Moldova Weekly #10: Band of the Sheriff, finding Plahotniuc, this will be a pipe
The Voice of Justice Association admitted that last week’s attempted General Assembly of Judges didn’t have quorum and asked the High Council of Judges (CSM) to summon a new assembly. Instead of dismissing all CSM members in one shot, the association wants each member to present an activity report in front of the assembly, which would then decide whether that member stays in CSM or is dismissed.
CRJM, a justice-specialized NGO, published an analysis showing that Moldova has fewer judges and more prosecutors per capita than Council of Europe countries. The justice budget is high in relative terms (1.5% of the public budget, compared to 0.9% in CoE countries), but meager in absolute terms (3.5 times less than the CoE average). The number of lawyers per capita is 2.3 times lower than in CoE members, probably because people cannot afford them. A final sentence in Moldova is reached on average in less than half of the time it takes in CoE countries. Study authors themselves summarized the situation this way: ”With few judges and many prosecutors, in the Republic of Moldova justice is done with impressive speed and questionable quality”.
Band of the Sheriff
The previous government started negotiations to give Interdnestrkom (IDK), a company from Transnstria’s Sheriff group, owned by Victor Gușan, a license to operate in the rest of Moldova. The telecommunications company would receive some frequencies currently used by Orange and Moldcell, which are obviously not happy about it and will want compensation for their investments and missed revenue. Experts warn that this measure would strengthen IDK’s monopoly in the separatist region, giving it privileged access to the right bank of the Nistru, and that the government would also lose tax money.
The measure is part of the Berlin plus package, which was discussed this week at the new round of 5+2 negotiations in Bratislava, where a grand total of zero documents were signed. Vasili Șova, Moldova’s head negotiator and one of President Dodon’s men, insists that talks should advance on all fronts simultaneously, including the political resolution of the conflict. PM Sandu’s foreign policy advisor Vladislav Kulminski however thinks the Bratislava process cannot yield anything but some technical results and nothing ”global”. He told Radio Free Europe that the Transnistrian issue is yet to be properly discussed within the ruling coalition.
More than one year since Andrei Năstase won the mayoral elections in Chișinău, the Court of Appeal finally validated his mandate. Given that he is running in the current elections, Năstase won’t be able to take the mayoral seat just yet. Năstase rejoiced, but his coalition partner Prime Minister Maia Sandu was more reserved and questioned the timing and motivation of this decision. She suggested this might be another instance when judges who served the previous regime are simply trying to jump ship.
Former acting mayor Ruslan Codreanu thought he finally won when the Court of Appeals overturned the Central Electoral Commission’s decision to not register him as an independent candidate. Nonetheless, by the end of the week the Supreme Justice Court ruled that CEC’s refusal was legal and motivated, meaning Codreanu won’t get to run after all. He suggested the judges eliminated him from the race at the request of the ruling coalition.
Meanwhile, PL and USB asked CEC to remove Socialist candidate Ion Ceban from the race. Both parties echoed Grigore Petrenco’s accusations, who showed last week that the Socialists didn’t declare all of their expenses in the financial report to CEC. Curiously enough, they forgot about Petrenco similar accusations against ACUM. Ceban defended himself by saying that his party was paying for all the billboard in installments. Judges did oblige Ceban to remove its billboards and Andrei Năstase to withdraw its leaflets on grounds that they used the image of historical ruler Stephen the Great, which is not allowed. The government’s secretary general Andrei Spînu also promised authorities would monitor electoral finances more strictly.
The polls this week are showing no changes, with Ion Ceban and Andrei Năstase way ahead of the rest of the pack, the former with a moderate advantage over the latter.
This will be a pipe
Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu met with his Romanian counterpart Ramona Mănescu and they announced the Iași-Ungheni-Chișinău gas pipe would be functional in the spring of 2020. The pipe plans date back to 2010, when Vlad Filat was still a young and promising politician. Since then, numerous deadlines have been announced and none have been met. The pipe is meant to reduce Moldova’s dependence on Russian gas, by allowing it to import from Romania and the EU. Despite the new 2020 promises, an analysis by Expert-Grup estimates a realistic completion date in 2021-2022. Popescu and Mănescu also agreed on a further roadmap that includes joint infrastructure projects, environmental protection, energy connections and the cancellation of roaming fees.
Anticorruption prosecutors are now investigating Vlad Plahotniuc in two separate cases of money laundering, one of them related to the famous bank fraud. The sums in question, €3.5 million and $18 million, are somewhat disappointing given Alexandru Slusari’s previous accusations that Plahotniuc was the number one beneficiary of the bank fraud.
Plahotniuc fled the country after the change of government and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Should he be found, chief anticorruption prosecutor Viorel Morari assures Plahotniuc’s prosecution will not be influenced by politics or public opinion. Judges have issued an arrest warrant against the politician.
Mihai Popșoi (ACUM/PAS), chairman of the parliamentary committee investigating the attempted PDM coup, said Plahotniuc had left the country via Transnistria, with the help of party colleague Vladimir Andronachi. Popșoi also regrets that other PDM members didn’t answer the committee’s summoning for hearings.
Former Minister of the Interior Alexandru Jizdan blamed the recent spate of traffic accidents on the new government’s firing of numerous experienced police officers. PM Maia Sandu hit back saying that cleansing the system was necessary because the PDM government politicized the police, using the officers in the interest of the party.
Authorities announced a six point plan to improve traffic safety: harsher punishments for speeding and seizing the cars of drunk drivers, improved audit procedures for the construction of roads, a hotline for reporting drunk driving, special police operations to prevent accidents, road safety classes in schools and controls at companies that provide technical examination services.
Kind of ok
The preliminary opinion of the Venice Commission on the reform of the judiciary and of the prosecution services in Moldova is mixed. On one hand, the Commission admits that the situation is bad enough to require extraordinary measures, including the external vetting of judges. On the other hand, the Commission is skeptical about combining the vetting process with the reformation of the Supreme Justice Court into a new high court of cassation. Another recommendation is that promotions, transfers and sacking of judges be done through the High Council of Judges. Justice Minister Olesea Stamate promised that the final draft of the law will take into consideration these recommendations and an updated draft would be submitted to the Commission before the meeting to adopt the final opinion.