be backed up by a clear strategy on how to deal with threatened vested interests in order for new political forces to be able to maintain themselves in power and reforms to be sustainable. 

SPOTTED THIS WEEK

O.S.C.E. IN MOLDOVA: The Chief of the O.S.C.E. Mission to Moldova, Claus Neukirch met with the UTA Gagauzia Bashkan, Irina Vlah, just around one month before the 25 anniversary of Gagauzia’s autonomy. During the meeting, Neukirch affirmed that the good functioning of the UTA Gagauzia could become a support in negotiating the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict. 

EASTERN PARTNERSHIP EVOLUTION: In the debates of the European Parliament, regarding the evolution of the Eastern Partnership, Federica Mogherni, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said that the change of government in Chișinău doesn’t relinquish the necessity for reforms. Meanwhile, a European member of the parliament stated that the European Union should switch from diplomatic words to action while dealing with the current pro-Russian politicians. 

INDIAN AMBASSADOR: On November 29, Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aureliu Ciocoi met with India’s Ambassador to Moldova, residing in Bucharest, Thanglura Darlong. The two officials discussed the importance of enhancing cooperation between the two countries in the trade-economic field.   

ZDG MILITATES FOR JOURNALISM: ZdG Executive Director Alina Radu was spotted in Ljubljana at the conference on quality journalism organized by the Council of Europe. The conference brought together 150 editors, regulators, academics, lawyers, policymakers, experts and journalists. 

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