HAPPENING THIS WEEK
Greetings from Chișinău on its “birthday”! Here’s what’s happening this week: our feature breaks down the many moving pieces in the “theft of the century” investigation and explains why the new government has gone after the smaller fraudsters first. In an editorial, ZdG commemorates the lives of journalists like Anna Politkovskaya and Jan Kuciak, who died fighting against corruption. We also asked the experts why Moldova’s justice system is so resistant to reforms. In weekly investigations we breakdown the criminal case opened against Moldova’s biggest oligarch – former Democratic Party (PDM) Leader Vlad Plahotniuc. All of that and more in this week’s newsletter. Happy reading!
THIS WEEK’S FEATURE
GRAND THEFT MOLDOVA: Moldova’s new governing coalition is held together by the fight against oligarch corruption, making punishing the culprits involved in the “theft of the century” and recovering the billion dollars in defrauded assets a top priority. And while the fight began with catching smaller accomplices in the scheme, the case may have reached a turning point this week. The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office officially launched a criminal case for large-scale money laundering against oligarch and former PDM leader Vladimir Plahotniuc, who allegedly created a number of domestic and foreign companies through intermediaries, which allowed him to launder vast sums of money obtained through illicit loans from three Moldovan banks. But in a case involving nearly $2.9 billion in loans, uncovering Plahotniuc’s actual role in the fraud – which reportedly includes $18 million and €3.5 million – is just one part of the puzzle. ZDG breaks down how the investigation has progressed so far.
FROM THE EDITORS
CORRUPTION KILLS: In this week’s editorial ZdG Executive Director Alina Radu explores how deadly the fight with corruption can be, shining a light on courageous journalists like Anna Politkovskaya of Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who died fighting corruption. But just as there are people who die defending the well-being of others in the fight against corruption, there are those who die having served it, covering up corrupt schemes, defending abusers and oligarchs. “And while bank accounts will not earn you a place in anyone’s heart, fighting for truth and equal rights will,” Radu says.
JUSTICE BY EUROPEAN STANDARDS: At last week’s plenary session, the Venice Commission, Europe’s leading legal review body, had several draft laws aiming to reform Moldova’s justice on their agenda. In an attempt to find out more about the health of the country’s justice system, we asked the experts, why is Moldovan justice so resistant to reforms? Two of the experts claim that the members of the old regime in the justice system are the ones resisting the reforms and they have to be changed, while the other two say that the governing parties in Moldova are making reforms “for show.”
THE FOREIGN BRIEF
E.U. FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE: With a two-year delay, the European Union approved a €30 million macro-financial assistance disbursement for Moldova on October 10. Made up of one third grants and two thirds loans, this is the first of three planned disbursements under the Macro-Financial Assistance program adopted in September 2017, totaling up to €100 million. Similar to the IMF program, this E.U. money is conditional on the democratic mechanisms as well as the country’s track record in the IMF program. The aid was put on hold following the controversy over invalidating the 2018 Chișinău elections, which was seen as a major democratic rollback in Brussels and symptomatic of larger trust issues between the E.U. and the previous government.
IAȘI-UNGHENI GAS PIPELINE: A major pipeline that will help ease Moldova’s dependence on Russian gas will be up and running as early as next spring. Romanian Foreign Minister Ramona Mănescu brought the big news to Chișinău during her visit on October 9. The Iași-Ungheni gas pipeline, connecting Moldova to E.U. gas networks, has been under construction since 2014, as a way to diversify the energy resources and lessen Moldova’s dependence on the Russian gas. But not everyone is on board. After his last visit to Russia Moldova’s President Igor Dodon declared that he had managed to negotiate a price reduction on Russian gas for Moldova, instead – and the two countries are set to sign a new gas deal going into 2020.
HUNT FOR PLAHOTNIUC: The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Plahotniuc, accusing him of large-scale money laundering. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the money was obtained through illicit loans from the three banks involved in the “Billion Case” and then laundered through Plahotniuc’s companies in Moldova and abroad. The decision to issue a national warrant was announced in a Facebook post, since Plahotniuc is currently in hiding abroad. Two more people are also involved in the criminal case, one of whom was placed in preventative detention on October 10. The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office has issued an indictment order for the third alleged culprit.
