Moldova Weekly #1: wanted oligarchs, higher taxes, cracks in the alliance
Moldova Weekly is a new endeavor by sic!: a balanced and comprehensive roundup of the most important stories and developments of the week, presented in English to international audiences interested in what's happening in our lovely country.
Sins of the past
This week began with bad news for Moldova’s fugitive oligarchs. A Moscow court issued an arrest warrant against former Democratic Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc, accusing him of organizing a transnational drug trafficking ring together with his former party colleague Constantin Țuțu. Meanwhile, the Moldovan police have officially asked Interpol to place former mayor of Orhei Ilan Șor on the international wanted list.
More woe for the Democrats, as acting Prosecutor General Dumitru Robu reversed his predecessor’s decision and decided to investigate the alleged “usurpation of power” by the former Democratic government between the 7th and 14th of June. Back then, PDM refused to hand power to the new ACUM-PSRM majority and only buckled under the pressure of the international community.
The prosecutors have announced they will also look into the lawfulness of wiretapping and other surveillance measures against opposition politicians, civil society activists and journalists under the previous PDM government.
Somewhat ironically, given their track record while in power, the Democrats have now accused the new government of appointing a puppet Prosecutor General that will carry out their political orders.
Reshuffling the deck
Changes among the prosecutors’ ranks continued this week: Andrian Popenco’s deployment at the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office was cut short after only one month and he was sent back to the Chisinau office. Adriana Bețișor, famous for getting former prime minister Vlad Filat into jail, quit her job as anticorruption prosecutor for “personal reasons”.
Acting Prosecutor General Dumitru Robu appointed three new deputies: Eduard Bulat, Alexandru Nichita and Mircea Roșioru. The latter was also a deputy of the much-maligned former head prosecutor Eduard Harunjen.
A conflict arose between Prime Minister Sandu and the High Council of Prosecutors (CSP). The prosecutors’ self-governing body launched the competition for selecting a new Prosecutor General, despite the government’s announced intention to amend the law and pleas to delay the selection procedure. Maia Sandu blasted the CSP for previously appointing corrupt figures like Eduard Harunjen, Adriana Bețișor and Igor Popa. She said the government will take an active role in the appointment of a new PG and announced plans to open a Bureau for the fight against corruption and the reform of justice, attached to her office.
Meanwhile, the government commission for the appointment of two Constitutional Judges selected not two, but four candidates, because they all got similar scores: Liuba Șova, Eduard Serbenco, Vladimir Grosu and Nicolae Roșca. On this occasion, Minister of Justice Olesea Stamate finally returned from her holiday and attended the interviewing of candidates. The Cabinet will choose by Wednesday its final two picks for the Constitutional Court.
PAS MP Sergiu Litnivenco registered two bills, one trimming the Council of the Audiovisual from 9 to 7 members, the other reducing the Council of Competition from 5 to 3 members. The bills also stipulate the dismissal of current members and improved procedures for the appointment of new ones.
Breaking the schemes
The new government stepped up its efforts to dismantle the schemes of the previous one. Prime Minister Maia Sandu demanded the creation of a commission to investigate the monopolization of walnut exports, allegedly established by ex-PM Pavel Filip.
Sandu’s party colleague, MP Dan Perciun (ACUM/PAS) asked the Council of Competition to investigate the public procurement of IT services in previous years. He invoked a letter from the National Anticorruption Center to Pavel Filip, which warned the former PM that a single company, BASS Systems, won 55% of the public tenders, despite providing multiple IT systems and solutions that didn’t work.
The prosecutors searched the premises of the Moldovan Post and the Customs Service, looking for evidence of anabolics, tobacco, alcohol and amber smuggling. The investigation was triggered by public accusations made by Sorin Stati, former head of the Moldovan Civil Aviation Authority.
Minister of economy Vadim Brînzan denounced Chișinău Arena as a scheme to appropriate public lands. He claims that the Arena will need to sell 5,000 100-lei tickets every day in order to meet the government’s financial commitments to the Turkish contractor. In the worst case scenario, the state could lose both the arena and the 59 additional hectares pledged as security. The minister says the government will try to renegotiate the contract.
Vadim Brînzan also promised that the Ministry would hire an international recruiting agency in order to find foreign professionals and put them in charge of Moldova’s struggling state-owned companies, such as Cricova, Mileștii Mici, Moldexpo, Metalferos, Moldtelecom and others.
Trouble in paradise
The honeymoon seems to be over for the ACUM-PSRM alliance and its members have begun clashing in public. MP Octavian Țîcu (ACUM/PPDA) spoke out against the political partitioning of non-political offices and accused PSRM of representing Russia’s interests. His ACUM bloc colleague, MP Mihai Popșoi (ACUM/PAS) suggested Țîcu should run for mayor of Ungheni, but the latter insisted he would not give up his seat in the Parliament.
In response, the head of the PSRM group in the Parliament, Vlad Batrîncea, demanded ACUM to sort out its internal issues so that the Socialists could know on how many votes they can count from their partners. He also requested the signing of a non-aggression pact before the local elections. His worries were echoed by President Igor Dodon, who demanded more solidarity and praised the Socialists for their disciplined unanimous voting.
PAS MP Dumitru Alaiba however told his Socialist allies that different opinions and debates are a good sign in any democracy. His party boss, PM Maia Sandu, issued a more strong-worded message, calling on her ACUM colleagues not to confuse “empty words with freedom of expression”, warning the Socialists „not to look for pretexts to complicate an already difficult situation” and asking the voters to keep their faith in her government.
IMF’s requested fiscal measures such as canceling the reduced VAT tax on HoReCa or taxing meal vouchers also drew criticism from the President. His councilor, ex-minister of finance Ion Chicu, said that IMF’s orders and ultimata are not appropriate and suggested the agreement should be renegotiated. Sandu’s Cabinet however voted in favor of these measures anyway. It remains to be seen if the Socialists MPs will endorse them or not.
With love, from Russia
An attack against President Dodon and his Socialists came from fringe non-parliamentary Party of National Unity (PUN). Its leader, Anatol Șalaru, has formally asked the acting Prosecutor General to bring criminal charges against Igor Dodon for taking Russian money. The claims are based on footage leaked by the Democrats after failed negotiations with the Socialists regarding a government coalition. The footage shows Igor Dodon telling Vlad Plahotniuc that the Socialists receive monthly subsidies from Moscow. The President later claimed the leaked fragments were taken out of context.
Șalaru and his party have had a long beef with President Dodon. PUN was co-founded by former Romanian President Traian Băsescu, but Igor Dodon swiftly ended Băsescu's political career in Moldova by withdrawing his Moldovan citizenship.