Moldova in brief, week #30, July 20-25.

The unruly curve

On Friday, Moldovan authorities announced 378 new Covid-19 cases out of 1317 tests (~29%), which is a record for July. The number of confirmed infections this week was 27% higher than the previous week. Minister of Health Viorica Dumbrăveanu acknowledged that the situation was indeed getting worse, especially in Chișinău. ”We are once again urging everyone to be more responsible and to follow the doctors’ guidelines. We understand that the general population is truly tired.”

”Our hopes that the number of news cases would drop did not come true”, Ion Chicu

Earlier, Prime Minister Chicu was considering the possibility of making the two-week quarantine requirement for those coming from abroad optional, but the authorities gave up the idea because of the worsening situation. The public health emergency situation has been extended for a month, until the end of August. In theory, it means that persons above 63 years of age should not go outside unless absolutely necessary and that playgrounds and sports venues remain closed. Weddings and other similar ceremonies are still banned, but at the same times restaurants are allowed to host events with up to 50 participants. Last week, it was President Dodon who had asked the government to allow such ceremonies despite the pandemic. On Tuesday, some artists protested outside the Government building - they want private parties to be allowed and argued that such events are no more dangerous than supermarkets, which are open and crowded.

Authorities have also delayed the re-opening of kindergartens, which was scheduled for August 1. PAS members asked the government to allow the re-opening on August 10. ”We must learn to live with the pandemic and kids have a right to education”, argued PAS MP Doina Gherman. The prime minister agrees that ”humanity must somehow adapt”, but says kindergartens will not open earlier than September 1.

President Dodon is optimistic that a Russian anti-Covid-19 vaccine might be available in Moldova as early as this fall. Priority would be given to vulnerable groups and the vaccine would not be mandatory. It is true that the Russian Defense Ministry played up the hype regarding the vaccine, but health officials in Moscow stressed that clinical trials are far from over.

A midsummer session’s motion

Last week, PDA and PAS initiated a no confidence vote against the Chicu Cabinet, thinking they would have 10 days to find the necessary votes, most likely from the PDM ranks. However, the ruling coalition sped up the process, leaving the opposition no time: on Monday morning, the Parliament’s Permanent Bureau decided to summon a full meeting of the Legislature and included the no confidence vote on the agenda.

The coronavirus proved helpful for the government as well - two Șor Party MPs, Himici and Vitiuc, caught the bug and could not attend the meeting, depriving the opposition of two votes. Last time an MP had Covid-19, the whole Parliament was sent into quarantine for two weeks. This time however the ruling majority decided that dealing the no confidence vote took precedence over the safety rules. After five hours of quarrels, the motion was supported by only 46 MPs and failed. This was the last meeting of the Parliament in the spring-summer session. Even if the MPs reunite for an extraordinary meeting, the opposition cannot initiate a no confidence vote against the Chicu Cabinet on the same grounds as the failed motion. PDA deputy leader Igor Munteanu nonetheless insists that ”no confidence motions will continue to flow”.

While facing the Parliament, Prime Minister Chicu went for an ”attack is the best defense” tactic and laid the blame on the previous Cabinet, which was led by the current opposition. According to Chicu’s estimations, the Filip Government implemented 21 conditionalities for the EU macro-financial assistance of €100 million, Chicu and his ministers - 13, while Maia Sandu’s Cabinet stood at a grand total of zero. We checked the prime minister’s math and found it misleading and wrong - read more here.

Mihai Popșoi, one of the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) big shots, said he expected the no confidence vote to fail. ”We were forced to sign this motion because many of our voters had been convinced there would be enough votes.” On the other hand, PDA leader Andrei Năstase pointed his finger at his PAS allies and said the motion failed because ”too much time was lost on talks, instead of focusing on action, on solidarity”. President Dodon accused both PAS and PDA of ”falling into a trap” and ”staining their reputation” because of the joint vote with „mafia groups represented by Pro Moldova and the Șor Party”.

Behind the motion

After repealing the motion, the MPs decided to swiftly vote on a bunch of draft bills. Some of the more controversial ones, such as the amendments to the Electoral Code or (not) appointing a judge to the Supreme Justice Court have been left for the next session.

