So What If He Stole?: A Visit to Shor’s Constituency

“So what if he stole? – but he does something for people!”

After visiting Vlad Plahotniuc’ Constituency,  ZdG decided to go to Constituency 18, Orhei, which is represented in Parliament by Shor Party deputy Ilan Shor. ZdG went to find out from the people who voted for him where their deputy is and what they think about Ilan Shor’s sentence to seven years and six months of imprisonment for fraud and money laundering schemes at Banca de Economii (BEM) and the recent announcement that there is a search warrant for him at home and abroad.

June 12: Ilan Shor makes his last public appearance after being banned from leaving the country.
June 14: The Democratic Party withdraws from power and Shor reportedly leaves Moldova on a private plane. 
July 16: The Prosecutor General’s Office sentences parliamentary deputy Ilan Shor to seven years and six months imprisonment for fraud. Shor – who was incriminated in the investigation into a multi-billion dollar bank fraud featured in the Kroll Report – left Moldova through Chișinău International Airport between June 14 and 17, without passing border control.
July 26: ZdG visits Constituency 18. Meanwhile, online, Ilan Shor reacts to the arrest warrant the Cahul Court of Appeal issued for him. “The new power is creating a great deal of pressure,” Shor complained, saying that the arrest warrant was issued under intense pressure from the new government. “The Cahul Court of Appeal ignored the law.” 
July 30: A national and international search for Ilan Shor is officially announced. 

In Pelivan: “We don’t count other people’s money, do we?” 

In Constituency 18 we went to the villages of Cișmea and Pelivan. According to the 2014 census 3,257 inhabitants live there. The community has a rich history and bears the name of a promoter of Romanian national ideas. Democratic Party representative Ion Gamarț has been the mayor of the community for four years. Even so, in the February 24, 2019 parliamentary elections 60 percent of Pelivan residents voted for Ilan Shor.

As we entered Pelivan, the village seemed deserted. We headed to the Medical Centre opposite City Hall. A young woman was waiting to enter the doctor’s office. She told us that there have been made changes, especially in the last four years since the new mayor came. As for Shor, she says there is more talk of him in the neighboring village, Cișmea.

“He is good, but there are many opinions about him. As for me, I am not his fan (of the ‘Oh, Ilan Shor’ type) and I don’t side with him, but he has done a lot for Orhei.” She says that whatever he did for Orhei was done using public money too.

“I think he deserves to be punished, but people stand up for him, especially the elderly. I have an elderly acquaintance. She says that all the elderly side with him,” says the woman from Pelivan.

We met three women and a man waiting for the minibus from Orhei to Cișmea. We started asking questions, to find out their opinion on the missing deputy. Little by little, the young woman’s words turned out to be true. People spoke about Shor with admiration and said how much the deputy did for Orhei. I asked one of the ladies where he got the money from, and the man next to her, who was barely in control of his emotions, exploded.

“And what about Maia Sandu, where does she take money from? And where does Nastase get his money? Don’t they all steal money from people? What did Maia Sandu do? Closed schools, here and there, what else did she do? Ilan Shor built roads all over Orhei, and he did many other things because Orhei was totally destroyed. We do not know whose money it was, we don’t count people’s money, do we? And if we turn to the Socialist Party, what did they do? Have they done anything in their lives? Nothing,” the man kept shouting, and the people around him nodded in approval.

We asked him his opinion on why the former mayor ran away. “He didn’t tell us. He’s not guilty. What should he be guilty for. Take [Parliamentary Speaker Zinaida] Greceanîi, her husband stole too. Why don’t they ask Greceanii to return the money? All of them have been stealing, not just him,” the man said fiercely.

The minibus arrived but we managed to ask the same man what he will do if, eventually, Ilan Shor is held responsible and imprisoned. He was at the door of the minibus when he answered: “We will protest here and in Chișinău.” The lady next to him approved of his words.

Shortly afterwards, we met Mihai. He is 74 years old. Although he was deported to Siberia in Soviet times he returned to his native village and remembers that during the sovhoz the village was beautiful and rich. Now it has been destroyed. We asked him who does anything for his village and the man didn’t know what to tell us. Regarding Shor, Mihai said that “he brings cheaper products here, but I do not participate in such things.” 

Speaking of the deputy’s guilt, Mihai shares an opinion strikingly similar to that of the other local people: “I would not say that he has to stay in prison, for, as I see he is paying for his faults.”

“So what if he stole? – but he does something for people!”

Vasili and his entire family voted for Ilan Shor in the parliamentary elections. He has been living in Pelivan since 1973. We met him near the bakery, where he works as a security guard. Although he is aware of the charges against Shor, he thinks that the deputy can’t have done anything illegal and said that he likes him as a leader. To Vasili he seems sincere, he thinks that his policy is for people and that he has done much for Orhei. 

“He may have a business. I don’t know what business he has. Maybe it’s his wife’s,” Vasili speculated, referring to the money Shor invested in the city. He also said he would be disappointed to find out that Shor had stolen the money after all.