MAYOR FOR A DAY: Andrei Năstase, leader of the ACUM governing coalition’s Dignity and Truth Platform Party, was declared Mayor-elect of Chișinău on October 8, more than a year after the courts invalidated his victory in the June 2018 mayoral elections. The surprise decision came after Năstase – who is also serving as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs – filed a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights. The Chișinău Court of Appeal overturned the previous decision to invalidate the elections just 12 days before this year’s local elections, set for October 20. Năstase renounced the position to continue his campaign in the 2019 local elections. Although election results between the western leaning parties and the pro-russian parties have always been nearly a tie, Chișinău has never seen a victory from the left side of the political spectrum.
(IN)JUSTICE: Claiming that cases are fabricated is en vogue in a politically controlled justice system, but sometimes it actually happens. And when it does, the prosecutors don’t face consequences for wrongdoing. In a trial for murder and attempted murder, one Moldovan prosecutor issued a 21 year prison sentence for an innocent person. After serving more than five years in detention the man was released after it was established that he had not committed the crime. But last week a judge acquitted both the prosecutor and the policeman who fabricated the case.
MOLDOVA IN WORLD NEWS
TUG OF WAR: The coalition government’s first 100 days in power have seen movement toward justice reforms, the consolidation of state institutions, renewed cooperation and assistance from international partners and the delegitimization of previous governments. But differing political and economic agendas, foreign allies and new rivalries are also influencing the relationship between the ACUM Bloc and the Socialist Party. For EaP Think Bridge, foreign policy expert Laura Zghibarta breaks down the dynamics within and outside Moldova’s current leadership.
IGOR-NOMICS: At the UN General Assembly in September, President Igor Dodon called for the recognition of Moldova’s neutrality. But as economist Cristina Petru writes for bne IntelliNews, this is just one example of Dodon’s attempts to “rebrand himself as neutral between east and west.” Although he is casting himself as an “economic liberal,” Dodon’s actions (and blog) reveal that his fiscal policy is really based on the kind of “centralized theft and organised kleptocracy we’ve seen across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and particularly in Putin’s Russia” – and this could have dire economic consequences for Moldova if it undermines foreign investment.
SPOTTED THIS WEEK
ZDG IN NORWAY: Our Executive Director Alina Radu sends a note from a Helsinki Committee meeting in Oslo, Norway, where journalists, activists and lawyers from Eastern Europe met to discuss the situation for human rights defenders in the region. In her message to the Norwegian authorities, Radu explained that corruption is a two way street. Moldovan allies and friends from abroad make the anti-corruption fight a conditionality for aid and support. But recent corruption investigations have exposed a vast network defrauding the country through foreign banks and business entities. This means that corrupt and impoverished countries like Moldova have no chance of overcoming corruption without rich states overhauling their laws that allow our oligarchs to safeguard stolen money abroad.
ZDG TRAVELS: This week, ZdG’s crew is in Bosnia filming on corruption and human rights, two ZdG reporters are attending the Power of Storytelling Festival in Bucharest, Romania and Executive Director Alina Radu is visiting the E.U. Parliament for a discussion on protecting journalists in the European Union.
TRANSNISTRIA TALKS: From October 9-10, more 5+2 talks on the Transnistrian Settlement took place in Bratislava, Slovakia, where the format was first created 17 years ago. The talks brought together representatives of Moldova and Transnistria along with mediators and observers to discuss a new Protocol for the breakaway territory.
NEW CONSULATE: The Moldovan government has decided to open a new consulate in Barcelona, Spain, at the request of the diaspora. Moldova currently has just one embassy in Madrid and the new consulate is meant to assist Moldovan citizens from the southern part of France as well. According to the 2014 census, around 4,000 Moldovans live in Spain and around 9,000 in France – although even more are believed to live in the two countries unofficially.
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!