Moldova in brief, week #21, April 20-26.

Black plastic monday

The week’s best picture prize goes to the footage showing president Igor Dodon accepting a black plastic bag from the infamous Vlad Plahotniuc. While nobody in the video says in so many words what’s in the bag, the context suggests that it’s money for salaries and that this is not the first one to be received. The video is similar to one released earlier, that featured Dodon seemingly admitting that he receives monthly stipends from Moscow to finance PSRM and that he wouldn’t mind receiving a little something from the oligarch as well. The first hidden camera footage was leaked by Plahotniuc as revenge for PSRM’s pulling out of a negotiations regarding a coalition with PDM. In relation to that first video, the prosecutors, after some hesitation, accepted the president’s explanation that it was only a bluff on his side.

This time the video was made public by the PDA MP Iurie Reniță, who had also targeted the Socialists on their Bahamas financing. He says he has found the plastic bag video on a USB stick left in his mail and he does not know who sent it. The prosecutor’s office said it will not use its ex oficio powers to start an investigation but wait for an official criminal complaint from Reniță. The complaint was finally submitted by the PDA leader Andrei Năstase.

Dodon joked about the video and claimed that the meeting with Plahotniuc was but a ”sketch”. He also explained that the video’s soundtrack had been messed with. To show that the images are true to life the following day Reniță published another video showing the same situation from a different angle.

In the parliament, Socialist MP Vasile Bolea said he will submit a libel complaint on Reniță to the prosecutors in relation to the Bahamas case, while PDA asked for a parliamentary investigation on the plastic bag. This will require at least 51 votes.

Lame coalition

Also on Monday, PDM’s parliamentary faction lost two other MPs who joined splinter group Pro Moldova, leaving the government coalition with a meagre majority of 52. The new turncoats are Vasile Bîtcă and Ghenadie Verdeș, both from Nisporeni, the home district of Plahotniuc. PDM chair Pavel Filip wished the two ”good luck in the billions thieves team!”

The coalition became even shakier on Friday, after PDM had to dissociate itself from PM Chicu’s online rant against Romania (see below). Late in the evening, the party issued a press release requesting that the Coalition Council is immediately summoned so that the prime minister explains himself.

Luckily for the PM, the Cabinet is temporarily safe from the MPs’ threats, after PDM MP Eugeniu Nichiforciuc tested positive for Covid, sending the entire Parliament into a two-week quarantine. Deputy speaker Alexandru Slusari (PDA) speculated that Nichiforciuc has intentionally come to the parliament meeting, despite suspicions that he may have been infected, so as to buy the coalition some time in this political Jenga game. In turn, PAS MP Sergiu Litvinenco proposed that the Parliament meetings continue online, not to take down Chicu’s government, but to work on releasing a €30 million assistance installment from the EU.

Given the entire context, socialist MPs asked the Constitutional Court wether it is possible to hold early parliamentary elections the same day as the presidential ones - on November 1.

Mad Ion: Fury Post

Prime Minister Chicu became the star of Moldovan Facebook on Friday. First he posted a short manifesto arguing about the need to return to a pre-2003 territorial-administrative system, to carry out a ‘revolution’ in the judiciary, to reform education, apparently by also closing some universities, to invest in infrastructure and to develop processing industries. The end goal, wrote Chicu, would be to unite with the European Union (contrary to his geopolitically neutral government program). Some journalists pointed out that this small FB essay bore a striking resemblance to former PM Chiril Gaburici’s speech one week before he was dismissed in 2015.

Despite all his love for the EU, Chicu was unable to tolerate the criticism received from MEP Siegried Mureșan, who, as chair of the Delegation to the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee, said the Moldovan government failed to implement reforms and to manage the Covid-19 crisis. PM Chicu was furious and labeled Mureșan a brat and a loser. The prime minister went on to criticize the high level of corruption in Romania and Bucharest’s own management of the coronavirus crisis.

In response to Ion Chicu’s social media outburst, the Moldovan ambassador in Bucharest was summoned to the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which then issued a communique describing Chicu’s „derogatory statements” as „completely unacceptable”.

VIciously relaxed

Prime Minister Chicu announced on Monday that most of the health-realted restrictions will be lifted starting June 1. The authorities will monitor the situation to potentially relax some of the measures that are planned to be in force till June 30. The reasons for this are rather economic, than healthcare-related, given the increasing dissatisfaction of HoReCa businesses and retailers from the Chișinău and Bălți markets. Meanwhile, minibuses are back on the streets of Chișinău (not exactly the most sanitary place to be in a pandemic), their drivers pledging to have no more than three standing passengers at a time. Other trasporters are rallying for the right to get back in business.

As regards the pandemic, last week it was already clear that the so-called infection curve fails to flatten and the opposition accused the government of bad management. Last week the number of infections has risen by 18% compared to the previous one. President Dodon kept up his anti-exemplary conduct, by choosing not to wear a mask or observe social distancing. In response to this naughty behaviour, MP Litvinenco demanded that the Ministry of Internal Affairs issue a fine.

On the other hand, the head of the National Public Health Agency Nicolae Furtună found it necessary to shame ordinary people: ”the citizens indulged themselves [...] with barbecues, as we’ve seen with the 9th of May bustle.” He also admits that the real number of the infected is obviously higher than the official figure (6704 as of Friday evening), observing that ”given the rising trend, softening the rules is vicious.” Back in April, the authorities decreed to postpone the Memorial Easter for the first weekend of June, but Furtună says he will advise against it, seeing this holiday as a serious danger, because people from all over the country will get together in cemeteries: „I’ll be straight with you - I am afraid.”

