Moldova Weekly #4: Independence Day, the Rothschild Saga, Russian gifts
On August 27, Moldova celebrated the 28th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence. The uneasy alliance between the ACUM bloc and the Socialists left its mark on the festivities. President Igor Dodon and Prime Minister Maia Sandu laid flowers at the monument of Stephen the Great separately. The latter got friendly with the demonstrators from OccupyGuguță, who were on the spot holding protest banners. Before the traditional concert in the Great National Assembly Square, the ministers came to talk directly to the people on the lawn outside the government. The next day, the prime minister announced that this year’s festivities cost half a million lei less than in 2018.
Today, August 31, Moldova celebrates its language day - the Romanian Language Day according to the government and ”Our Language Day” in the words of the President. Moldovan society has long been split on the issue of the official name of the language: some call it Moldovan, others call it Romanian, a debate which is frequently instrumentalized by politicians for electoral purposes.
The Justice Reform
Justice Minister Olesea Stamate, President Igor Dodon, Speaker Zinaida Greceanîi, Prime Minister Maia Sandu and Minister of the Interior Andrei Năstase finally announced the ruling coalition’s plan for the reform of justice. The Supreme Justice Court will focus more on unifying jurisprudence and less on hearing individual cases. The number of judges will be halved and a special commission, which will include former judges and prosecutors from the EU, will evaluate CSJ members and decide who stays and who goes. The same commission will evaluate other head judges and chief prosecutors, their deputies, anticorruption prosecutors and so on. New members will be added to the High Council of Magistrates and to the High Council of Prosecutors. The latter body will appoint the Prosecutor General from a shortlist prepared by a commission at the Ministry of Justice. This is still a point of contention, as President Dodon and Speaker Greceanîi want to have a say as well. The pool of possible candidates for PG will be expanded to include anyone with at least 10 years of experience in a legal profession. President Dodon conditioned this reform on weakening the chief prosecutor’s office.
Too see the detailed list of proposed changes and how they compare to the previous promises of the ruling parties, check out our latest piece: The Justice Reform: what was promised and what was delivered.
On Thursday, Maia Sandu announced that Romania’s former Prosecutor General Augustin Lazăr will join the Prime Minister’s team of anticorruption and justice advisors. Lazăr, alongside Laura Codruța Kövesi, was instrumental in Romania’s sweeping campaign against corruption a couple of years ago.
The Action Plan
The government approved its Plan of Actions for 2019-2020, a list of concrete steps it plans to take in order to achieve its previously stated goals. However, an analysis by Watchdog.md claims that the action plan doesn’t fit with the Governance Program and that the document reflects lower rank bureaucratic ideas and not the new ministers’ vision of reform. Besides the insufficient justice reforms, Watchdog experts say the action plan does not include other promised measures such as an audit at Moldovagaz, dismantling monopolies in the transport sector, multiannual contracts for road maintenance and others. The experts recommend that the government reviews its plan of actions and adjust it to the Governance Program.
The Rothschild Saga
Last week’s announcement that Nat Rothschild had bought Avia Invest, the company to whom the Chișinău International Airport is leased, made quite an impression on Moldovan society. Prime Minister Maia Sandu said that the lease contract could not be transferred to another company because Avia Invest shares had been frozen by prosecutors. She said that Rothschild only expressed an interest in buying the lease contract, but no transaction was actually concluded.
Then Rothschild dropped the bomb: his offshore NR Investments Ltd announced the purchase of Komaksavia Airport Invest, the Cyprus offshore that owns 95% of Avia Invest, thus circumventing the freeze on Avia Invest shares. Moreover, the press release says that the transaction comes after „extensive engagement” with „incoming Prime Minister” Maia Sandu and Minister of Economy Vadim Brînzan. Both officials denied the allegations and said they only met Rothschild when he was about to buy the Avia Invest shares in order to warn him that the Airport is the target of multiple investigations and that the lease contract might be terminated. Brînzan also admitted to having met Rothschild on August 10, when the latter only announced his intention to buy Avia Invest. This reveal drew accusations from some quarters that Brînzan actually lobbied for the Rothschild takeover of the Airport, but Prime Minister Sandu defended him. She added that prosecutors, a parliamentary commission, the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Justice were all working to get the Airport back from Avia Invest.
