Moldova Weekly #19: Stoianoglo the unbeliever, nebulous gas, the balance of justice...
Stoianoglo the unbeliever
One of the first steps of the new Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo has been to temporarily suspend from office chief anticorruption prosecutor Viorel Morari and acting chief prosecutor for special cases Dorin Compan. Stoianoglo sent other prosecutors to verify their work. Morari has recently been in the spotlight after reopening the investigation into the alleged foreign funding of the Socialists. His anticorruption prosecutors had been pretty active in the last few months and even opened investigations against high profile judges accused of corruption. While some see Morari as a victim, others say his recent activity is all smoke and mirrors to shield him from responsibility for his shady work under the Democratic government.
Citing his mistrust of Morari and other prosecutors who investigated the “theft of the century”, Alexandr Stoianoglo’s office asked for more time to prepare a report regarding the bank fraud. He caused quite a stir by being dismissive of the Kroll reports, claiming they contained no concrete evidence and no list of beneficiaries of the fraud. ACUM/PDA MP Alexandru Slusari, former head of the parliamentary investigation into the theft, says Stoianoglo either didn’t read the classified parts of the reports or was lying. Some months ago, Slusari told reporters that the second Kroll report identified Vlad Plahotniuc as one of the beneficiaries, alongside fugitive oligarch Ilan Șor, former prime minister Vlad Filat, who recently got out of prison, and jailed banker Veaceslav Platon.
If Moscow and Kiev do not reach an agreement regarding the transit of Russian gas via Ukraine, Moldova will get gas and electricity from the Ukrainians. At least that’s what Prime Minister Ion Chicu announced this week. Moldovagaz also informs that by December 20 it will complete works connecting Moldova to a Ukrainian gas main that will allow Chișinău to buy gas via the Trans-Balkan pipe system.
Energy specialist Sergiu Tofilat fears that Moscow might try to use Moldova in order to pressure Ukraine into accepting Gazprom’s new terms. Janez Kopac, director of the Energy Community Secretariat, also warned that Moldova is the most vulnerable country in case Kiev and Moscow don’t reach a deal.
The Chicu Cabinet has already secured an EBRD loan of $50 million to help Moldova buy gas via alternative routes, which experts say may be more expensive than the traditional route. ACUM leaders Maia Sandu and Andrei Năstase complained about the government’s lack of transparency, accusing PM Ion Chicu of keeping everyone in the dark about the gas situation.
Former Communist MPs Mark Tkaciuc, Iurie Muntean, Zurab Todua and Mihail Poleanschi, among others, have announced the creation of the Civic Congress Joint Action Party. The new organization says it will preach a message of civic unity regardless of political leanings, but given its leaders’ past it’s fair to expect a left-wing program. Some media have already labeled them as Eurocommunists.
At the other end of the political spectrum, some of the parties advocating Moldova’s reunification with Romania might do a bit of unification amongst themselves. Valeriu Munteanu, head of the Save Basarabia Union, declared his party was negotiating with the Liberals and Liberal-Democrats to join their efforts, maybe even merge. Meanwhile, ACUM defector Octavian Țîcu was elected chairman of the National Unity Party, another pro-Romanian faction.
Drop it like it’s hot
The National Bank has decreased the interest rate from 7.5% to 5.5% and reduced the reserve requirement for Moldovan lei. Governor Octavian Armașu says the measures will stimulate lending activity and boost the competitiveness of national economy. He also expects a lower inflation rate next year. Former economy minister Vadim Brînzan however thinks the real reason behind the National Bank’s measures is to fund loans for Prime Minister Chicu’s “populist programs”.
The Chicu Cabinet has also been actively looking for foreign loans since it came to power. After the EBRD loan for gas and the negotiations with Russia for a $500 million credit, Belarus also entered the frame. Its ambassador to Chișinău, Sergey Chichuk, told Moldovan Finance Minister Serghei Pușcuța that Minsk is willing to provide some loans for road construction.
No country for old contests
The government decided that the directors of seven public institutions, including the Public Services Agency and the Social Investments Fund, will be appointed directly by the State Chancellery and not via competitive selection. The opposition accused the government of trying to appoint politically obedient people instead of proper professionals to these positions.
Authorities also announced that in 2020 the staff of the Agency for Recovering Criminal Goods (ARBI) will be doubled, from 17 to 35 employees. The Agency could be crucial in recovering some of the money from the bank fraud, but so far it has been understaffed and with limited legal powers.
The balance of justice
Justice Minister Fadei Nagacevschi finally attended the meeting of the High Council of Judges (CSM), allowing the body to have a quorum and greenlight the corruption investigation against Supreme Justice Court Oleg Sternioală. CSM accepted the resignation of Sternioală and his colleague Ion Druță, also under investigation by anticorruption prosecutors.
Meanwhile, PDA activist Gheorghe Petic says he found out another investigation has been opened against him. Petic was previously sentenced to jail for rape, freed and then charged again. His supporters claim he is innocent and a victim of political persecution. Another activist, Andrei Donică, recently elected mayor of a Chișinău suburban village, will go to trial again for throwing a bucket of milk in 2016 at Octavian Armașu, at the time minister of finance. The Court of Appeal decided Donică’s action was not a criminal offence, but the prosecutors seem determined to have him punished on criminal charges and nothing less.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Justice canceled the three and a half years sentence against former minister of transportation Iurie Chirinciuc. The judges reverted the ruling to an earlier sentence of 16 months suspended. This is despite the fact that Chirinciuc, a fugitive from justice, didn’t even attend the trial and remains wanted.
Postfactum from Venice
The Venice Commission issued a brief on the September amendments to the Law on the Prosecution Service, which provided an extraordinary and external vetting mechanism for prosecutors, as well a pre-selection committee for the appointment of the Prosecutor General. The Commission says such a mechanism doesn’t infringe on the High Council of Prosecutors’ constitutional competences. Maia Sandu’s Cabinet was removed from power after trying to bypass the Parliament and adopt a mechanism that would have allowed the Prime Minister to pre-select the Prosecutor General. ACUM MPs and former justice minister Olesea Stamate claim that the Venice Commission’s brief proves Maia Sandu did everything right and the no confidence vote against her was unsubstantiated. However, it is a matter of debate whether pre-selection by a public committee and pre-selection by the prime minister are really not that different.