Moldova Weekly #18: Knaveheart, Aviation Nation, the Supreme Leader
Former prime minister Vlad Filat got out of jail. While the exact calculations and number of days are under debate, what happened is this: Filat’s 9 year sentence was reduced by 1 year and 9 months because of an ECHR ruling on bad detention conditions. Given that the politician had already spent over 4 years in jail, he applied for parole on grounds that he had already served ⅔ of his sentence. Filat says he won’t go back into politics, except maybe as a “consultant”. He also insists on his innocence and doesn’t see himself guilty of wrongdoing. Filat had been jailed on corruption charges thanks to a self-denunciation by Ilan Șor. The latter however remained free, became a mayor, then an MP and fled abroad after PSRM and ACUM announced their short-lived alliance. Meanwhile, Filat is under investigation in a second case regarding money-laundering charges.
President Igor Dodon and former prime minister Maia Sandu accused each other of freeing Filat. Current minister of justice Fadei Nagacevschi blames his predecessor Olesea Stamate and demanded the prison administration to appeal its own decision in court. The new acting warden did exactly that, even though he was part of the commission that voted to release Filat. The latter says his release is perfectly legal and free of political influence.
Prime Minister Ion Chicu echoed President Dodon’s plans to open two more international airports in Moldova – one in the north, another in the south. To his credit, the head of the government intends to commission a feasibility study first. The official motivation seems to be that having only one airport creates a situation of monopoly, but having more will create competition, attract new low-cost companies and help decrease prices. Some pro-Romanian groups have warned that the planned airport in Ceadîr-Lungă might actually end up being a Russian military airport, but the rumors were dismissed by authorities as fearmongering.
As regards the existing airport, the president promised to get it back under state administration. Nat Rothschild bought the lease on the airport from Ilan Șor this summer, despite the government’s previously announced plans to cancel the lease altogether. The government did sue Rothschild’s company, but the process stalled. Igor Dodon has suggested Maia Sandu and former economy minister Vadim Brânzan had a secret deal with the famous banker.
The Supreme Leader
President Dodon summoned the Supreme Security Council on Wednesday. He announced afterwards that the energy situation is under control and Moldova would not remain without gas or electricity this winter. Dodon also said authorities are considering hiring an international company to find the money stolen in the so-called theft of the century. Meanwhile, several suspects have been announced wanted and Vlad Plahotniuc is one of them. Dodon admitted that Interpol is yet to include the former PDM leader on its international wanted list. Earlier this week, the president told a Russian news agency that Plahotniuc was sheltered in the US by people who wanted to use him for anti-Russian provocations and to control the Democratic Party. However, Dodon lent credence to the Democrats’ insistence that they fully rid themselves of their former boss’ influence.
Finally, the head of the state also spoke about illegal wiretaps and surveillance. Dodon demanded a report on all the phones numbers wiretapped over the last five years to be presented to him in two weeks. Afterwards, he promised to deliver quarterly reports on how he will personally make order in this area.
What wasn’t discussed at the Security Council is ACUM/PAS MP Dumitru Alaiba’s request to fully abolish the citizenship-for-investment law, which allows foreigners to directly buy Moldovan citizenship and with it free travel rights in the EU. The law was canceled in the first reading and the program was put on hold. The fate of the law became uncertain after the breakdown of the PSRM-ACUM alliance. The Democrats are those who passed the law in the first place, so it seems unlikely they would vote to cancel it.
God save the Judiciary
A group of judges from Ciocana branch of the Chișinău Court complain in a letter leaked to Ziarul de Gardă that anticorruption prosecutors are threatening them with criminal investigations if they don’t take the “right” decisions. The High Council of the Judiciary (CSM) was to discuss these accusations, only it didn’t have a quorum as justice minister Fadei Nagacevschi still cannot find time to attend the Council meetings. Former minister Olesea Stamate says Nagacevschi is blocking the Council’s work in order to protect Supreme Justice Court judge Oleg Sternioală, as prosecutors need CSM’s approval to investigate Sternioală in a money-laundering case. Sternioală actually quit his job this week but only kind of. Judges submit their resignations to the CSM, but Sternioală sent it to the Parliament, so ACUM/PAS MP Sergiu Litvinenco says the judge may actually be planning to keep his job.
For its part, the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office (PA) confirms it has started several investigations against judges from the Ciocana court regarding illegal decisions and false statements. The investigations are related to major cases such as Air Moldova and the illegal wiretaps. Sternioală’s case is one of them. The PA claims it’s only doing its job and that the judges are trying to avoid responsibility for their wrongdoings.
Even though he doesn’t have time for CSM, Fadei Nagacevschi asked acting CSM chairman Dorel Musteață to visit him at the ministry. Musteață declined the invitation, which he sees as potential political meddling in the affairs of the judiciary and called for talks with the president, the speaker and the prime minister in order to unblock the work of the judiciary.
In response to Fadei Nagacevschi’s actions as minister, ACUM MPs have put forward a motion of no confidence against him. They say the minister is intentionally sabotaging the CSM work and the reform of the judiciary. Nagacevschi says he is ready to explain himself to the Parliament at any time.
Meanwhile, ACUM’s previous no confidence motion against defense minister Victor Gaiciuc wasn’t even included on the Parliament’s agenda by the Permanent Bureau, where the Socialists and Democrats have a majority. The motion was based on older footage in which Gaiciuc praises the Donbass separatists’ spirit and resistance against Ukrainian forces. Even though the footage is pretty clear, the minister says his statements were taken out of context and misinterpreted.
The Daft Draft
The Parliament has passed the tax and budgetary plans for 2020 in the first reading. Ion Chicu’s government will maintain some of the policies he put forward last year as finance minister in Pavel Filip’s Cabinet, such as the 12% income tax for natural persons. Despite a deficit of 7.4 billion lei, the draft budget isn’t as generous on social expenditures (like increasing pensions) as previously advocated by President Dodon.
However, one of the most controversial points is the idea to require foreign tech companies, GAFA and their like, to register as VAT payers in Moldova. The proposal was ridiculed by ACUM MPs, who fear that this will increase prices and reduce access to quality digital services for Moldovan consumers.
Another contested point is the $500 million loan promised by Moscow. The deal is still being negotiated and both the president and the prime minister promised the loan would be taken out only if the conditions are advantageous (an interest of no more than 1.5%). Despite this, the money was included in the budget bill.
PAS leader Maia Sandu recognized that the relationship between her party and their ACUM bloc colleagues from PDA have soured a little of late. One of the reasons, she says, is that PDA district councillors have chosen to create majorities with Socialists and Democrats in several districts, depriving PAS of several district chairman seats.
On the bright side, the former prime minister’s relations in Bucharest are excellent, as she met with Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban this week. As expected, they talked about the long-awaited pipe that will bring gas from Romania directly to Chișinău, building a bridge over the Prut in Ungheni and Romanian help for local authorities in Moldova.
The central authorities at the moment are not well-liked in Bucharest. Moldovan foreign minister Aurel Ciocoi didn’t even manage to get a picture with his Romanian counterpart Bogdan Aurescu at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Bratislava. Moreover, the press release from Bucharest praised Maia Sandu’s time in office, described the change of power in Chișinău as contrary to the interests of Moldova and its people, and warned that Romanian aid and assistance would be ”reoriented”, that is to say reduced, and strictly conditioned on the progress of reforms.