Moldova, Explained by ZdG. October 21, 2019.

HAPPENING THIS WEEK

Greetings from Chișinău! Here’s what’s happening this week: our feature investigates conditions in the penitentiary system, which have made Moldova lose case after case at the European Court of Human Rights and had the country paying thousands of euros in damages to convicts. ZdG’s Politics Editor explains why the stakes in Moldova’s local elections have never been higher, while our Executive Director comments on how the local elections will impact the direction of Moldova’s foreign policy. In weekly investigations, we give you the latest on the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission’s new report on the “Theft of the Century” investigation. All of that and more in this week’s newsletter. Happy reading!

THIS WEEK’S FEATURE

PRISON BREAK: Since the beginning of the year, Moldova released 72 convicts from prisons on the grounds that they were held in inhuman and degrading conditions that violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Chronic underfunding of the renewal and maintenance of the penitentiary system (despite millions promised in external investment) has fueled the deteriorating conditions in Moldova’s prisons – and the number of complaints to the ECtHR have skyrocketed since 2015, when the European Court requested that Moldova implement a compensation mechanism for improper detention conditions. In 2018 alone the state paid damages to prisoners amounting to about 50,000 euros – over half the sum allocated for the upkeep of penitentiary institutions. ZdG breaks down the price Moldova is paying – in monetary damages and prison releases – for its crumbling prison conditions

FROM THE EDITORS

KEY LOCAL ELECTIONS: Moldova’s politicians may be inclined to make big promises during electoral campaigns, but with presidential elections (and possibly early parliamentary elections) looming next year, this time around the stakes in the local elections have never been higher. Considering the current political situation, the hybrid, distrustful and unclear government, Sunday’s election is both special and essential for Moldova. In all the years since 1990, we, in fact, have never had risk-free elections. However, none has ever been more hazardous for Moldova’s destiny,” writes ZdG’s Politics Editor Petru Grozavu.

EXECUTIVE COMMENTARY: “How come local elections in Moldova could have national and international relevance? There are two answers: because democracy is too fragile at this stage and also because ‘Moscow doesn’t believe in tears’; meaning Russian political ties come dangerously close to Moldova’s internal affairs, through President Igor Dodon and his Socialist Party,” says ZdG’s Executive Director, Alina Radu. “The election results in Moldova’s 900 villages and cities – no matter how remote – will be telling for the presidential elections next year. More pro-European mayors gives a chance for the advancement of our democracy, transparency and integrity actions in all villages and cities. The pro-Russian mayors keep fresh memories of how democracy can fail and how complicated cooperation with a state that never withdrew its Army (despite promising to do so 26 years ago) can be.”

THE FOREIGN BRIEF

VENICE COMMISSION: According to the Venice Commission, the high levels of corruption and critical condition of Moldova’s justice sector can justify radical solutions, such as the vetting of all judges – a key thread in the country’s draft laws on the Supreme Court and Prosecutor General’s Office. The implementation of the Venice Commission’s opinions and reviews are not mandatory recommendations, however it is a key constitutional review body of the Council of Europe, which validates the reforms of its members as in line with high standards for democracy and rule of law. Moldova’s Ministry of Justice will request a final opinion from the Commission on the reforms in December. Read the full document of the Venice Commission’s interim opinion here.

TRANSNISTRIA CASES: The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) condemned Russia in two cases for violation of property rights in the unrecognized Transnistrian region of Moldova. Russia is now obliged to pay 18,000 euros in moral and material damages and 3,600 euros in expenses. The self proclaimed customs authorities in the Transnistrian region seized cars belonging to two Moldovan citizens living in the Security Zone, a region caught between Moldova and the self-proclaimed authorities in Tiraspol. Russia has been propping up the unrecognized breakaway territory with both financial and military support since the Transnistrian War in 1992 and is currently accused of human rights violations in 17 cases from the region at the ECtHR. Read the full document on the case at the ECtHR here

ZDG INVESTIGATES

BILLION CASE REPORT: State officials from the 2014 Government and the National Bank of Moldova (BNM) are coming under fire for their involvement in planning and coordinating the “theft of the century.” This was revealed in a new report from the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission charged with investigating the billion dollar bank fraud scheme. Now, the Commission is calling for the dismissal of two deputy governors of BNM and urging the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office to initiate a criminal case against the former Government and BNM leaders. ZdG breaks down the report on the fraud scheme, explaining everything from the illegal takeover of key Moldovan banks beginning in 2011, to the 2014 government bail-outs that the country’s citizens are still paying for.

GOLDEN VISAS: Moldova’s 2016 citizenship by investment law adopted under the Democratic Party Government has turned out to be a facade for money laundering operations involved the “Billion Case” and the “Russian Laundromat” fraud schemes, says a new report from Transparency International. According to Veaceslav Negruță, an economic expert at Transparency International Moldova, “the country’s citizenship by investment program was promoted by the former government as a safe haven for money laundering and a gate towards Europe for foreigners with major problems.”  And when used in combination with the law on amnesty, a small group of people from the oligarchic circle were able to launder money or declare large sums from unknown sources as clean assets. Read Transparency International’s full report here.

MOLDOVA IN WORLD NEWS

ARMENIAN GENOCIDE: Moldova’s parliament is set to consider a bill recognizing the mass slaughter of Armenians that took place in the Ottoman Empire during World War I as genocide. It was introduced by an ethnic Armenian deputy from the Socialist Party, leader of the Union of Armenians in Moldova, Gaik Vartanean. Not everyone in his party is on board and given Moldova’s interest in maintaining good relations with Turkey, the initiative has a small chance of passing Parliament. But as Madalin Necsutu writes for Balkan Insight, it could still do damage to Chișinău’s relationship with Ankara. 

NEUTRALITY: Since he became President in 2016, Igor Dodon has been insisting on the recognition of Moldova’s neutrality as central to the Transnistrian Settlement. But as Dionis Cenușă writes for H1 Moldova, “The Austrian model of neutrality and the failure of security guarantees for Ukraine contained in the Budapest Memorandum highlight some important lessons to be drawn for Moldova’s case.” He argues that the presence of Russian troops in the Transnistria region is in fact the main impediment to Moldova’s neutrality, but based on Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Putin’s signature on any international agreement is of questionable value.

SPOTTED THIS WEEK

U.K. AMBASSADOR: United Kingdom’s new Ambassador to Moldova, Steven Fisher, presented his  Letters of Credence to Moldova’s President, Igor Dodon, on October 16. The U.K. is an important financial and political partner for Moldova, supporting various projects in the social, military and economic fields.

NEW AMBASSADORS: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration appointed new ambassadors to France, Turkey and the European Union. This comes after the July 2019 recall of ambassadors who were past their term in office. The new ambassadors include ministry insiders as well as outsiders such as the former director of a leading foreign policy think tank, a former Governor (Bashkan) of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia and a top Ministry official. 

HUMAN TRAFFICKING: Moldova is primarily a source country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, including forced begging. To address this issue, a Moldovan delegation participated in a regional workshop on October 16, focused on identifying victims of human trafficking in the context of international law enforcement cooperation. The activity was supported by the U.S. Embassy.

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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