Moldova in brief, week #39, September 21-27.

Breaking worse

The number of daily new Covid-19 infections in Moldova is rising rapidly. This week alone, authorities announced the four highest numbers since the beginning of the pandemic – 868 on Saturday, 786 on Wednesday, 726 on Thursday and 713 on Friday. The total count of infections reached 50534, of which 1279 lethal. It is true that this rise also corresponds to an increased number of tests. Nonetheless, the positive test ratio has also risen above 30% by the end of the week, compared to the already high average of 22.8%. Minister of Health Viorica Dumbrăveanu says the government will increase the processing capacity of labs to 5000 tests per day.

Meanwhile, a first batch of Remdesivir, the first certified drug for anti-Covid treatment, should arrive in Moldova this weekend. Authorities will also launch a telemedicine program to help doctors from different districts and hospitals cooperate better during the pandemic.

In the Parliament, two Pro Moldova MPs, Oleg Sîrbu and Ruxanda Glavan, have caught the coronavirus. Party secretary Sergiu Sîrbu said that two other colleagues, Corneliu Padnevici and Ghenadie Verdeș, have already defeated the disease.

Despite the worsening situation, the MPs agreed to lower fines for people who break quarantine or self-isolation rules and for those who provide false information in their epidemiological file.

Tragedia dell’arte

The National Philharmonics Hall ”Serghei Lunchevici” burned down in a fire. The ceiling collapsed and the firefighters could not save much of the building. The police are investigating three possible causes: malfunctioning equipment, a short-circuit and sparks from the cutting of metal by workers who did not respect fire safety rules.

President Igor Dodon, accompanied by Prime Minister Chicu and Mayor of Chișinău Ion Ceban, visited the smoking ruins of the concert venue. He said the edifice cannot be repaired and it will cost tens of millions of euros to raise a new Philharmonics Hall. The Government has already announced a crowdfunding campaign to help gather money for a new hall.

Opposition leaders Maia Sandu and Andrei Năstase both lamented ”this tragic day for national culture” and encouraged the people to donate money to rebuild the Philharmonics Hall.

The protocols of Transnistria

Igor Dodon gave a speech during the online 75th UN General Assembly and spoke about the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict. He stressed that any solution to this frozen conflict must be based on Moldova’s proposals, ”not on others written abroad”. He announced that in the first half of 2021, authorities in Chișinău might finalize a first draft of the ”Basic parameters and principles of the final model for settlement”.

The most recent news from the separatist region are not exactly encouraging. The self-proclaimed authorities in Tiraspol have announced the region will self-isolate until December 1 because of the high number of coronavirus cases. They will also launch an app called ”I’m home” to track the movement of people during the pandemic.

Experts are not sure what this means for the Transnistrian vote in the upcoming presidential elections in Moldova. Analyst Igor Boțan thinks that citizens from the left bank of the Nistru will still be able to vote. However, MP Oazu Nantoi thinks this might be a maneuver by oligarchs Vlad Plahotniuc and Nicu Gușan (who owns Transnistria’s largest group of companies – Sheriff) to deprive Igor Dodon of the pro-Russian votes from the separatist region.

Meanwhile, in Chișinău, Deputy PM for Reintegration Cristina Lesnic complained to the head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, Claus Neukirch, about the high number of human rights violations in Transnistria.

Judiciary checkers

Acting chairman of the Superior Council of the Magistracy (CSM), Anatol Pahopol, resigned and will return to the Chișinău Court of Appeals. Pahopol was initially only a surrogate CSM member, but joined the Council as a result of some legislative tinkering by the PSRM-PDM alliance. PPDA MP Dinu Plîngău contested those amendments at the Constitutional Court and Pahopol said he did not want to be ”prisoner of some situations” while waiting for the CC ruling. PPDA and PAS greeted his resignation as victory for the independence of the judiciary.

After Pahopol quit the Council, CSM promoted five new judges to the Supreme Justice Court. The most controversial of the group is judge Anatolie Minciună, who is rumored to have participated in the hunt in Pădurea Domnească, where a person was shot dead. Minciună had also judged at least three cases in which Moldova was later condemned at the European Court of Human Rights.

