Moldova Weekly #27: Pax Dodonica, into the wonderloan, prosecutor's fortunes
Foreign Minister Aureliu Ciocoi drew the ire of veterans and the opposition last week by claiming the Russian Army had intervened in the 1991-1992 Transnistrian conflict only to prevent bloodshed. PAS and PDA even registered a no-confidence vote against Ciocoi. It is generally acknowledged that the Russian Army helped the separatists and without its help there would be no separatist statelet in Transnistria. For the veterans who fought in that conflict, Ciocoi’s words amount to betrayal. President Dodon however defended the minister and suggested Ciocoi had spoked about the peace-keeping mission, although the chief diplomat had explicitly said “the Russian Army”.
Instead, the president took aim towards the West. He accused some European ambassadors of acting like members of opposition parties PAS and PDA and warned them to do their job more impartially. Igor Dodon thinks the diplomats are reporting inaccurate and disproportionately negative information about the current Moldovan government so as to thwart its efforts of accessing foreign funding. He also asked the intelligence services to look into the foreign funding of NGOs. Dodon claims civil society organizations might be fomenting dissent at the behest of external (Western) agents.
He also lambasted Moldova’s ambassadors abroad for not doing enough to promote Moldova’s image and attract foreign investors. Experts quickly answered that the fault lies not with the ambassadors, but with the domestic conditions in Moldova. Prime Minister Chicu later announced that some ambassadors have been recalled, but the official reason is that either their terms ended or that they will be redeployed somewhere else.
Into the Wonderloan
Prime Minister Chicu says the first installment of the much-advertised Russian loan will be transferred in early spring. Some sources claim Moldova could receive $200 million with the first installment. The head of the government, previously a critic of the Sandu Cabinet’s “panhandling” for foreign financial help, is now under pressure to deliver for President Dodon ahead of next fall’s presidential elections and will likely take any help he can get. As an adviser to Igor Dodon, Chicu had criticized the IMF, but now has resumed negotiations with the Fund and praised their “flexibility”.
Igor Dodon has also been actively working to free more funds for his prime minister. After a widely criticized idea to take money from the National Bank’s reserves, the president now suggested the National Bank should redirect part of its profits to repay the debt accumulated after the massive bank fraud, aka “the theft of the century”. The measure, in Dodon’s view, should ease the burden on the public budget. Former finance minister Natalia Gavriliță says this is only a trick to free up some funds for the government in an electoral year. The true solution would be to recover the stolen money and use them to repay the debt.
Even though the Russian loan is yet to materialize, Minister of Infrastructure and Economy Anatol Usatîi already announced tenders for the repair of roads with that money. PDA MP Alexandru Slusari threatens Usatîi with a no-confidence vote because the Ministry didn’t also advertise the tenders in the EU Journal. While Usatîi claims only tenders that involve European money can be advertised in the EU Journal, Slusari thinks Usatîi is in a hurry to start the roadworks before the electoral campaign starts.
President Dodon also visited the Chișinău Arena, said it was 99% ready and promised it would open on May 1. One of the more controversial issues with the Arena is that the Filip Cabinet alloted 60 hectares for its construction, although the complex itself occupies only 10 hectares. Fueling fears about a scheme to snatch those lands from public property, Igor Dodon suggested the government should sell them to pay for the construction of the Arena.
For a Socialist, the president is a big fan of privatization. Recently, he asked the government to sell the state-owned company Metalferos, which is a national scrap-metal monopoly. After opposition protests, a group of civil society activists also came out against this proposal. They want a temporary ban on privatizations. According to them, Metalferos was previously a source of illegal money for Vlad Plahotniuc’s Democrats and selling it to a private owner would wash away all traces of previous schemes.
Meanwhile, the MPs looked into the privatization of tobacco company Tutun-CTC under the Democrats. Although the Parliament didn’t find grounds to rescind the contract, it ascertained that the company was mismanaged in order to drive down its value before its sale and called for those previously in charge of Tutun-CTC to be held accountable.
