Could Dodon become the new Plahotniuc? Part One
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on December 22.
Socialist MP Bogdan Țîrdea ventured to explain in his party’s paper why Dodon would never be Plahotniuc. The article was republished in Komsomolskaya Pravda v Moldove, a leading newspaper in terms of circulation. We accepted the challenge and examined the 17 arguments, plus a bonus (phew!) put forward by the honorable analyst, who literally tried to demonstrate that person X is not, and will never be person Y. We’ve discovered in the process that some arguments are irrelevant, other are rather bizarre, some are farfetched, and other negate the principal thesis – that Dodon is different from Plahotniuc, accusing rather than excusing the President.
But let’s take them one at a time. In Part One, we’ll look at the first 9 points:
“1) Igor Dodon has 3 university diplomas and a scientific title under his belt. Whereas Plahotniuc bought his license from the Polytechnic University.”
Irrelevant. It is not like the lack of three academic degrees makes a person become an autocrat or oligarch, or vice versa. For the sake of pedantry, in addition to his UTM license, the former “coordinator” also boasts two Master’s degrees.
“2) Igor Dodon entered politics directly from academia, where he was a Professor. Plahotniuc came from the fly-by-night business.”
Dodon only got to senior lecturer in his academic career, but this, again, is not the point. The Moldovan president is not the first country leader or politician to come from academia or other honorable backgrounds. But does this make anyone immune to corruption or to becoming a dictator? Mussolini was a schoolmaster and journalist before entering politics, the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot was a teacher of history, geography and French literature, the infamous Haitian president François “Papa Doc” Duvalier was, well, a doctor, and so on and so forth.
“3) Igor Dodon is a public politician. He was minister of economy, the president of the Socialist Party, and current President of Moldova. Plahotniuc is a shady oligarch, a billionaire, the owner of Nobil, Codru, Petrom, Drive, Victoriabank, BEM which he acquired through illegal schemes and takeovers!”
It’s actually curious that Mr Țîrdea mentioned the hotel Codru in the list of assets that Plahotniuc laid his hands on. The now resold and demolished property in the heart of the capital was privatized well under market value by a Cyprus-registered offshore company before it finally ended up in the ownership of Plahotniuc’s Finpar Invest. Everything happened during Dodon’s time as minister of economy in the Greceanîi Cabinet. On that privatization contract, the signature on behalf of the government belonged to the head of the Public Property Agency, who reports to the minister. During the 2016 presidential race, Dodon was confronted on his involvement (or lack of action) in the prejudicial deal. His answer was that he and Greceanîi wrote a classified letter to the then president Voronin to express their objection. As president, Igor “The Public Politician” Dodon never got around to declassifying the alleged letter. The Center for Policy and Reform NGO has taken legal action in a bid to get that information, but so far unsuccessfully.
But while Plahotniuc is a “shady” oligarch with a dubious track record of takeovers, a recent journalistic investigation by Ziarul de Gardă suggests that Dodon has many rich relatives and associates whose businesses have been flourishing in the past couple of years.
“4) Dodon propelled PSRM, an extra-parliamentary party, into Parliament! Whereas Plahotniuc bought the Democratic group and hid behind [the former leader Marian] Lupu before screwing him over.”
Țîrdea is heading into dangerous territory with this one, as the stories about how the two politicians wound up at the helm of their respective parties are quite similar. If Plahotniuc “bought” the Democratic Party presidency, as Țîrdea claims, Dodon’s ascent to the top of the party wasn’t without controversy either. After defecting Vladimir Voronin’s Communist Party together with fellow MPs Zinaida Greceanîi and Veronica Abramciuc, Dodon joined the Party of Socialists (PSRM), which was quite obscure at the time. Before long, Dodon was elected its president in what Valentin Krîlov, the party’s former executive secretary, called a “hostile takeover” by Dodon and other newcomers. A number of politicians went on to accuse Dodon of taking money to consolidate his new party from no other than Plahotniuc, as the votes of the three Communist defectors were pivotal in electing Nicolae Timofti President in 2012.