“I will stop respecting him and be done. And if there are elections, I will not vote for him anymore.” 

Andrei is 50 years old and is a member of the Shor Party. We caught him talking to another local outside of the house’s gate. He said that the government does little for Pelivan: “Shor started to do things, but look, they put the breaks on it.”

“He’s made Orhei really beautiful, many people support him. You go to Orhei – everything’s for free, the kids go, play, bathe, I have nothing to say – he’s just great. As for these other ones, yeah, they do nothing but steal; they steal and don’t do anything else,” Andrei said.

Andrei said he supports Shor, because of his promises to do good things in Pelivan. “We’ll see, in time maybe he will.” He knows nothing about the deputy’s money, but he assured us that Shor is innocent and that he’s currently on holiday. Soon he will come back and answer all of these questions – he even saw him on TV, giving a speech.

In the event that Shor is arrested, Andrei said that people will gather to support him.

“We will support him, we will hold protests in Orhei, even in Chișinău. Shor gave a speech today and said ‘if they need protests – we will hold protests and settle all the questions with the theft and so on.’ Well, he may have stolen all right – but he does something for the people!” the man concluded.

But Andrei’s fellow villager is of another opinion. The man said he does not support anyone and that all the changes in the village are thanks to the mayor. He said that he heard about Shor’s participation in the theft of the billion, and he believes that there’s no smoke without fire.

“A simple man cannot flee like this: either they have pressured him, or he has something, perhaps a criminal case – one doesn’t flee without reason, a simple man does not flee like that. Our people are easily lured with a candy bar. People like us trust anyone who comes and says nice and sweet words, but nothing is done,” he said, sounding upset.

Having departed, Ilan Shor has left people in uncertainty and with unfulfilled promises. Some are shocked to hear that he was convicted and refuse to believe he might be guilty. Even so, they defended him, saying that others in the government stole too.

Maria is also from Pelivan. She said that Ilan Shor helped the people in the village a lot.

“They took our children to the city for free, offered different fun games, circuses, and it was very good, he helped this village a little bit. We have nothing bad to say about him,” Maria said. 

When asked where she thinks Shor’s money came from, she didn’t know what to say. Instead, she jumped to his defense.

Maria assumes that the deputy might have gone to Israel to visit his relatives, because he cannot stay in a foreign country for long. Maria said that she, for example, is very pleased with all that Shor has done and believes that if he had stayed, he could have done even more.

Near the shop we discovered a playground for children. Seeing us, the little ones who were running around started talking about Ilan Shor. A little girl said, looking straight into our eyes “we love Ilan Shor,” as if confirming what Maria said. We also met two moms there looking after their kids, who were playing on the swings. One of them told us that she was rom Pelivan and that she had lived in the village for 29 years. She turned out to be a loyal supporter of the deputy. She confidently told us that Shor was in Moldova and that he would keep his electoral promises made to the villagers. She said that the former mayor of Orhei had done nothing for Pelivan so far, instead, he did a lot for the neighboring village, Cișmea.

“We are waiting for him to come and do what he promised for our village too. I do not know with what money, in any case, I care about him. There are many [politicians] who stole money, maybe he stole it too. Even if he did it, I trust him. That’s our conviction. He did not run away, he will come back and fulfill his promises,” said the woman.

“We have nothing [to do] with politics; we cultivate potatoes”

Not far from the central road, we saw three women working in the field. Although the sun was blazing, the women were digging up potatoes and putting them in buckets. One of the women was named Veronica. She told us that she had been deported to Siberia when she was 12 years old. She came to Pelivan with her husband in 1958 and settled in the village. The woman voted for Ilan Shor, because he did a lot: he built streets, kindergartens, opened stores and brought in cheaper products. The woman did not want to answer other questions, saying that “we have nothing [to do] with politics, we cultivate potatoes.”

Meanwhile, her colleague Sima, interrupted and contradicted her: “In Orhei, Shor did something, but here, he did nothing for us. People are leaving the village, only the elderly remain,” she said.

Olga has been an educator at the village kindergarten for 40 years. When asked about Shor, she said, “at first I supported him, but when I understood the mistake that has been made, especially now that he has disappeared, I feel as if I’ve lost confidence. I’m not sure, I feel like siding with those who say: ‘he stole – but he gave money back.’  If only the others had done the same.”

Olga said she went to one of the concerts organized by the Shor Party in Orhei. There, she had the opportunity to listen to both Marina Tauber, the representative of Constituency 19 and a member of the Shor Political Party, as well as Ilan Shor speaking on stage.

“They speak beautifully, so to speak, so from the first appearance you look at him and he does not have the looks of a thief, the way he speaks from the heart, enthusiastically,” she said.

