Moldova in brief, week #23, June 1-7.

A key excuse

The Covid curve hasn’t shown any signs of going down this week – much to the contrary, a new record of 264 confirmed cases per day was set on Saturday, as the weekly case count rose by 21%. Morover, the previous week saw the biggest number of deaths. This puts a serious question mark over the authorities’ decision to ease the lockdown more and more and in particular over the permission given to the Orthodox Church to celebrate Memorial Easter. In April, its celebration was postponed until June 6-8 on condition that the situation would improve. But here’s what Dr. Galina Chiriacov, head of the intensive care department at Moldova’s main infectious disease hospital, thinks will happen now:

“After Memorial Easter [the situation] will get even more terrible.”

The authorities tried to convince everybody that the decision to commemorate the dead in cemeteries, despite all the circumstances, had been taken unilaterally by the Church and that nothing could be done about it. Prime minister Ion Chicu just warned the public that the number of hospital beds was projected to suffice for “only 5 days” (hospitals across the country are indeed bursting at the seams, as reported by Sănătateinfo) and urged everybody to stay home. Nicolae Furtună, Moldova’s chief medical officer, also shrugged his shoulders, saying: “well, you saw the defiant letters from the Moldovan Church.” In one such statement, the Church discovered all of a sudden – already after being allowed to hold religious ceremonies indoors – that the practice of communion (with the same spoon and chalice for everyone) “may not be subject to negotiation or public debate.”

On a local level however, some authorities checked their pockets and found the key to the graveyard gates. In particular, the extraordinary commission of the capital Chișinău decided at the eleventh hour that all the cemeteries would stay locked down (the districts of Cahul and Strășeni did the same). This happens after, on Monday, public markets in Chișinău and Bălți were allowed to reopen, and crowds rushed in to buy mugs and other trinkets traditionally handed out among relatives and to panhandlers as offerings on Memorial Easter. Chicu and Furtună warned they would close back the markets in the two cities, but eventually it has been decided to only shorten their hours.

Furtună also announced the authorities would consider reintroducing some restrictions and maybe even the state of emergency. President Igor Dodon however suggested that would not be the case and that the government should seek “the golden mean” to avoid disgruntling the general population and businesses. “The situation is under control.” Meanwhile, there’s a new loosening coming up soon: airlines have received the green light to resume regular flights starting on June 15, although it’s not clear yet which countries will be ready to receive Moldovan passengers.

A house divided

Andrian Candu said his Pro Moldova group had begun negotiations with PAS and PDA to dismiss the Chicu Cabinet and appoint a new government. PDA leader Andrei Năstase however replied that his party “cannot discuss principles with Mr Candu because he has no principles”.

As such, the no confidence vote against the government has been indefinitely postponed. PAS explained it would not vote to take down the Chicu Cabinet because there is no alternative parliamentary majority to support a new pro-European government. PDA deputy chairman Alexandru Slusari admitted there weren’t enough votes for a no confidence motion. President Dodon used this opportunity to call the opposition MPs “weaklings and cowards”.

PAS leader Maia Sandu insists that an early election is the only forward and says PAS won’t negotiate a new government with the Socialists or the Șor Party.

The opposition parties seem to have enough coordination to go to the Parliament together, even though they lacked quorum for an official meeting, as MPs from the PSRM-PDM majority didn’t show up. PAS and PDA say the Parliament must resume its work, as only a few MPs have negative test results for Covid-19. Deputy Speaker Slusari even declared that President Dodon is using the pandemic to block the lawmakers’ work. Slusari claims his assistant was issued a fake positive Covid-19 test result by the National Public Health Agency’s lab. The Agency denied the accusation and says Slusari’s assistant was tested in a private lab. Meanwhile, Slusari’s fellow party member Arina Spătaru got infected, too, and she believes she contracted the virus in Parlament.

The necessary amendments

After a meeting with president Dodon on Monday, PM Chicu told a press briefing that NGOs were going to “destroy this state” and he repeated it at least 5 more times in one form or another. The Government would not endorse the bill on nonprofit organizations, he said, at least not in its current version. Like Dodon, Chicu claims that the new law – which, by the way, is a condition that would enable Moldova to receive a €30 million tranche in macro-financial assistance from the EU – would allow NGOs to endorse electoral campaigns with foreign money. On the other side, the opposition believes the current administration is in fact frustrated by the amendments that require funds and charities, including politically affiliated ones, to be completely transparent about their finances (see the Moldova Weekly for week 22).