If it’s true that Plahotniuc double-crossed Lupu, it might as well be true that Dodon double-crossed Voronin and Krîlov. In Plahotniuc’s case, at least it was his own cash.
“5) I. Dodon freed from detention people who were put there by Plahotniuc. Isn’t that true, Mr Petrenco and Grigorciuc?”
We asked Grigore Petrenco what he has to say about this. The former Communist MP told us that this story was for him yet another confirmation that his ex-colleague Igor Dodon acted in complicity with Plahotniuc. The case of the Petrenco group had been monitored for quite a while by the Europeans as being politically motivated. A few PACE lawmakers agreed to stand up as “personal guarantors” for the activists and even deposited money to bail them out in an upcoming court sitting. The courts controlled by Plahotniuc would have had no alternative but to release them, says Petrenco. However, two days before the Europeans were expected to arrive in Chisinau, the court held an unscheduled hearing. Dodon and other Socialist MPs intervened, unrequested, to act as guarantors instead. Minus the cash part. The court used this trick to remove the activists from arrest only to place them under house arrest instead. By law, the personal guarantee procedure should have excluded any other forms of arrest. But because the guarantee was half-baked, the release was half-baked, too. The Europeans were bamboozled, as Dodon’s propagandists continue to use this case to cast him in a good light. They shouldn’t, says Petrenco.
At any rate, as President, Dodon should not be able to influence the course of justice, other than through a limited number of instruments afforded by the Constitution. Like granting individual pardons, for instance. Or granting political asylum to people pursued by autocratic regimes.
Speaking of which. After Erdoğan recently thanked the Moldovan government for helping Turkey hunt down the “terrorists” at the Orizont High School linked to the Gülen movement, Dodon insisted upon his return from Ankara to Chisinau that the thanks were not for him, but for Plahotniuc and his past regime. Although it wasn’t the Democrats who benefitted from a fancy repair of the Presidential Palace so generously carried out by Ankara. Dodon continues to insist that he didn’t have “any involvement whatsoever” in this tragic and shameful affair.
Actually, that’s the problem, that he didn’t get involved. During the precious hours between the moment the seven teachers were handcuffed to public outcry and the moment they were put on a plane to Turkey, the head of the Security Council and guarantor of the Constitution didn’t move a finger. Quite the opposite, in a fit of whataboutism, Dodon cynically compared the fate of the Turkish teachers, doomed to prison and very probably to ill-treatment in Turkey, to the expelling of several Russian diplomats, who would return to the comfort of their homes. Six of the seven extradited Turkish teachers had asked the President’s protection by seeking political asylum. So non-involvement can be of different kinds.
Otherwise, Dodon’s track record of fighting for the rights of political detainees is empty.
“6) Dodon gave people back their businesses, has helped exporters, has removed customs duties with Russia, has opened the [Russian] market to wineries like Cricova, Cojușna, Castel Mimi! Whereas Plahotniuc would only steal businesses and cause trouble. I think A. Tranga, the owner of Andy’s Pizza, will agree with me on this one!”
About how Dodon opposed predatory takeovers by Plahotniuc, see the Codru case above.
As for exports. The embargo and customs restrictions imposed on Moldovan food and wine have always been politically motivated – we’ve been punished for signing the Association Agreement with the EU, while the cited safety concerns and the need to protect the Russian market are merely pretexts. Igor Dodon knows it and still he’s been among the politicians who’ve been giving us all this baloney, giving credence to the Russian claims to the detriment of our economic interests.
Then there’s also been a lot of criticism about the lack of transparency in how companies get to be whitelisted to export to Russia. In other words, the unequal treatment of exporters is rather an indication of a publicity stunt than of a genuine pursuit of national interest in the relationship with the Kremlin. Moreover, while some customs duties for Moldovan products were indeed lifted at the beginning of 2019, exports were later blocked because of trade restrictions imposed by Russia on Ukraine, including on goods in transit. This has only increased the sentiment of uncertainty among Moldovan exporters and showed that Dodon is siding with an erratic partner.