Once a week, on Friday: “For us, the elderly, it’s a great help”

It’s Friday and “MeriȘor” – the discount shop on wheels the locals spoke about with so much satisfaction – has arrived in the village. The car was parked near the lake. People already know its schedule, they gathered and lined up for shopping. From them we learned that the car comes once a week and that only those who have a membership card can shop. 

One woman told us that since the car started coming to the village, the retirees were called to a meeting, where they were told that they had to provide a photo and their passport data if they wanted to get a membership card. They were also told that the elderly would be the first to get cards, followed by teachers. The elderly find shopping there economical, because it is cheaper and closer to them.

“For us, the old people, you know how it is – every little saving counts,” one of the retirees said.

After filling two bags with products, one of the retirees told us that she had a high opinion of Ilan Shor, even though she has heard from many people that he might have stolen state money.

“For us, the elderly, it’s a great help. That’s entirely up to him where he takes the money from. Opinion is divided. Each and every one of them stole, not just Shor, but they had to find a scapegoat. He might be guilty after all. I am pleased with the way he works, I think I would vote for him again,” the old woman said.

While we were talking with the retirees, the driver was trying to find out more about our team. 

In OrheiLand: “Great Thanks to this Man”

In Orhei, 67.6 percent of the people who voted in the February 24 parliamentary elections voted for Ilan Shor. So on the way to Chișinău we had to visit OrheiLand – the amusement park built at the initiative of the missing deputy. Upon entering the park we were stopped by security even though the restriction panel contained no information about the media. The man asked where we were from and communicated the information to someone else over the phone. In the end, we were given permission to enter.

Inside we met Ana with her granddaughter. Ana was delighted by the amusement park and did not hesitate to thank Shor: “We thank the man who created such a beautiful center and city for us.”

Regarding Ilan Shor’s involvement in money laundering schemes, Ana insisted that he couldn’t have done it and that he was not guilty.

“They say so much, but I believe that there is no man who does not make mistakes, but we can fix them. I think he had some money if he started all of this. You can’t be empty handed and start up a business. I am sorry that he was forced to leave the country or maybe it was his own desire, I have no idea of how he got involved in it,” she said, looking puzzled.

Ana said that she found out about the departure of the former mayor of Orhei from the Internet and she believes that he’s gone because he needed time to think. The woman was surprised to hear that Shor was banned from leaving the country after being sentenced to seven years and six months of imprisonment, however, she tried not to show her disbelief.

“He was forbidden from leaving the country, yes, when I heard it, I was really shocked. He did so many things, he put in so much effort and now he fled, I was surprised. But I did not get one hundred percent disappointed and I still expect a better result,” she said.  

– Would you vote for him again? Yes! she said.

We met another visitor at OrheiLand, waiting for the merry-go-round to start. 

“Orhei is beautiful, because of the people,” he told us.

“I can’t say anything about Ilan Shor, because it was the people who did everything, it’s their victory. Shor appears as the beneficiary of the stolen billion in all the Kroll Reports, him and his companies are involved in the theft of the billion. Now he has fled to Israel, so that he is not held responsible, and avoids going to prison,” the man said.

In Peresecina: “They have to put them all in a row and shoot them”

As we were heading towards Chișinău, we stopped in the village of Peresecina in the Orhei district. Although the village is part of Constituency 20, before parliamentary elections, the Shor Party electorate was very active in this locality. This electoral district saw a tough competition between the candidate of the Shor Party and that of the ACUM bloc, the latter coming out victorious with a small difference in votes.

In Peresecina, just like in other localities, people’s opinions are divided. We met a man who told us he had voted for Shor, but was shocked to find out that this candidate, who he trusted, was convicted for fraud. Even so, he still claimed that Shor is a good man.

“He did not throw money around, he sensibly invested it in Orhei. I didn’t hear anything about him stealing money. I don’t believe he’s guilty. He was a good man to us, but I can’t tell you what he did later,” he said.

On the other hand, another villager responded rhetorically when we asked him about Ilan Shor: “You mean Ilan Shor, the bandit, don’t you?” Then he added: “I do not vote for such people.”

“Well, he robbed the banks of Moldova when he was mayor in Orhei, I don’t know which ones, he filled his pockets and bags with money, and fled. Now they are looking for him to send to jail,” the man said.

Seventy-year-old Maria was returning from the shop. She had bought something to eat for dinner. When asked her view of the former government, the woman, who has lived in Peresecina all her life said, “they have to put them all in a row and shoot them.” 

In her old age, she complains about her pension. “I live on a very small pension now, even though I worked really hard,” she told us. 

She also seemed disappointed by the former mayor of Orhei, “He kind of stole a little bit, perhaps not a little, but quite a lot. It’s true, it’s not just him, there are many more thieves, they ruined, crippled Moldova.”

Shor Party spokesperson, Alina Șargu, told us on the phone that she had no information about the whereabouts of the party leader nor when he might return. We wanted to hear her comments on the fact that Ilan Shor was nowhere to be found in the country despite being banned from leaving. The spokesperson replied that we were asking “illogical” questions.

Daniela Calmîș

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