The judiciary or, more precisely, its reform is the topic of a new conflict between the Government and the Constitutional Court. The latter stroke down some of the constitutional amendments proposed by the Ministry of Justice as part of the reform of the judiciary. Minister Fadei Nagacevschi, echoed by PM Chicu and President Dodon, complained that the Court blocked the whole country because this reform is one of the conditions for obtaining EU funding and signing a new agreement with the IMF. CC insists however that it could not overlook the procedural violations committed by the Government in its attempt to amend the Constitution.

It’s fine, man

Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo spoke to Newsmaker about the declassified sentence in the case of the seven deported Turkish teachers. A couple of weeks ago, Stoianoglo revealed that the trial was over, but the sentence was secret. It was later partly published and the public was outraged to learn that the former secret service chief Vasile Botnari, the only person tried, received a mere fine of €4500 for abuse of office.

Stoianoglo admitted that, ”in a human way”, what happened to the teachers was a tragedy and he would have wanted a harsher sentence in this case. However, the prosecutor explained that the moral judgement and the legal judgement are two different things. Moreover, he even suggested that a fine is better than a jail term because the latter can be suspended.

Even though he initiated an internal investigation concerning the prosecutor who handled this case, Stoianoglo doesn’t think the prosecutor acted in bad faith. We decided to check whether there’s truly no place for moral justice in the Moldovan law and, contrary to Stoianoglo’s claims, found at least three criminal articles Vasile Botnari and his accomplices could have been charged with: kidnapping, illegal detention and high treason. Read our full piece here: The Criminal Code explained for prosecutors – the case of the seven Turkish teachers.

A stinky ruling

Mayor of Chișinău Ion Ceban presented the city’s plan to solve the parking crisis in the city center. First, authorities will launch an online map of existing parking spots. Second, together with the police, the City Hall will reorganize traffic and dedicate some lanes for parallel parking. Finally, Ceban complained that some companies had previously obtained lands to build parking lots but raised gas stations and apartment blocks instead. Now, the mayor wants to get back at least some of those lands.

Even though the first segment of Albișoara street has been repaired, Ceban urged drivers to wait until the road marking is applied and the street is officially open. He is unhappy that some drivers are already using this segment and breaking the speed limit while at it.

The mayor also lambasted the judges who forbade water utility Apă-Canal to cut off river-polluting companies from the municipal water system. A couple of weeks ago, the city decided to punish several companies that released untreated wastewater into the Bîc river, which stank the whole city out. Ceban wrote on Facebook that ”something stinks in the judiciary” and promised to publish a list of companies guilty of the bad odor. In the judges’ decision there is only one – Slavena Lux.

The City Hall started this Saturday ”the Grand Cleaning”, a campaign where municipal workers and simple volunteers will sweep the parks of Chișinău together.

The oligarch’s advocate

”Vlad Filat’s file was a charade. Filat and Plahotniuc are one unitary whole. These two were accomplices in the banking fraud, are still cooperating and talking on the phone up to this day”. This is just one of the accusations made against PLDM leader Filat by his former lawyer Igor Popa during a Jurnal TV talk-show.

Popa also says that his former client worked together with Ilan Șor to steal at least €100 million from Moldovan banks and then hide the money in foreign accounts. Moreover, the lawyer claims there already is an ongoing investigation in Germany against Filat on suspicion of money laundering. According to Popa, Filat used some of the stolen money to pay for Facebook ads. The former prime minister also allegedly married one of his lawyers to avoid paying some taxes.

As regards Filat’s friendship with Plahotniuc, Popa says the former had excellent conditions in jail and Plahotniuc even organized occasional banquets to ensure his friend’s silence. Filat, in turn, offered the former PDM leader political and PR advice.

Vlad Filat accused Popa of being a liar and a tool of Plahotniuc. Angry at Popa’s claims about his private life, the politician said he would hit his former lawyer in the face, but will instead sue him for libel.

Several other lawyers accused Popa of violating the professional ethical code and called for him to be stripped of his license. The Lawyers’ Union of Moldova promised to investigate the case.

The Prosecutor General’s Office also reacted and summoned Popa for a hearing next week, asking him to bring any evidence he has to support his claims.