One of the bills that were passed in the first reading was a set of amendments to anti-money laundering laws, which basically removes the companies whose final beneficiaries are under investigation from the reach of the law. According to lawyer and activist Ștefan Gligor, if the government tries to recover the money stolen by fugitive oligarchs such as Ilan Șor or Vlad Plahotniuc, it will not be able to touch their companies, including their offshore firms. Gligor warns that the bill can undermine the efforts to recover the money stolen during the banking fraud.

The amendments were presented in the Parliament by the prime minister’s advisor Nicolae Eșanu, without being approved by the relevant institutions such as the National Anticorruption Center or the Agency for the Recovery of Criminal Assets, directly concerned by the bill. Even the MPs in the Parliament’s legal committee just washed their hands of the bill - one member voted against it and seven refrained from voting.

Nicolae Eșanu explained the urgency of the bill by saying that judges have to invent new legal categories to apply the law, such as ”indirect ownership”. He also suggested the bill was greenlighted by some ambassadors.

Our man in Lyon

The Interpol has rejected the Moldovan prosecutors’ request to include Vlad Plahotniuc in the list of internationally wanted persons by invoking the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Moldovan authorities say they will ask for a more elaborate explanation and will try to prove to international organizations that Plahotniuc was involved in the banking fraud.

Activist Valeriu Pașa suggested that Moldova’s Vitalie Pîrlog, who leads the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF), might have played a role in this refusal and asks why the current authorities in Chișinău have not recalled him yet. Pîrlog himself says he was not involved because Interpol has a rule that prevents Commission members from having a say regarding the files of their conationals. Vitalie Pîrlog is a former minister of justice (2006-2009) and ex-director of the Security and Intelligence Service (for a couple of months at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018).

President Dodon declared himself puzzled by the Interpol’s decision and mused that it might be the Americans who are keeping Plahotniuc under ”geopolitical protection”. As the elections near, the president thinks that ”on one hand, the Americans include Plahotniuc in various lists, but on the other hand, they keep him close, maybe he will say something about Dodon at a certain point”.

Meanwhile, Russian authorities issued an international arrest warrant against mayor of Bălți Renato Usatîi, as part of an investigation regarding the laundering of $14 billion. He dismissed the whole affair as politically motivated and fabricated ahead of October’s presidential elections, in which he intends to take part.

No press-ure

Besides being part of the ruling coalition and his unwillingness to vote together with ”the thieves who stole billions”, PDM leader Pavel Filip might have had some extra motivation to oppose the no confidence vote. PDA MP Igor Munteanu claims that on the day of the vote, Filip was informed that CNA would drop the investigation regarding the illegal privatization of parts of the House of Press, an office building in the very heart of Chișinău. Jurnal TV later said its journalists got their hands on a prosecutorial document that linked Filip’s son Iulian to the privatization, but did not publish the document. The PDM leader denied all the accusations.

Igor Dodon then told the press that ”the person” who planned to buy part of the House of Press, as well as the government’s mess hall, returned these properties voluntarily. ”This is all that matters. If there will be a prosecution or not - it’s up to the judges”, says the president.

The neverstarting trial

Șor Party deputy leader Marian Tauber promised again that Ilan Șor would return to the Parliament ”very, very soon”, maybe for an extraordinary meeting, and would reveal many things about President Dodon. This is not the first time Tauber makes similar promises/threats. She even claimed that Ilan Șor had not left the country, despite formal evidence to the contrary.

Meanwhile, Șor’s trial at the Cahul Court of Appeals has been postponed again, for the gazillionth time. The fugitive banker was first found guilty for his role in the banking fraud two years ago, yet his appeal has been endlessly delayed. This time, the Court of Appeals explained that three of Șor’s lawyers had to self-isolate after contact with a Covid patient. It just so happens that prosecutors were not available either and so the trial was delayed until September 3.

A lie has short wings

PAS leader Maia Sandu sued Prime Minister Chicu for slander. The PM had repeatedly accused Sandu of voting in favor of leasing the airport back in 2013, when she was minister of education. Chicu also says Sandu, while in charge of the government last year, delayed the payment of a €6 million debt by Avia Invest, the lease holder, thus allowing it to keep the airport.

