Moldova Weekly: lord of the metals, the secret sentence, 3½ years a president
Moldova in brief, week #37, September 7-12 .
The number of Covid-19 infections in Moldova reached 42,183 on Saturday, with 1114 of them lethal. Overall, the number of new cases between September 6 and 11 dropped by 12% compared to the previous week. The Government updated the list of green and red countries according to Covid infection risk, prolonged the health emergency period until September 30, but allowed weddings and other family ceremonies with up to 50 participants.
Russia has finally started stage III trials of its anti-Covid vaccine, which Igor Dodon wants very much to bring to Moldova. Health Minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu, after recovering from Covid-19 herself, insists that Moldova will import only a vaccine that has passed all the necessary trials, regardless of the country of origin.
After Igor Dodon visited a school in the Drochia district without wearing a mask, Minister of Education Igor Șarov, recently promoted to PDM deputy chairman, criticized “the country’s top leadership” for “double standards” and “gestures that spite the whole society”. Since September 1, 13 schools have been quarantined because of the coronavirus.
The country’s chief public health official Nicolae Furtună was forced to resign after scandalous remarks during a TV show. He said that ”Covid took the lives of those who were already a burden for themselves and those around them”. Furtună referred to the fact that most of those who die from Covid also have pre-existing comorbidities such as heart diseases, diabetes, cancer and obesity.
The official apologized the next day, saying he meant “burden” in a medical, not in a social way. It didn’t convince anyone and pressure continued to mount both from civil society and politicians, including the president, until Furtună had no option but to resign.
During the same talk-show, Furtună supported the Government’s proposal to cancel the financial support for doctors who catch Covid at work. According to him, this measure made the doctors relax, which then led to a high number of Covid infections among medical personnel. The one-time payment of 800 EUR remained in place after the Government buckled under public pressure.
Lord of the metals
RISE Moldova got its hands on a set of files from the stagnant investigation into Metalferos, a state company that until recently held a monopoly on scrap metal. The leak reveals Vlad Plahotniuc as the main beneficiary of illegal schemes at Metalferos. The fugitive oligarch was syphoning money from the company via offshore intermediaries. One of these shell entities, Rowallan Overseas, was used to fund studies abroad for party colleagues’ kids. For example, Rowallan paid for the studies in England for two of Constantin Botnari’s four children, and the tuition fee for Marian Lupu’s daughter at Maastricht University.
Lupu’s excuse was unconvincing to say the least. The chairman of the Court of Accounts claims he didn’t have “an account for international transfers”, so he brought the cash money to his party colleagues, who then transferred the funds to the university.
RISE also writes that Vlad Plahotniuc, who fled abroad after losing power had prepared his escape in advance. The leaked documents show the former PDM leader had spent two million USD on foreign lawyers, especially American ones, specialized in immigration. The same offshore companies were used to fund his charity Edelweiss and his media empire.
Lock, stock and two real candidates
Igor Dodon has formally joined the presidential race. On paper, he will run as independent, but it is still the Socialists who will collect signatures for his registration. Dodon promised he would not put up electoral billboards, but restrict his campaign to flyers and direct meetings with voters. The president also said he would not participate in electoral debates, for which his main rival Maia Sandu called him ”a coward”.
She repeated her accusations that Igor Dodon put aside 2 million euros to buy votes from separatist Transnistria. PAS MP Sergiu Litvinenco also warned that the Socialists are trying to push the Central Electoral Commission to open more polling stations in Russia by submitting fake signatures for voter registration. In Dodon-friendly Russia, says Litvinenco, the Socialists would find it easier to rig the vote.
After submitting the first papers to CEC, Igor Dodon was in no mood to talk to the press and his bodyguards locked the journalists in a room for a couple of minutes so the president could leave without answering any questions.
The Democrats will not put forward a presidential candidate this time around. Pavel Filip says there are only two candidates with real chances and all the others are extras. Moreover, the PDM chairman thinks the president’s office is more of a honorary, symbolic job, so it’s not really worth all the fuss. Although the Democrats are currently allied to the Socialists, Filip says that the party will consult its branches in all the districts throughout the country before deciding to support Dodon or Sandu in this election.
So far, three candidates have submitted the necessary signatures to CEC in order to be registered on the ballot paper: Renato Usatîi (PN), Andrei Năstase (PPDA) and Andrian Candu (Pro Moldova).
A new poll released by iData shows that 17% of all respondents would vote for Igor Dodon, 14.9% for Maia Sandu and 5.2% for Ilan Șor, even though the latter is not even running and is hiding in Israel.
3½ Years a President
Last week we looked at Igor Dodon’s legislative and diplomatic achievements and found out that the president has little to boast about in that regard. This week, we delved further into his 41-page report to look at his contribution to the anti-Covid effort, his famous “social measures” and his wife’s charity foundation. We show how Igor Dodon and his government have needlessly complicated the corona-crisis with their contradictory mixed messages and measures. And the result is there for everyone to see: Moldova is among the worst hit countries according to the number of infections per capita.
The economic measures announced by the government did little to protect employees during this crisis, on the contrary - authorities basically encouraged unemployment. The financial support for doctors who caught the disease at work was nearly cancelled last week, if not for the public outcry. The crown jewel of Dodon’s social measures - the double indexation of pensions - materialized into a meager 1.07% increase this October, that is less than a dollar for the lowest pensions. Meanwhile, the first lady’s “Din Suflet” charity has exploited the people’s poverty to buy votes for her husband, and all that from foreign funds. Read our full piece here: 3½ Years a President. Part Two: Pensions, coronavirus response, and electoral charity with foreign money.