The synod of conspiracies

The Moldovan Metropolitan Church officially joined the coronavirus conspiracy bandwagon. First, the bishop of Bălți and Fălești Markel urged Christians to not get vaccinated against Covid-19 because vaccines were a means to introduce nanochips in people and control them via 5G. Instead of dissociating itself from the bishop’s wild claims, the Church issued a similar statement, calling Bill Gates responsible for this conspiracy of the ”global Antichristic system”. To make things worse, a new poll this week showed that over a third of all Moldovans believe such falsehoods to be true - that the coronavirus was created by Bill Gates or in a Chinese lab, that it’s meant to put nanochips in people or to help a shadowy global government take over the world.

The Church also sent a public letter to Prime Minister Chicu, asking him to stop criticizing the Church and to remove coronavirus-related restrictions against religious services. Otherwise, the priests say they won’t pray for the salvation of Chicu’s soul anymore. The prime minister answered that such conspiracies would not hold in a more educated society. The chief public health doctor Nicolae Furtună didn’t bother to debunk the Church’s claims and merely labeled them as „nonsense and idiocy”, adding that „psychiatry does not even have a profile for such things”.

Always thinking about the churchgoers’ votes, president Dodon was more conciliatory and said everyone should decide for themselves whether to get a vaccine or not. He said he would inoculate himself and his family when a Covid-19 vaccine is ready. However, he also encouraged people to ignore the regulations meant to protect them and to attend religious services: ”let’s not forget about the church, let’s go to the church, despite the pandemic, despite everything, to pray and I think we will overcome all problems”.

Ombudsman Mihail Cotorobai issued a press release reminding the Church that the coronavirus-related restrictions are meant to safeguard the lives and health of all people, including believers, and urged it to revoke its statement and „to refrain from messages that could harm public health, civic peace and human rights”.

Stoianoglo’s mandate

Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianglo made two big announcements this week regarding the investigation into the bank fraud. First, he said Vlad Plahotniuc was one of the main beneficiaries and received over $100 million via Ilan Șor’s companies. Plahotniuc was formally charged with organizing a criminal group, money laundering and fraud in large proportions. The judges then issued a second arrest warrant against Plahotniuc. PG Stoianoglo says the documents will be translated and sent to the US to get them to extradite the fugitive oligarch.

The chief prosecutor’s second announcement was that the file against jailed banker Veaceslav Platon had been wholly fabricated. Stoianoglo says the prosecutors will demand a review of the sentences against Platon and the re-examination of his file.

The Prosecutor General’s Office has also been on the other side of the looking glass this week. The Constitutional Court looked into the amendments made last fall by the Socialists and the now-defunct ACUM bloc to the procedure of appointment of the prosecutor general and of the interim PG. The judges declared them unconstitutional because they undermine the role of the Superior Council of Prosecutors, a role that is established in the Constitution itself. CC chairwoman Domnica Manole stated however that this ruling doesn’t affect PG Stoianoglo’s current mandate.

Meanwhile, an initiative group was formed to demand the reform of the Constitutional Court. Some of the members are former CC judges themselves, such as Dumitru Pulbere or Victor Pușcaș. They quote controversial decisions of the Court in its previous memberships as proof that the CC needs to be reformed. Why they didn’t act when those decisions were being made is anyone’s guess.

The insolvable airport

On Monday, PM Chicu announced the government would begin insolvency procedures against Avia Invest. According to him, the company was defaulting and its accounts were blocked. On these grounds, authorities plan to wrestle back control over the Chișinău Airport.

Nevertheless, Avia Invest representatives said the company actually had enough money, but it could not access them because the government had blocked its accounts. They complained of a hostile takeover orchestrated by President Dodon. According to company representatives, the judge who would examine the case is related to Socialist MP Adrian Lebedinschi, while the administrator of the insolvency procedure was related to Justice Minister Fadei Nagacevschi. Komaksavia Airport Invest, Avia Invest’s parent company, lodged a complaint at the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.

On Wednesday, Avia Invest said it paid off all its debts to the Civil Aviation Authority and, consequently, that the insolvency procedure should be ended.

More news, in one sentence

◾ In addition to the €30 mln installment from the current macro-financial assistance package from the EU, the Moldovan government received this week official confirmation of a new €100 mln MAF package.

◾ The Parliament decided that public employees who caught the coronavirus at their workplace will continue to receive one-time payments of 16,000 lei, while employees in the first line of the fight against Covid-19 will receive salary bonuses.

◾ The Chișinău City Council voted in favor of PSRM councilor Dinari Cojocari’s proposal to raise 20% higher taxes from supermarkets, whose sales grew to the detriment of smaller shops and open-air markets during the pandemic.

◾ The Cahul Court of Appeal postponed the trial of Ilan Șor once again, while MP Marina Tauber led a small protest outside, even though she should have been in self-isolation after fellow MP Nichiforciuc tested positive for coronavirus.

◾ To temper the veterans’ protest zeal, PM Chicu promised to create a Bureau of Veterans to deal with their needs.

◾ According to a Watchdog/CBS poll, 14.3% of respondents would re-elect Igor Dodon as president, 11.8% would vote for Maia Sandu, 57.5% were undecided or could not answer and the vast majority (80%) could not name a single politician they actually trust.