Authorities Respond to a Case Unveiled by ZdG Three Years Ago

Prosecutors have determined that the judge purchased the property with illegal money, using a power of attorney representing his father, who, in the meantime, died. They also found that, in recent years, the Sternioală family has reported official revenues of around 368,000 euros (7.08 million lei); however, they have acquired luxury goods, which estimated value exceeds the amount of around 717,000 euros (13.8 million lei). According to prosecutors, the investigation could be extended. 

ZdG investigates the recent actions taken by the law enforcement authorities in order to see what is the current stage of the case. 

June 2, 2016. Three and a half years ago, ZdG unveiled that Oleg Sternioală, the judge who, two years earlier, under suspicious conditions, had been promoted from the Buiucani Court directly to the Supreme Court of Justice, lived in a luxury house, estimated at more than 363,000 euros (7 million lei). 

The house was not entered in the magistrate’s declaration of assets and interests, as it was registered in the name of his retired parents, who lived in Florești all their lives. 

The judge’s mother, who, after the death of her husband, Parfenie Sternioală, became the sole owner of the impressive edifice, was a teacher of Romanian at the local high school. His father, Parfenie Sternioală, was a prosecutor, lawyer and legal representative for local companies.

What did the law enforcement authorities do after ZdG published the case 

According to the information from the Property Records of the Territorial Cadastral Service, in December 2016, six months after ZdG published the information about judge Sternioală’s house and after his father’s death, the magistrate obtains, by certificate of heir, one-sixth of the house, which he divides, with his sister and his mother, the latter owing half of the house. 

Oleg Sternioală lives in the house since 2013, but he declared the share of the house in his declaration of assets only in March 2017.

October 17, 2019. Three and a half years after the ZdG made the disclosures, the law enforcement bodies finally directed their attention to the magistrate’s assets. 

Oleg Sternioală

According to the information held by ZdG, the criminal case targeting Sternioală was based on the self-report of Victoria Furtună, prosecutor of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, out of which along with the materials of the preliminary control, the Superior Court of Justice judge Oleg Sternioală is suspected of money laundering, an offense provided by Article 243 of the Criminal Code.

Around 348,000 euros (6.7 million lei), the difference between the income and the expenses of the Sternioală family

According to the National Anticorruption Center, during the period under investigation, Oleg Sternioală, together with the members of his family, had revenues of around 368,000 euros (7.08 million lei), however, the estimated value of their acquired luxury goods amounted to around 717,000 euros (13.8 million lei). 

Thus, there was established a substantial difference of about 348,000 euros (6.7 million lei) between the incomes obtained and the expenses incurred by them, which, according to the prosecutors’ calculations, constituted 1,101 average salaries forecasted for 2018.

Shortly after, Dumitru Robu, the Interim Prosecutor General, addressed to the Superior Council of Magistracy, the request regarding the detention, forced entry, search and arrest of the judge, which was approved. 

Thus, on November 4, 2019, Anticorruption prosecutors and National Anticorruption Center officers conducted searches at the judge’s workplace, the Supreme Court of Justice, and at home. 

Subsequently, the magistrate was detained for 72 hours. However, within two days, Sternioală was released, because judge Cristina Cheptea rejected the prosecutors’ request to issue a 30-day arrest warrant in his name.

The case of refusal to arrest Sternioală

Judge Cristina Cheptea’s refusal to issue an arrest warrant in Sternioală’s name has been investigated by anticorruption prosecutors, who, on November 13, 2019, initiated criminal proceedings, based on the reasonable suspicion that judge Cheptea from the Ciocana Court, Chișinău, committed an illegal act while issuing the decision on the request regarding the application of the preventive measure to Oleg Sternioală. 

To investigate all the circumstances, the authorities issued orders about the seizure of the video recordings made by the cameras on the first floor of the Ciocana Court during the day of November 6, as well as of the information about passing through the tourniquet area by the entire staff of the institution to the area of the offices of judges on the second floor in the time span 14.00 to 23.59.