The secret sentence
On Tuesday, two years and two days after the shameful kidnapping and deportation of seven Turkish teachers by Moldovan authorities, Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo took many by surprise by revealing that Vasile Botnari, former Security and Intelligence Service director, was secretly sentenced – already a month ago – for this shameful episode. Botnari would not actually serve any jail time and instead was ordered to compensate the government for the damages awarded in the case by the European Court of Human Rights, plus the costs of the charter flight that delivered the poor teachers into the pitiless hands of the Erdoğan regime.
However, on Thursday, MP Sergiu Litvinenco (PAS) published a snapshot of the ruling’s operative part, which seems to show that the ex-SIS director got off with only a fine, not even a suspended sentence.
We had already explained that by letting Botnari take all the blame on himself, the prosecution services let other suspects off the hook and ended the investigation with plenty of unanswered questions. This time, we show that classifying the court’s ruling in the case of the seven Turkish teachers is both immoral and illegal. Read our full piece here: What's wrong with the classified sentence in the Turkish teachers case?
After the public outcry, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced a disciplinary inquiry against Victor Plugaru, the prosecutor that handled the case. The PGO also says it will propose some amendments to harmonize the Code of penal procedure with the Law on state secrets.
Meanwhile, Galina Tüfekçi, wife of Mehmet Feridun Tüfekçi, one of the deported teachers, challenged Botnari’s secret sentence at the Chișinău Court of Appeals.
Human rights activist Veaceslav Bălan asked EU countries to impose sanctions against Botnari, as well as against the head of the Migration and Asylum Bureau Olga Poalelungi, former Speaker Andrian Candu and Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo, for failing to ensure a fair and transparent investigation.
The self-sabotage bill
Mold-street analyzed the National Anticorruption Center’s (CNA) expertise report regarding the infamous initiative to exempt companies from any liability for their final beneficiaries’ crimes. In other words: authorities might not be able to seize the goods of companies owned by the people involved in the ”theft of the billion”. CNA confirmed all of the opposition’s criticisms that the bill was pushed in a shady, non-transparent manner, with procedural violations. For example, the State Chancellery, the bill’s author, doesn’t even have the right to initiate such bills in the first place. Moreover, it lied to the Parliament that the bill had passed the anticorruption expertise, while in fact the Chancellery sent the document to CNA for examination after it had sent to the Parliament.
As regards the contents of this draft law, CNA writes that ”it has a hidden purpose - to provide benefits for some groups of interest after its implementation”. The authors of the report say that, should the Parliament pass the bill in second reading, it will limit the authorities’ capacity to carry out investigations and prosecutions, to sequester and seize criminal goods and assets. Instead, it will facilitate the theft of public funds, corruption and money laundering schemes.
The controversial bill was promoted by PM Chicu’s advisor Nicolae Eșanu. Justice Minister Fadei Nagacevschi rejected any responsibility, said this was not his ministry’s initiative and agreed that the bill entails certain ”risks”. In the Parliament’s legal committee, 7 out of 8 MPs abstained from voting for or against the bill. However, in the end, the Socialists and the Democrats passed it in the first reading.
Another critical opinion against this initiative was published this week by IPRE.
Honey, I shrunk the budget
The Parliament passed several amendments to the state budget in final reading. Income was decreased by ~33 million EUR and expenditure by ~94 million EUR, which will reduce the overall deficit to 7.8% of GDP. Finance Minister Sergiu Pușcuță said that these changes had been coordinated with the IMF in the light of the next country programme for Moldova.
The opposition was outraged that the health budget was slashed by 25 million EUR right in the middle of a pandemic. PPDA’s Alexandru Slusari was also unhappy that the PSRM-PDM majority refused to allot more relief funds for farmers struck by the recent drought.
Meanwhile, the National Bank decreased the base rate from 3% to 2.75% in order to encourage banks to issue more loans, but experts are not sure there’ll be any change in the current circumstances.
Meanwhile, Moldova will get a 9 million EUR grant from the EU, four of which are meant to help the government fight the pandemic.
More news in one sentence
◾ The director and seven employees of construction company Glorinal have been taken in custody by police and prosecutors on charges of swindling 2.5 million EUR out of 70 victims.
◾ Moldovagaz director Vadim Ceban said it is more advantageous to buy gas from Russia than Romania, at least at the moment, while adding that gas prices for consumers would decreased by 7-10% this fall and that Moldovagaz wants to negotiate a better contract with Gazprom for the next three years.
◾ PPDA MP Iurie Reniță asked the National Integrity Agency to verify the assets of three Socialists MPs: Vasile Bolea, Vladimir Odnostalco and Corneliu Furculiță, who, according to Reniță, laundered Russian money via Bahamas to fund Igor Dodon’s presidential campaign in 2016.
◾ Presidential hopeful Renato Usatîi complained that Moscow issued an international arrest warrant against him, without notifying Interpol, at Igor Dodon’s request; meanwhile, Vlad Plahotniuc’s lawyers appealed in court the international arrest warrant against their client in a case where Plahotniuc is accused of trying to organize Usatîi’s assasination.
◾ Five members of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy signed an open letter to the president, complaining that interim chairman Anatol Pahopol is illegally acting on his own in the name of the whole Council.
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