As concerns the case of Andrei Tranga, the owner of Moldova’s largest restaurant chain, who had been arrested in what he claimed was the start of an attempted takeover of his business. Tranga did thank Dodon publicly in a televised interview. But the thanks were equally extended to Maia Sandu and Andrei Năstase as well. What Tranga said was that, while none of the three politicians got personally involved in freeing him, it’s thanks to them that Plahotniuc was no longer in power. But in Țîrdea’s story there’s room for only one hero.
“7) I. Dodon is the politician with the highest popularity rating in our country! Dodon was elected President with the vote of 52% of the citizens. Whereas Plahotniuc has the highest negative rating, as high as 90%!”
For a start, Bogdan Țîrdea, who boasts a PhD in political science, seems to be confounding a politician’s rating with the number of votes garnered in the second round of the presidential election, which is by definition bigger than 50% of votes cast, not of citizens.
To boost his popularity, Dodon has created a media consortium to service him and his party, organized concerts and appeared next to pop stars, used fake news against his rivals and fake media accounts to inflate his own popularity, glossed over his image with the help of charities, courted the Church and so on. The very same things that Plahotniuc did and was criticized for by many, including the Socialists. During the winter holiday season, Dodon copied exactly the trick used by Plahotniuc the year before – he made use of the official social security database to send out self-laudatory greeting cards to pensioners around the country.
Admittedly, in this popularity competition, Plahotniuc started with an immense handicap. Having a lot of bad reputation to whitewash, all those publicity stunts were of little use in Plahotniuc’s case. But the point is that Dodon has used the same PR tactics like the oligarch. Moreover, the fact that a politician with authoritarian inclinations is also popular makes him even more dangerous.
“8) Dodon has Moldovan citizenship and his family lives in Moldova. Plahotniuc has four citizenships (Romanian, Russian, Czhech and Moldovan) and no Motherland.”
Sometimes having a single homeland can be a bad thing, for example, when you love it so much that you abuse it a bit.
“9) I. Dodon doesn’t own financial assets, doesn’t have any property abroad. Plahotniuc keeps all his riches abroad!”
In fact, Plahotniuc had some assets in Moldova, too, either directly or through proxies.
As for Dodon, the Ziarul de Gardă investigation mentioned above has shown that, while the President doesn’t officially own anything extravagant, his entourage is doing increasingly well. For example, his brother has business interests in Russia. Alexandr has become an associate of Igor Chaika, the son of the now former Russian prosecutor general Yuri Chaika, a Putin loyalist accused by journalistic investigations of grand corruption. A luxurious hotel on the Aegean coast reportedly owned by the Chaikas hosted the vacationing presidential couple in 2018, another Ziarul de Gardă investigation showed.
In the end, it’s not the “assets” themselves that matter, but how they were acquired, and the fact that the presidential entourage is having a stroke of luck should raise quite a few questions.
TO BE CONTINUED
This article is free for republication. Thanks for including credits and links.
Printre acești politicieni se numără foștii colegi comuniști Voronin și Tcaciuc, dar și Usatîi, sau Ghimpu. Vedeți de exemplu „Plahotniuc l-a ajutat cu bani pe Dodon ca sa-și facă partid”. Ghimpu, despre relația dintre cei doi politicieni. Șor avea o poveste similară, în care finanțator ar fi fost Filat. ↩︎
Vedeți seria noastră de articole Domnul Dodon versus statistica, Partea I, Președintele Dodon versus statistica, Partea II, Președintele Dodon versus statistica, Partea III, Unde e problema: în Acordul de Asociere cu UE sau în Rusia?, sau Este oare Moldova inundată cu produse agroalimentare din Europa?, sic.md ↩︎