Sandu insists there is video footage that proves she did not vote to lease the airport. Her party colleague and legal expert Sergiu Litvinenco says that in 2019 it was two officials appointed by the previous Filip Cabinet that delayed the payment of Avia Invest’s debt - the director of the Civil Aviation Authority Octavian Nicolaescu and state secretary at the Ministry Economy Iuliana Drăgălin, both of whom were later fired by Maia Sandu’s government. Moreover, after Ion Chicu took over the reins of the Executive, he actually hired back Iuliana Drăgălin. Maia Sandu thinks the prime minister is slandering her in order to help President Dodon win the upcoming election. She wants Ion Chicu to pay her €5000 in reparations and promised to give the money to charity.

Thank you for peace

While the Parliament voted a new declaration on Friday demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from separatist Transnistria, President Dodon caused quite a stir by announcing he would travel to Tiraspol on the 25th anniversary of the peacekeeping mission and that he would decorate “Moldovan, Russian and Transnistrian peacekeepers”. His advisor Vasile Șova later said that ”there are no Transnistrians on the list”. However, it is also true that many people in the region also hold Moldovan, Russian and Ukrainian citizenships. Șova confirmed that Igor Dodon would attend the festivities on the left bank of the Nistru together with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin, who is also expected in Chișinău.

Tensions in the Security Zone are still high. Deputy PM for Reintegration Cristina Lesnic said that the separatists removed 15 of the 37 recently installed checkpoints under the guise of anti-coronavirus measures. It is not yet clear if the Tiraspol regime is actually removing the checkpoints. Two TV8 journalists say they were attacked and harassed by peacekeepers at one of the checkpoints, and managed to get away only thanks to the intervention of war veterans and a Moldovan police team. Mass media NGOs and the Joint Control Center denounced the intimidation of journalists.

Authorities in Chișinău proposed a 1+1 meeting with representatives from Tiraspol next Thursday and President Dodon said he would meet with separatist leader Vadim Krasnoselski on Tuesday. Analyst Vladimir Socor thinks Dodon will ask the Transnistrian leader for support during the upcoming presidential election, more precisely - for voters from the left bank. Meanwhile, PDA lodged a second complaint to the prosecutors about Grigore Filipov, chairman of Dubăsari district, after the surfaced footage that seems to show Filipov buying Transnistrian votes for PSRM and organizing transportation to have people from Transnistria vote in the district of Criuleni.

Merit vs solidarity

Moldova and the EU signed the agreement regarding a new €100 million loan. According to the document, the money is meant to help Moldova meet its financing necessities and obligations during the coronavirus crisis. The first installment will be transferred after the signing of the agreement and the second installment after the fulfillment of six conditions, which are yet to be publicly announced.

Dionis Cenușă, European policy analyst at Expert-Grup, says the money is not a reflection of the current government’s success and is simply a part of the EU’s policy to help partner countries. The opinion is shared by former finance minister Natalia Gavriliță, who thinks the loan is ”an aid package during the crisis” and a manifestation of ”European solidarity with its Eastern neighbors”.

The money should come within the next 12 months and must be repaid in 15 years.

More news in one sentence

◾ Moldovan Covid patients could participate in two clinical trials conducted by American companies - one regarding the treatment of lung injuries and another one for an antiviral drug.

◾ A protest of the Azeri community in Chișinău outside the Embassy of Azerbaijan, in reaction to the clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh, ended with a brawl between the Azeri protesters and the Armenian counter-protesters, among which, as the Embassy of Azerbaijan complained, Socialist MP Gaik Vartanean and presidential advisor Ernest Vardanean were also present.

Rise Moldova found out that Moldova bought 100,000 Covid tests of Spanish-Russian-Chinese origin from an American intermediary with a company registered in Anenii Noi, with money from the World Bank, at half the price of the tests bough in April from Hong Kong.

◾ A new employers’ union in the field of scrap metal complains about pressure from an undisclosed company, which wants to take over the market after Metalferos lost its monopoly.

◾ The US dollar’s exchange rate dropped below 17 lei for the first time in the last two years, as consumption and imports have decreased during the pandemic.

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