Super Poll Position

According to the latest poll by the Association of Sociologists and Demographers, 30.9% of respondents would vote Igor Dodon for president, 19.3% prefer Maia Sandu, 6.8% would cast their ballot for Andrei Năstase, 6.7% for Renato Usatîi, 5.5% for Violeta Ivanov and 25.7% don’t know yet or would not vote at all.

However, a poll commissioned by the International Republican Institute (IRI) shows dramatically different numbers: Maia Sandu – 20%, Igor Dodon – 18%, Renato Usatîi – 7%, Vladimir Voronin – 4%, Andrei Năstase – 3% and 33% undecided. Data for Chișinău puts Maia Sandu at 27%, which is 11% more than Igor Dodon. Overall, the poll suggests that the president will be elected after a very tight second round.

Sandu and Dodon are also the most trusted politicians according to the IRI poll, with 18% and 15% each. Prime Minister Chicu is trusted by only 4% of respondents.

A game of stations

PAS protested outside the Central Electoral Commission, which they accuse of preparing to rig the election in favor of Igor Dodon. PAS members complained about the fake voter registrations in Russia and about CEC’s decision that parties cannot finance their own candidates. CEC budged and asked the police to verify whether the registrations are authentic.

On the other hand, President Dodon dismissed the PAS protest as self-victimization and insists the vote cannot be rigged. He also warned that his supporters would take to the streets to defend his victory should anyone challenge it. PM Chicu also defended CEC and said the opposition’s allegations were unfounded.

Finally, on Saturday, CEC met to decide how many voting stations to open abroad. Initially, it had requested 202 sections, of which 38 in Russia, but received approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for only 136: 30 in Italy, 17 in Russia, 12 in the US and Romania each, 8 in France, 7 in the UK, 6 in Germany, 4 in Spain, Ireland and Canada each, 3 in Portugal, 2 in Ukraine, Turkey and Israel and 21 sections in 21 other countries. CEC asked the Foreign Ministry to open 3 additional sections: in Romania, Greece and Spain.

As regards ballot stations inside Moldova, PM Chicu said there will be none in kindergartens and student dormitories, but authorities cannot give up opening voting stations in schools.

Commission impossible

Presidential frontrunners Igor Dodon and Maia Sandu have both submitted the necessary signatures to register as candidates at CEC. They were also joined by Șor Party candidate Violeta Ivanov.

Pro Moldova’s Andrian Candu was denied registration, but this week they contested CEC’s decision at the Chișinău Court of Appeals. Some experts however think this situation is actually beneficial for Candu’s party, which has a very low rating, because it lends credibility to its status as an opposition party.

Underdog Alexandr Kalinin gave up running for president. He accused the Socialists of intimidating his supporters and even physically harassing one of the persons collecting signatures in his support. Kalinin said he will complain to the police.

Chișinău’s Court of Appeals rejected PLDM and UNIREA’s contestations against CEC’s circulaire that limited the parties’ financing of their own candidates. However, the contestants went higher up to the Supreme Justice Court, which canceled the first ruling and sent the file for a re-trial.

More news in one sentence

◾ While emigration from Moldova continues apace, the Government has drafted a bill that should make Moldova more attractive for qualified immigrants.

◾ Economist and former MP Veaceslav Ioniță calculated that, proportional to the GDP, in 2020, Moldova received the smallest volume of foreign grants ever.

◾ Avia Invest was handed a €1.6 million fine by the Council of Competition for abusing its dominating position on the market, but the company accused the Council of trying to help MGH Ground Handling secure a long-term contract with the airport operator.

◾ Mihail Aizin, a ‘90s bandit known as Kitaets (the Chinese), was decorated by President Dodon with the order “Glory of Labor”, but later ended up in the hospital because of Covid-19.

◾ One of the files against another ‘90s mafioso, Grigorii Caramalac aka the Bulgarian, was closed – prosecutors say they have simply transferred the materials to the authorities in Russia, a country that has repeatedly refused to return Caramalac to Moldova.

◾ Rise.MD found the name of Serghei Iaralov, advisor and confidant to fugitive oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, in the #FinCENFiles report, a massive banking documents leak, where Iaralov appears linked to one of the companies of Ilan Șor’s wife, the pop singer Jasmin, a company that also appears in the Kroll reports.

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