Moldova Weekly #24: Final designation, fantastic voyage, judge's dread
US State Secretary Mike Pompeo has formally designated Vlad Plahotniuc as having been involved in “significant corruption”, which means the former PDM leader, his wife and two children will not be allowed entry in the US. However, the Department of State stopped short of imposing concurrent economic sanctions against the fugitive oligarch.
Although previously rumored to be hiding in the US, Plahotniuc’s exact whereabouts remain unknown. The Interpol hasn’t yet included him in the international wanted list, despite the Moldovan prosecutors’ request. A Moldovan journalistic investigation revealed that Plahotniuc had applied for a US shortly after the parliamentary elections of February 24 and long before the Democrats were ousted from power by a PSRM-ACUM alliance.
On the occasion of Pompeo’s announcement, the US Ambassador published an op-ed assuring the Moldovan people of the US commitment to help Chișinău fight corruption. Dereck Hogan praised anticorruption prosecutors’ efforts to get the investigation into the banking fraud back on track, expressed the United States’ willingness to collaborate and stressed the need to protect the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office’s (PA) independence.
20 days later
Despite such diplomatic praise for the PA, its chief Viorel Morari has been placed in preventive arrest for 20 days. He is accused of having protected Vlad Plahotniuc during the investigation of the banking fraud and also of helping him jail rival banker Veaceslav Platon.
Nicolae Eșanu, justice advisor to the prime minister, commented that Morari is having a taste of his own medicine. According to Eșanu, preventive arrest is an exceptional measure that anticorruption prosecutors have abused in the past.
Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo responded to Morari’s accusations that his arrest had been ordered by President Dodon by saying that he doesn’t even have Igor Dodon’s phone number. Instead, Stoianoglo promised some sackings from the specialized prosecution services. Meanwhile, EU ambassador Peter Michalko has expressed concern over Morari’s arrest and other apparent signs of infighting within the prosecution service, adding that the investigations started under Morari should continue.
Oh brother, what art thou?
A delegation of municipal officials from Bucharest, headed by deputy mayor Aurelian Bădulescu, visited the Chișinău City Hall. A joint meeting was held with members from both city councils and a cooperation deal was agreed. Or so was thought. The Bucharest City Hall later issued a statement explaining that the Romanian delegation traveled to Chișinău purely on cultural grounds, to celebrate the birthday of famous poet Mihai Eminescu. The statement clearly read that the delegation had not been authorized to sign any agreements with the Moldovan municipal authorities.
Aurelian Bădulescu is a controversial figure, having previously accused the Moldovan pro-European opposition of being Russian lackeys. He actively criticized ACUM candidate Andrei Năstase during the municipal electoral campaign that was won by the Socialist candidate Ion Ceban.
Last week, the Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban had said that the Chicu government wasn’t a serious partner and now President Klaus Iohannis echoed these feelings and expressed his skepticism towards the Chicu Cabinet, as relations between Chișinău and Bucharest seem completely devoid of their usual brotherly warmth.
Probably unrelated to these political developments, Romanian company Transgaz has announced a new delay for the Iași-Ungheni-Chișinău gas pipe. This is a seemingly neverending project, started by the first Filat Cabinet and continuously delayed ever since. However, it was usually the Moldovan side that struggled to do its part. This time, it’s the Romanians who say they need more time to finish work on their side. The pipeline is meant to provide Moldova with an alternative to Russian gas.
Romanian authorities have confirmed that former PDM MP Constantin Țuțu is indeed in Romania, having crossed the border on foot, coming from Ukraine, by the end of August. His precise location is still unknown, but there is no record of him leaving the country. At least not with his regular identity.
Țuțu is investigated in Moldova for influence peddling and illegal riches, while the Russians want him for drug trafficking, in a case that also involves Țuțu’s former party boss Vlad Plahotniuc.
Ziarul de Garda have continued their feud with President Dodon by publishing an investigation into his family’s numerous and luxurious holidays abroad, in places like the Seychelles or the Maldives. ZdG has counted at least 20 such trips. In one of them, the Dodons stayed in a Greek hotel owned by the Russian Prosecutor General. Curiously enough, Dodon’s brother is a business partner of the Russian PG’s son Igor Chaika.
All this time, Igor Dodon has exclusively relied on government payroll for his earnings. So who paid for the exotic holidays? Friends, answered the president, which prompted questions about the legality and morality of a public official going on holidays paid by unknown third parties. The opposition parties PAS and PDA said they will ask the prosecution services to look into the presidential family’s expenses.
Former Supreme Justice Court (CSJ) judge Oleg Sternioală has been definitively stripped of his judicial immunity by his CSJ colleagues. Prosecutors can now carry on with their investigation into the source of Sternioală’s riches.
The prosecutor in charge Roman Statnîi has previously claimed that a witness told him Sternioală had used his connections to get rid of the investigation and punish the nosy prosecutor. Sternioală’s lawyer however argues that these are all fake leaks meant to justify the prosecution’s illegal actions against his client.
Meanwhile, Mihai Murguleț, a judge whose insider reveals in July 2019 led to several other judges being suspended, including Sternioala, complains he has been the victim of an intimidation campaign: he has been beaten by unknown people, his office window was smashed, the files from his office have been illegally “verified” by the National Anticorruption Center, even though some of them concern precisely CNA officers. Murguleț will complain to the Judicial Inspectorate.
Even though the ACUM bloc has been dead for a while now, PAS and PDA were still negotiating a joint candidate for the early elections in the Hîncești parliamentary constituency. PDA proposed diaspora activist Mihai Druță, who conditionally agreed to run if other pro-European parties supported him. PAS however formally announced their candidate would be Olesea Stamate, former minister of justice in the Sandu Cabinet, and asked PDA to support this nomination.
The situation is similar with the two parties’ plans for this year’s presidential elections. So far, PDA has talked about a joint candidate that would not be affiliated with either party, a middle ground solution. However, PDA deputy leader Alexandru Slusari has also acknowledged that at the moment PAS is intent on nominating Maia Sandu as their presidential candidate.