The investigative paper Ziarul de Gardă also looked into how the government is recovering the money from the bank fraud. In the case of the people already convicted, whose assets were seized by the government, the sale of these assets is going very slow. Sometimes they are undervalued and sometimes they are even sold to companies belonging to the family of the convicted. In the case of former prime minister Vlad Filat, who recently came out of jail, none of the seized assets have been sold. The bailiff supposed to carry out the sale and the Tax Service are passing the responsibility onto each other and have even gone to court. The only case where the authorities acted swiftly was that of Veaceslav Platon, seizing and selling his shares in two Moldovan banks. However, there’s a chance Platon might overturn his sentence.
Veaceslav Platon might benefit from Prosecutor General Alexandru Stoianoglo case against the suspended chief of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office Viorel Morari. The latter is accused of tampering with an investigation in order to protect former Democrat leader Vlad Plahotniuc, now a fugitive abroad, and to jail his rival - Platon. If this proves to be true, it might help Platon’s appeal. The prosecutors are also looking into Morari’s energy family business, accusing him of money laundering and illegal gains.
Meanwhile, anticorruption prosecutor Roman Statnîi is the latest prosecutor to quit. Statnîi was in charge of the investigation into former Supreme Justice Court judge Oleg Sternioală and had publicly spoke that Sternioală might use his connection to get back at him. After his resignation, Statnîi refused to make any statements. Deschide.md wrote that Statnîi is one of the prosecutors asked by the new leadership to resign willingly because of their previous misdeeds.
Honey, I shrunk the pensions
Ion Chicu’s government also drew fierce criticism from PAS and PDA for its proposed pension update. Opposition MPs say instead of increasing pensions by 6% once a year, the government will simply increase them by ~3% twice, despite the president’s promise that the double increase would raise pensions by more than 10%. Social policies have been a bone of contention between PAS and PDA, on one side, and the Socialists on the other. When the Socialists and the Democrats allied to bring down the Maia Sandu Cabinet, they accused her of disregarding social policies. However, her supporters say the government was dismissed just as it submitted a “budget of solidarity”, which would have addressed precisely those issues. Now, PAS and PDA both say that Igor Dodon’s hand-picked government greatly overpromised and severely underdelivered.
Meanwhile, the Socialists and the Democrats have approved 30% raises for MPs. Although the budget draft proposed by the government did not include this raise, which was an amendment by PDM MP Vladimir Cebotari, Prime Minister Chicu defended it by suggesting the MPs can spend the extra money on charity. After strong public backlash, the Socialists say they will cancel the amendment and restore MP wages to the previous amount.
Things between former ACUM allies PAS and PDA are getting sourer each day. After PAS’s debacle with the nomination of its candidate in the Hîncești constituency, PDA announced its support for Grigore Cobzac. He was ACUM’s candidate in the previous election, but this time around PAS nominated former justice minister Olesea Stamate, claiming Cobzac didn’t want to run. However, Cobzac announced he would run as an independent and claimed PAS were lying. PDA’s decision to support him angered PAS MPs, who vented their frustration on social media, accusing PDA of supporting a traitor.
The tension is even greater when it comes to the presidential elections next fall. PDA are so far unwilling to support PAS leader Maia Sandu and have called for a joint candidate of the center-right without party affiliation. If such a candidate isn’t found, PDA will put forward its own candidate, most likely Andrei Năstase. After his defeat in the Chișinău mayoral election, Năstase and PDA’s ratings are pretty low compared to Sandu and PAS’s. However, PDA called their former allies not to get high on polls. For now, Igor Dodon is the clear front-runner.
Meanwhile, PAS has proposed a “pact of non-aggression” to PDA and other center-right parties, an agreement to abstain from attacks and criticisms against one another. The proposal was received rather coldly. PDA deputy chief Alexandru Slusari read it as PAS giving up on the idea of a joint candidate. President Dodon didn’t miss the opportunity to make fun in his characteristically sexist way of the opposition’s squabbles. He labelled Năstase and the others’ refusal to sign Maia Sandu’s pact as unmanly behavior towards a lady. “Who was on top, who was under, who assaulted who?,” he went on.