However, Ghenadie Pavliuc, the deputy president of the Chișinău Court told the prosecutor Victor Cazacu that he would not allow the seizure, invoking various reasons, among which the fact that the video recordings could possibly contain information with personal data. 

Under these circumstances, Viorel Morari, the head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, came with an appeal to the Superior Council of Magistracy, requesting the initiation of the procedure for disciplinary liability of the magistrate Ghenadie Pavliuc for restriction of the prosecutor’s rights. 

The request stated that the failure to execute the prosecutor’s orders in limited terms will result in the loss of the requested information, which will generate the impossibility of finding the truth on the case.

How Sternioală purchased the luxury home 

Judge Oleg Sternioală was indicted on November 6, 2019. According to the information obtained by ZdG, one of the main accusations brought to the magistrate is related to the purchase of the dwelling house in Codru, Chișinău municipality. 

State prosecutors found that, in July 2013, when Oleg Sternioală’s parents officially bought the luxurious house where the magistrate lives, he pursued the purpose of concealing the illicit provenance of the money intended for the purchase of the house, as well as the secreting of the property. Thus, Sternioală asked a public notary from Florești to issue a general power of attorney, which gave him the right to buy, on behalf of Parfenie Sternioală, any goods at ​​prices and conditions set by Oleg Sternioală, as well as to manage them. 

Oleg Sternioală’s house, which he declared only in 2017

The next day, based on the power of attorney, he signed, as a representative, the contract of sale/purchase of the dwelling house. De facto, according to the prosecutors, from July 2013 to the present, Oleg Sternioală acquired, owned and used the real estate property (acquired by illegal means).

According to the declaration of assets and personal interests for 2018, judge Oleg Sternioală and his wife, Elena Sternioală, who obtained a notary’s license after the marriage with the magistrate, own a Skoda Superb car manufactured in 2018, registered in another person’s name. The Sternioală family has also owned a Kia Sportage since 2013. 

Oleg Sternioală has been a judge since 2001 and he has worked for the Supreme Court of Justice since 2014, promoted in suspicious circumstances, despite the fact that at the contest he had accumulated a lower score than other judges.

The court takes the judge’s side

The history of Sternioală’s file does not end here. On November 12, 2019, a panel of judges from the Chișinău Court of Appeal, composed of Vladislav Clima, Ala Malîi and Ecaterina Palanciuc, known to the public after they annulled the results of local elections in Chișinău in 2018, admitted the request submitted by Oleg Sternioală, suspending the criminal prosecution actions against him. 

Sternioală demanded the Superior Council of Magistracy to annul its decision and asked for an execution stay. The judge invoked the illegality of the Superior Council of Magistracy meeting from the beginning of November in which the agreement for his criminal investigation was given, after, on September 27, 2019, the Extraordinary General Assembly of Judges voted to dismiss the current members of the Superior Council of Magistracy. His colleagues, Clima, Malii and Palanciuc, accepted the invoked reason. The Supreme Court of Justice will examine the case on December 4, 2019. 

Prosecutor’s opinion regarding Sternioală’s case

Roman Statnîi, one of the prosecutors who manages the criminal case targeting the judge Oleg Sternioală, states that the criminal prosecution continues, because the Chișinău Court of Appeal ruling, by which the decision of the Superior Council of Magistracy was suspended, does not refer to starting the criminal prosecution in this case.

“There is evidence, proving that the money used for the purchase of this house could not come from legal sources. Now, during the criminal prosecution, the entire period of Mr. Sternioală’s activity in public institutions is subject to verifications. All the goods, all the purchases, all the expenses of the family are verified,” prosecutor Statnîi states.

Ion Sârbu, one of Sternioală’s lawyers, mentioned that he couldn’t comment until the end of the proceedings, while Iurie Tabarcea, another defender representing Sterniolală, did not respond to ZdG calls and the message. 

Over the last few days, Oleg Sternioală had his mobile phone disconnected.

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

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