A few further questions for the prosecutors in the shameful affair of the Turkish teachers
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on February 5.
The case of the Turkish teachers has been solved! As announced by Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo upon the completion of the investigation this week, former Security and Intelligence Service director Vasile Botnari has taken all the blame on himself. This means that other suspects are getting off the hook as Botnari will be the only one to stand trial. There are a few questions left unanswered though.
Before proceeding to asking them, here’s a quick explainer about what the case is about. In September 2016, seven teachers at the Moldovan-Turkish network of lyceums Orizont were arrested by the SIS in what was falsely labelled as a counter-terrorism operation. Later that day they were put on a plane to Turkey, where they were ultimately jailed. The Turkish teachers had been working for years in Moldova, had applied for political asylum in Moldova and some of them even had Moldovan families.
Many recognized this extradition for what it was: a gift to please the Turkish leader in his crazy witch hunt for people tied to the Gülen movement. Both the de facto leader of Moldova at the time, the now fugitive oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, and President Igor Dodon had long been keen to forge closer ties with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the wannabe sultan was expected to pay a symbolic visit to Chisinau shortly after the extradition, which he did. But the Moldovan leadership at the time brazenly denied any connection, defending the lie that the teachers were expelled for good reason.
After Plahotniuc’s government fell in June 2019 and a coalition was formed between Dodon’s Socialists and the pro-European bloc ACUM, an investigation was started and several officials, including Botnari, were charged with abuse of power. The illegality was confirmed, around the same time, by the European Court of Human Rights. A separate parliamentary inquiry was carried out by members of the new coalition. It produced a mumbled report, whose main takeaway was perhaps that it found no evidence of Dodon’s involvement.
Now back to our questions.
1. On the Migration and Asylum Bureau and its director, Olga Poalelungi
As previously noted by our colleagues at the Center for Policy and Reform NGO, the Migration and Asylum Bureau is the only institution with the authority to expel people who are deemed a national security threat. If Olga Poalelungi wasn’t involved as she and the prosecutors claim, why didn’t she denounce the SIS operation and call the prosecutors to intervene promptly?
So what did she do instead? At first, she stated that the BAM wasn’t being involved in any way in the operation. Then, she flip-flopped. In particular, she was believed to have predated papers to make some of the SIS actions look legal. Moreover, she actively defended the operation as procedure-compliant. When asked why the notices advising the teachers that they had been denied asylum reached their Moldovan homes when they were already in Turkey, Poalelungi blamed it on the postmen.
Why did the BAM director participate in covering up the case? Did she receive any illegal orders, was she bribed, was she threatened, was she protecting anyone?
However, after Botnari’s depositions, the prosecutors decided it wasn’t worth investigating Poalelungi’s potential tampering with official papers, or who “motivated” her to cover up the wrongdoings in this case. She even got her job back after a very formal suspension.
2. On SIS vice director Alexandru Baltaga and other SIS officers
Vasile Botnari claims his subordinates acted in the belief that everything was legal, because he told him so. OK, it’s a plausible argument when applied to the SWAT team, whose job is to follow orders and ask no questions. But the SIS deputy director and other officers? Intelligence is their goddam job requirement. They kidnapped and removed seven people from the country, with the latter being an exclusive BAM prerogative. How could you not know that it’s illegal if it’s not within SIS’s authority to do that?
Rosian Vasiloi, former head of the Border Police, revealed in September 2019 that some of the teachers didn’t have their old passports with them so they were escorted by the SIS through the border with new passports (they had consecutive numbers). How could a SIS officer not know that it’s not quite legal to abduct someone, put a new passport in his pocket and send him to another country?
Then, how much would it take a SIS officer to realize the illegality of these actions? Even if we admit that they acted naively and unknowingly during the whole operation, how come no one blew the whistle when everything became evident? Not even after the ECHR judgment did anyone come forward and expose the whole thing. Instead of whistleblowing, all we got was I-know-nothing whistling.
3. On the Turkish accomplices
Where did those new passports come from? Did they come directly from Ankara, or did they come from the embassy? With whom was this illegal operation coordinated? Were any embassy officials involved?
If yes, even if protected by diplomatic immunity, they could be publicly condemned and expelled. Sure, in a legal way, not in the way it happened with the Orizont teachers.
4. On the Moldovan political leadership
Before the coalition with the Socialists, ACUM politicians were accusing Igor Dodon of a quid pro quo, saying the teachers were a gift to Erdoğan in exchange for a fancy repair of the Presidential Palace and/or other future favors. With the coalition formed, ACUM representative Chiril Moțpan pointed the finger at former Democrat Speaker Andrian Candu as the operation coordinator instead.
Whether it was Candu or Dodon, or both, the prosecutors should investigate who directed this operation at political level, considering that both Dodon and Plahotniuc sought Erdoğan’s grace.
This is especially true since Erdoğan recently thanked the Moldovan authorities – in Dodon’s presence – for the seven teachers. Which authorities exactly? Who negotiated the operation? Was it at the level of the president’s office, the speaker, the foreign ministry?
Vasile Botnari is considered to be a Plahotniuc crony and it’s highly unlikely that as SIS director he acted independently. However, Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo isn’t interested in investigating the political side of the operation. When asked by reporters if Botnari is maybe covering anyone up, Stoianoglo serenely answered: “we can only guess”.
Finis coroborat opus
It’s quite tragicomical when a chief prosecutor says “we can only guess”. Alexandr Stoianoglo is among those who have the power, and a duty to go beyond only guessing. The prosecutor general has the means and, indeed, duty to investigate such suspicions, especially when they are so obvious.
That Botnari was instrumental in handing those poor fellas to Ankara is an obvious thing. That he is taking all the blame on himself to cover others' backs is also obvious. That the prosecutors are so naive is hard to believe and it undermines the sincerity of Stoianoglo’s apology extended to the teachers and their families. That no one else will stand trial in one of the most shameful and criminal cases in Moldova’s contemporary history is preposterous.
This article is free for republication. Thanks for including credits and links.
De ce șefa Biroului Migrație și Azil trebuie demisă, watch.cpr.md ↩︎
CASE OF OZDIL AND OTHERS v. THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA, hudoc.echr.coe.int ↩︎
Expulzarea profesorilor turci în 2018, o „ordinară răpire de persoane”, moldova.europalibera.org ↩︎