Moldova Weekly #30: Bahamas treasures, allies with benefits, enter the virus
Socialist MP Corneliu Furculiță’s Exclusiv Media company lost the lawsuit against investigative journalism outlet Rise Moldova. Furculiță’s lawyers sued Rise because of their investigation into the Bahamas papers, which showed that PSRM-affiliated media had received money from Bahams offshore companies to help Igor Dodon win the presidential elections in 2016. Rise was also sued separately by the Socialists, lost the case in Moldova, then complained to the ECHR and now the case is being re-judged in Moldova.
Last fall, chief anticorruption prosecutor Viorel Morari merged the Bahamas file with the investigation into Igor Dodon’s leaked discussion with Vlad Plahotniuc, where Dodon admits the Socialists are being funded by Russia. However, Morari was suspended by new Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo, who split the files again. This week, the investigation into PSRM’s Russian funding was closed. Prosecutors say they have not found any evidence to corroborate the incriminating video. The Bahamas file however is still open.
PDA leader Andrei Năstase announced he would challenge the prosecutors’ decision in court. PAS lawyer Sergiu Litvinenco accused PG Stoianoglo of protecting Igor Dodon and his entourage.
Allies with benefits
The Democrats and the Socialists are on the verge of formalizing their alliance. Both parties held meetings of their national councils, which greenlighted the coalition negotiations. PDM wants to have the ministry of foreign affairs, of education, of economy and another one that would allow them more of a say in matters of national security, such as the defense ministry. The Democrats claim they want to maintain Moldova’s pro-European foreign policy direction and protect identity-related issues like language and history from the Socialists’ influence. PDM leader Pavel Filip said these are red lines for the Democrats.
The Socialists say they have a balanced attitude, fully compatible with the Democrats’ policy preferences. Analysts and the opposition say the two parties are already allied and have been since November, when they voted down Maia Sandu’s government and installed the Chicu Cabinet instead.
Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity complained after the PDM-PSRM announcement that they have tried to woo the Democrats for a common vote on several issues like Moldova’s pro-European policy, but were turned down.
Mayor Ion Ceban’s plan to buy 100 buses from Belarus to replace minibuses in Chișinău was blocked in the Municipal Council. The opposition accused Ceban of trying to push through the acquisition without organizing public consultations and checking for alternatives. In order to buy the buses, the city would need to take out a private credit, which would add to the municipality’s already heavy debt burden.
Ceban argues that given the minibus operators’ protests and the closing of several routes, the city has no time to lose and must act quickly to supplement its public transportation fleet. He also accused PDA of representing the minibus operators’ interests and trying to carve out subsidies for them from the municipal budget. Ceban had to apologize to the inhabitants of the Schinoasa suburb, who had to walk 3 km to the closest trolleybus station after two minibus routes were canceled. The mayor promised he would seek the help of the State Chancellery and try to get the Municipal Council to vote for the acquisition of Belarussian buses.
Enter the virus
Moldova has its first confirmed case of Covid-19 – a woman who returned from Italy. While she is currently in the intensive care unit, the prime minister publicly shamed her for acting irresponsibly. In response, many in Moldovan civil society said it was the authorities who acted irresponsibly. The woman was also only tested for Covid-19 because she passed out in the plane. The other passengers were not tested or quarantined. Authorities later asked the passengers to self-quarantine, but wrote about the wrong flight. Some of them gave fake contact info and now authorities cannot locate them. The woman meanwhile has been moved from the infectious disease hospital to a general hospital with slightly better equipment, where she was nevertheless initially put in a room with 14 other patients. After this information was leaked, she was put in proper quarantine.
This debacle comes after weeks of government assurances that Moldova is fully prepared to face the Covid-19 danger. Now, President Dodon wants to amend the law so that people who break anti-epidemic rules should be criminally prosecuted. His critics say Dodon is trying to shift the blame from the public authorities to the ordinary citizens. The way the government handled the first case and the issues that richer and more developed countries have in containing the virus suggests Moldova might be in big trouble if the virus spreads.
Former governor of the National Bank Dorin Drăguțan has been placed under preventive arrest. As part of the investigation into the great bank fraud, prosecutors have also arrested current and former deputy governors of the bank. They are charged with money laundering and swindling. The National Bank said such action affect the morale of its employees and stressed that its independence as an institution must not be undermined.
Meanwhile, the Parliament approved a law to redirect the National Bank’s profits to pay the interest owned by the government to the NB for the failed bailout of the three defrauded banks in 2014-2015. The opposition say this is just moving money from one pocket to the other and that the debt should be repaid by recovering the stolen money.
The price of justice
Several courts found their accounts frozen after the government cut the financing for the judiciary by 70 milion lei (3.5 million euros). The measure was supposed to teach corrupt or irresponsible judges a lesson, but its consequence so far has been blocking paperwork mainly. Courts cannot buy office supplies and pay bills. The Supreme Justice Court says this is an interference in the work of the judiciary.
The Ministry of Justice also wants to amend a law that would allow authorities to recover its losses at the European Court of Human Rights from the judges whose sentences got Moldova in trouble in Strasbourg. A similar initiative was put forward to no results in 2016. This time, the government decided to take action after Moldova was sentenced by the ECHR to pay 3.5 million euros to shareholders of a shopping center who had been illegally dispossessed through Moldovan courts.