Is Acting Good Enough? Waiting for the Prosecutor General
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on August 1.
The ultimate goal declared by the ACUM-PSRM alliance is the ‘de-oligarchization’ of the Moldovan state, essentially an effort designed to tear down the system built by the now self-exiled Moldovan oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc and his Democratic Party in the last few years. The process can be summed up to two steps: first, replace people loyal to Vlad Plahotniuc & Co with people selected in a transparent and meritocratic manner. Second, strengthen and improve institutions so that they start doing their job in a way that makes them more immune to politicians’ whims.
Among the agencies first targeted by the liberating fervor of the current government is the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), labeled as one of Plahotniuc’s last bastions, at least while the loyal Eduard Harunjen was still at the helm. The prosecutors’ community is accused of doing little to investigate the infamous $1B bank fraud, of turning a blind eye to all kinds of crimes and crookery from PDM bosses and cronies, and even of persecuting the party’s enemies.
“After the position becomes vacant, we will propose holding an absolutely transparent contest to select the Prosecutor General...”
What was promised?
The Socialists didn’t really make the PGO a policy priority either before elections, or during talks to form the new coalition government. Or at least not publicly. In the PSRM electoral manifesto, their main objective related to the PGO came in bundle with demands for broader powers to the President, such as the power to appoint the leadership of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Security and Intelligence Service, the National Anticorruption Center, the Constitutional Court, and greater roles in foreing policy and defense.
In contrast, the objective to reform the PGO was featured by ACUM in its 10-point de-oligarchization plan: “After the position becomes vacant, we will propose holding an absolutely transparent contest to select the Prosecutor General (with the participation of civil society and foreign experts).”
Moreover, ACUM held public consultations in Parliament where the bloc proposed three key changes to the Law on Prosecution Service:
- add more members to the High Council of Prosecutors in order to dilute the old guard’s influence and resistance to change;
- enlarge the panel in charge of selecting the Prosecutor General to include more civil society representatives and foreign experts;
- remove the limitation requiring the Prosecutor General to be a Moldovan citizen, opening up the job to the likes of Laura Codruța Kövesi, the lionized Romanian anti-graft prosecutor.
Mr. Dodon and his Socialists have openly declared they will not accept a foreigner in this position (much like in Russia, they view even holders of dual citizenship in public offices to be a national security risk), so one of the three ACUM proposals is off the table from the start. As for the remaining two… we shall see.
How the Prosecution Service has been ‘liberated’
But before appointing a new Prosecutor General, the old one must be gotten rid of first. Eduard Harunjen chose to ignore calls from the newly formed government and a petition started by civil society representatives (whom he dismissed as “trolls”) asking him to step down, so the alliance found a ridiculous legal loophole. On July 19, Parliament adopted an organic law whereby a key provision of the Law on Prosecution Service was “interpreted” in the following way: “the phrase «members of the High Council of Prosecutors» shall also apply to the holder of the post of Acting Prosecutor General, regardless of whether he/she attended or not the meetings of the High Council of Prosecutors and/or participated in its decision-making processes.”
To put it simply, Parliament decided in 2019 that Eduard Harunjen was in 2016 a member of the Council, although formally he was not. Based on this extremely specific “interpretation”, Parliament finds that Harunjen was not even eligible to become Prosecutor General (members of the Council are barred from being nominated) and asks President Igor Dodon to fire him. Faced with such a legal sophistry, Harunjen steps down, with one of his reasons being that he didn’t want to take part in creating a dangerous precedent.
As for the multiple accusations leveled against Eduard Harunjen personally and against the prosecution service as an institution, they seem to have been forsaken in favor of this backdoor solution. ACUM promised that the chief prosecutor would be dismissed following an evaluation of his work, but now the current government doesn’t seem to care much about such an evaluation.
Acting is as good as the real thing
The same day that Parliament rendered a creative interpretation to the Prosecution Service Law, it also amended it slightly. Not exactly in a way it was promised, though. The seat vacated by Harunjen shouldn’t be left to cool down too much, so the MPs decide the Council has three days from the dismissal of the previous Prosecutor General to appoint a caretaker. If the Council fails to meet this deadline, or if the President has “irrefutable proof” disqualifying the Council’s pick, the Acting Prosecutor General shall be appointed by presidential decree on Parliament’s proposal.
In practice this means that the MPs and the President agreed to appoint their man at the helm of the PGO indefinitely. The choice fell on Dumitru Robu, who, as revealed by the investigative paper Ziarul de Gardă, has an affinal relationship with a prosecutor under prosecution, who is in turn an affinal kin of Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Năstase. It’s the same Dumitru Robu who, more than two years after the first arrests in the Chisinau parking meter scandal, only managed to get two years suspended for just one former Chisinau government official. The MPs endorsed Mr. Robu’s candidacy without the bare minimum of hearing him in Parliament. When asked by reporters what he thought of the allegations that Dumitru Robu was a man of Plahotniuc, President Dodon answered that “it’s professionalism that matters” to him.
A genuine reform and the appointment of a non-interim Prosecutor General would just take too long, according to Igor Dodon: “Moldova cannot afford to keep a key agency in a semi-functional state. The procedure of selecting and appointing a Prosecutor General is excessively long (from 60 to 90 work days) and can affect not only the smooth functioning of the institution, but also the rights of the citizens involved in prosecutorial proceedings.”
Igor Dodon is also fine with the winner of the contest held to appoint a National Anticorruption Center director. Ruslan Flocea’s previous job was secretary of the President’s Office and a score sheet leaked by an apparently discontented member of the Parliament Legal Committee showed just how biased the contest had been (as the runner-up, civil society darling Cristina Țărnă scored just a little over half of the points lavished on Mr. Flocea). Oh, and Mr. Flocea also told reporters he didn’t know he had recently become neighbors with the son of the Socialist Party president Zinaida Greceanîi.
To be continued…
Meanwhile, let’s hope Dumitru Robu will do a better job as Acting PG than he did working the parkomat case. Parliament adjourns for summer recess on August 1, but Maia Sandu and Igor Dodon promised the MPs would still hold an extraordinary session mid-vacation. The PGO reform remains on hold, or hanged on a tree, if you will. According to the President, the governing alliance is yet to decide what kind of reform it wants, meaning they don’t even have a common vision. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor General will be appointed in “September-October-November”.
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