The parliamentary commission investigating the great banking fraud known as “the theft of the billion” met with jailed former Prime Minister Vlad Filat. Commission head Alexandru Slusari said Filat’s statements were disappointing and didn’t shed any light on what really happened. Slusari also expressed skepticism regarding Filat’s claims of ignorance. The former PM pointed his finger at fellow ex-PM Iurie Leancă, former Speaker Andrian Candu, former Minister of Economy Valeriu Lazăr and former governor of the National Bank Dorin Drăguțanu. The conspicuous absences in this list are of course oligarchs Vlad Plahotniuc and Ilan Şor, who both fled abroad after being left out of the new government coalition.
Alexandru Slusari told the press that Vlad Plahotniuc is also investigated by anticorruption prosecutors for a 2011 transaction with Veaceslav Platon. Plahotniuc officially sold Platon his shares in Victoriabank, while unofficially he also sold his shares in Banca de Economii and the insurance company ASITO. The transaction was conducted via an offshore company in order to avoid taxes.
President Dodon announced after his meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu last weekend that Moscow is ready to start destroying the ammo from the Cobasna depot in separatist Transnistria. The depot, guarded by about 1500 Russian soldiers, is believed to hold over 22,000 tonnes of Soviet ammo. According to former Defense Minister Vitalie Marinuță, this is the equivalent of a 10-tonne atomic bomb.
While Igor Dodon wants to have the topic on the agenda of the next 5+2 meeting, Prime Minister Maia Sandu seemed puzzled by the announcement and stressed that Shoygu’s visit was a private one and no official deals could have been agreed. Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu saluted any progress regarding the withdrawal of Russian ammo and troops from Transnistria, which Russia had promised back in 1999 at an OSCE summit in Istanbul. Popescu added that the removal or destruction of ammo in Cobasna must be done transparently, with the participation of relevant international actors.
US National Security Advisor John R. Bolton, who came to Chișinău on Thursday, expressed US interest in participating in the destruction of the ammo from Cobasna. He met with Prime Minister Maia Sandu, who announced afterwards that Moldova would negotiate a new individual action plan with NATO that will improve the country’s military and security capabilities. Sandu expressed hope that Moldova would progress from being a security consumer to being a security provider. The Prime Minister is scheduled to lead a Moldovan delegation to the US on August 31-September 4. President Dodon also met Bolton, whom he thanked for US assistance, but warned that the President will continue to plead for balanced relations with both the West and the East (read Russia).
John R. Bolton, known as a foreign policy hawk in the US, is on a regional tour in Eastern Europe, visiting Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. As expected, Bolton encouraged Chișinău’s anticorruption campaign and expressed US support for solving the Transnistrian conflict and protecting Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
After the failures and decline of parties advocating unification with Romania in recent years, unionist forces seem to be resetting this summer. On Wednesday, the former Liberal Reformists Party rebranded itself into the Romanian People’s Party. Its ranks were refreshed with members from other like-minded organizations and Vlad Țurcan, former counselor of ex-President Nicolae Timofti, was elected party chairman.
Meanwhile, the other new unionist party - the Union Save Basarabia - and its leader Valeriu Munteanu are keeping busy. The former Liberal, who will run for mayor of Chișinău, complained to the Central Electoral Commission that his Socialist rival Ion Ceban used public resources to kickstart his campaign. He says that Ceban and his team attended the opening of a public fountain near Valea Trandafirilor park in the absence of other municipal officials, making it seem an achievement of the Socialists, even though it was paid for by the city. Munteanu also asked the Minister of the Interior Andrei Năstase to fine other Socialist leaders - President Dodon, Speaker Greceanîi and Gagauz Bașkan Irina Vlah - for not flying the national flag at half-mast on August 23, declared by the government a Day of Remembrance of the victims of all totalitarian regimes.