On Friday, Socialists and Democrats met to coordinate the parliamentary agenda. The coalition partners agreed to vote for the bill, but with the “necessary amendments” that would remove “any risks of corruption or non-transparent financing.” For the sake of the expected tranche, it has also been decided to cancel the citizenship for investments law, which critics saw as a money laundering scheme.

Somewhat surprisingly, the tranche seemed to be put in jeopardy because of the Broadcasting Council. An external audit of the Council is among the minor conditions for the tranche, but this week the Council’s members unanimously voted to oppose it, claiming that any such evaluation would affect its independence from political actors. But the crisis was averted at the meeting of the coalition council, where the Socialists and the Democrats decided the audit would take place nonetheless.

In Brussels, the Romanian MEP Dragoș Tudorache joined the criticism voiced earlier by Siegfried Mureșan about the quality of Moldova’s ongoing reforms. Tudorache claimed the “two boats” foreign policy followed by the current government was sabotaging his and his colleagues’ efforts to plead for more EU money for Moldova.

The neverending footage

MPs Iurie Reniță and Lilian Carp released two more fragments of footage from the infamous meeting between Igor Dodon and the now fugitive oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc one year ago. In one of the clips, President Dodon seems to admit that he was writing notes for Vladimir Putin. The MPs want the prosecutors to investigate Dodon for high treason.

The president himself described the meeting with Plahotniuc and Iaralov as a chess game that he had won. Dodon claimed earlier he was trying to get Plahotniuc to drop his guard and buy more time while PSRM and ACUM negotiated an alliance, but he made that assertion only after the first pieces of the footage were leaked.

The prosecution service announced the new footage would be examined as part of the ongoing investigation into the previous bits of footage started at the notification of MPs Năstase and Reniță.

The bow of honor

Igor Dodon will attend Russia’s delayed Victory Day parade on June 24 not by himself, but accompanied by the Honor Guard of the Moldovan Army, that is 75 soldiers, despite the ongoing budget issues and epidemiological restrictions.

The president wants to get Russia to reopen negotiations regarding the loan agreement shot down by the Constitutional Court in Chișinău. Although Igor Dodon said he would meet with Vladimir Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told the press there were no official agreements yet regarding “direct contacts” between the two presidents.

Plato strikes back

Olga Bondarciuc, widely known as “Plahotniuc’s notary”, has posted a video on FB in which she complains about being blackmailed by the convicted investor Veaceslav Platon. Bondarciuc claims Platon’s lawyers want her to sign a statement where she would admit that she protected Vlad Plahotniuc and Ilan Șor and undermined Platon.

Finance expert Sergiu Tofilat published a timeline of the conflict between the two oligarchs supporting the idea that Bondarciuc did help Plahotniuc to come out unscathed while Platon went to jail.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian law firm requested Moldova to pay 360 million lei (~18 million euros) as compensation for the canceled shares at MAIB and Moldincombank. The law firm had previously worked for Platon, but his Moldovan lawyers say the company is now working for Plahotniuc.

President Dodon spoke once again about Platon’s innocence]( in the bank fraud, while admitting the banker was likely involved in other schemes. He thinks the prosecutors must use any information Platon is willing to provide to get Vlad Plahotniuc and Ilan Șor convicted for the bank fraud.

Also this week, published an investigation into Plahotniuc’s offshore companies, showing, among other things, how he siphoned money out of Moldtelecom.

More news, in one sentence

◾ PM Chicu promises the Government “will be honoring all of its financial obligations, including salaries, pensions and major government investments,” announcing a gradual, yet modest pickup in terms of revenue (which still remains significantly behind pre-pandemic targets).

◾ Romanian MP Emanuel Ungureanu (USR) has complained to the Anticorruption Directorate that the medical equipment donated to Moldova had been bought at exaggerated prices under government contracts and turned down by Romanian hospitals for being of poor quality; Romanian Government Secretary Antonel Tănase dismissed the allegations as politically motivated (Romania has local elections scheduled for September).

◾ Chisinau had three false bomb scares in a week – two outside the Russian Embassy, a few days apart from one another, and a third outside the Ministry of the Interior.

◾ On Wednesday President Dodon and Transnistira’s de facto leader Krasnoselsky agreed over the phone to remove barriers to the free movement of residents in the buffer area known as the Security Zone, and on Thursday one of the illegal checkpoint installed by Tiraspol stopped and fined several villagers on their way to their farm plots.

The Moldovan Academy of Sciences: „[IQOS products] are NOT less harmful than conventional cigarettes and should be subject to the same sales and utilization restrictions” (see one of our older articles for more on this subject A Tale of Smokeless Fire, Featuring Corporations, Lawmakers, and the Media).

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