Moldova Weekly #21: a carousel of oligarchs, big brother Igor, the incovenient convention
A carousel of oligarchs
Four months ago, Nat Rothschild bought the lease on the Chișinău International Airport from fugitive oligarch Ilan Șor via an offshore company, despite the government’s warnings that it intended to cancel the lease. This week, it came to light that Rothschild passed on the lease to a Russian oligarch Andrey Goncharenko. PAS and PDA immediately accused President Dodon of giving the airport to the Russians. Igor Dodon replied that Goncharenko was actually an associate of Plahotniuc and Șor and that he had got the airport thanks to some scheme hatched by PAS and PDA in cahoots with the Democrats. In response, PAS MP Sergiu Litvinenco published a document that proves the Sandu Cabinet had actually sued the lease holder Avia Invest. Litvinenco then blamed Igor Dodon for putting the brakes on the process via his obedient judiciary. PDA MPs want to call an extraordinary meeting of the Parliament, which is on holiday, but don’t have enough votes.
TV8 revealed that Goncharenko had applied for Moldovan citizenship in exchange for investments back in June. RISE Moldova dug deeper and showed that the oligarch and his wife had also applied for Cypriote citizenship last year. RISE then shows that Goncharenko might indeed have business links to Vlad Plahotniuc via some offshore transactions.
The businessman himself promised investments of over $200 million, pledging to build the largest passenger terminal in Eastern Europe and increase the passenger flow to 5 million per year.
Big Brother Igor
While repeating his accusations that former Prime Minister Maia Sandu and Economy Minister Vadim Brînzan had struck a deal with Rothschild, President Dodon said the Security and Intelligence Service had told him all about Sandu and Brînzan’s meeting with the banker. The president seemed to suggest that he had the head of the government and the minister of economy put under surveillance by SIS. This would be illegal, as SIS can only do such surveillance as part of a criminal investigation and only with a judge’s authorization. The intelligence service immediately denied the information, but avoided contradicting the president directly. Instead, SIS issued a press release saying it “firmly rejects the information that has appeared in the public space” and urging the mass media not to speculate on the subject. No mention of the president.
The EU is withholding the latest installment of macro-financial assistance, Romania said they won’t fund the new government in Chișinău, but Prime Minister Chicu needs money to “transform the country into a construction site”. So President Dodon came to the rescue: he wants to take $1-1.5 billion out of the National Bank’s cash reserves and “put” them into the economy.
Several experts and National Bank governor Octavian Armașu spoke out against the measure. They warn it would destabilize the national currency, reduce Moldova’s borrowing capacity and affect the National Bank’s ability to keep inflation under control. Moreover, says Armașu, the whole thing would be illegal. President Dodon later backtracked a bit and explained he had only asked for some information regarding the national cash reserves. However, Dodon suggested he might organize a consultative referendum to see what the people think about his proposal.
He also announced an agreement regarding the $300 million Russian loan would be finalized in January. Dodon promised the loan conditions would be similar to those provided by Western partners.
... and more presidential news
After installing a loyal Cabinet, President Dodon is seemingly everywhere. Beside the abovementioned news, he spoke again about the fate of the National Stadium, where the US wants to build its new embassy. Dodon claims he offered them four alternative locations and warned he could push for a referendum on the issue.
The president also spoke about the structure of the government: he wants some ministries to be split and this will inevitably lead to some reshuffling among the ministers. Dodon expects this to happen next spring.
He also proposed a date for next year’s presidential elections: November 8, when it’s still “not too cold”.
On Sunday, President Dodon, Prime Minister Chicu, Gagauz governor Irina Vlah and other officials traveled to Turkey at the invitation of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with whom Dodon is in very good relations.
Viorel Morari, the suspended chief of the anticorruption prosecution service (PA), failed to get his suspension canceled in court. The judges also refused to stop the investigation into PA affairs initiated by Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo. The latter announced that the special inspection has been extended until January 10 and promised the public would hear “very interesting things”.
The bad news for Morari don’t end here. Nicolae Chitoroagă, former head of the organized crime and special cases prosecution service (PCCOCS), challenged in court Morari’s reappointment as head of PA last summer. Chitoroagă himself is the subject of an investigation started by Morari’s PA. Last week, PG Stoianoglo said that PA and PCCOCS had been led by warring clans and cited this as the reason for the special probe into their affairs.
There are also rumors that President Dodon had a secret meeting with some prosecutors and Morari is allegedly one of them. During a talk show, Morari refused to say yes or no, but his wording hinted that the meeting had indeed happened.
The inconvenient convention
Moldova had signed the Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women, but had not ratified it. The Sandu Cabinet promised to solve this, but it was dismissed. The Chicu Cabinet had also included the Istanbul Convention on its agenda, but then removed it without any explanation. This week, the ministers finally approved the ratification of the Convention.
Some conservatives, such as Baptist community leader and former deputy speaker Valeriu Ghilețchi, have mobilized against the Convention. They say it contradicts Christian values, redefines notions such as gender and family, promotes abortion, gay rights, and is altogether useless because existing law are good enough. We asked activist Alina Andronache to tell us how much of it is true and you can find her explanation here: All you need to know about the Istanbul Convention and why Moldova delays its ratification
Need for gas
Russia and Ukraine have struck a deal and Moldova will continue to get its natural gas via the traditional route. However, after months of uncertainty, the government will remain in a state of “early alert”, so it can swiftly activate alternative routes in case things between Kiev and Moscow go sour again.
Another consequence of the new deal is that the amount of Russian gas transiting Moldova towards Europe will be reduced dramatically. This means income from transit fees will drop accordingly and won’t cover the network maintenance expenses. The regulatory body approved Moldovatransgaz’s request to increase gas transportation fees eightfold. The company however assured the price for end consumers would not increase.