Moldova Weekly #7: A cracking alliance, Kroll is revealed, the promised hand
A cracking alliance
The ACUM bloc and the Party of Socialists signed a new cooperation agreement. ACUM calls it an institutional agreement between the Parliament, the President and the Government, while the Socialists call it a political agreement between the three ruling parties. Anyhow, the contents of the document are clearly intended to be a roadmap of reforms and actions to be taken by the current government. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much discussion about the quality of the proposed program.
Instead, the very fact of a new agreement with the Socialists proved unpalatable to some in the ACUM bloc. Octavian Țîcu announced he was leaving his party (PDA), but remaining as an independent MP inside the bloc (many frowned at this notion). Moreover, he decided to run for mayor of Chișinău on behalf of the Party of National Unity, associated with former Romanian President Traian Băsescu. Mihai Popșoi (PAS) admitted that Lilian Carp (PAS) and Iurie Reniță (PDA) are also considering their future in the bloc. Meanwhile, Arina Spătaru stepped down from her position as PDA deputy leader, unhappy with how the party chose its candidates for the upcoming local elections. However, she will not quit the party altogether. Another PDA deputy leader, Stanislav Pavlovschi, who was poised to become minister of justice in June, announced he will fully withdraw from politics and go back to being a lawyer. Previously, PDA MP Maria Ciobanu had also expressed doubts about her future as part of the current parliamentary majority.
The acting Prosecutor General Dumitru Robu came to the Parliament twice this week. First he asked the lawmakers to lift the immunity of Șor Party MPs Marina Tauber and Reghina Apostolova. After a quick break, the parliamentary majority agreed and soon after both women were temporarily detained by anticorruption officers. Tauber got 30 days of home arrest, while the elderly Apostolova was granted conditional bail. Both appear in the Kroll report and the prosecutors are investigating their role in the banking fraud. Their party leader, Ilan Șor, who hides in Israel for the time being, posted a video in which he claims that this is a personal vendetta of President Dodon. Moreover, he argues that Tauber and Apostolova should be untouchable, given his previous testimonies explaining that they acted on his orders. We checked his claims against the Penal Code and, surprise!, they are false.
Check out our full take on the story here:
Can Shor’s Testimony Get MPs Tauber and Apostolova Off the Hook?
Dumitru Robu’s second visit concerned PDM deputy leader Vladimir Cebotari and another Șor Party MP Petru Jardan. The Parliament agreed to lift their MP immunities as well. Cebotari and Jardan will be investigated for their role in the leasing of the Chișinău Airport to a company that ended up in Șor’s hands. Șor himself was stripped of immunity in mid-August.
Lawyer Eduard Digore, who worked as a consultant for the parliamentary committee investigating the privatization of Air Moldova and the leasing of Chișinău Airport, said there are legal grounds to terminate both contracts. The committee should present both reports to the Parliament next week. However, Nat Rothschild who took over Avia Invest from Șor, warns that he is ready to defend his investment in court. Moreover, he says the airport is in dire need of more investments - about 150 million euros, given the rising number of passengers, and Rothschild will only put forth the money if he has guarantees the lease won’t be cancelled.
The promised hand
A Moldovan delegation headed by Prime Minister Maia Sandu travelled to the US this week. The previous visit was postponed because US State Secretary Mike Pompeo wasn’t available and… he wasn’t available this time either. Instead, the Moldovan delegation met with Vice-President Mike Pence and a host of other US officials. Besides the traditional talk of commitment to democratic reforms, security and economic cooperation, the Moldovan officials met with FBI, CIA and Justice Department representatives to talk about the bank fraud and the Russian Laundromat. Minister of the Interior Andrei Năstase claimed personal credit for putting the issue on the FBI's agenda. PM Maia Sandu confirmed that Moldova will try to get US authorities to freeze and seize assets owned by those involved in the bank fraud, especially Vlad Plahotniuc.
The PM also said that a group of US investors should visit Moldova in the next few months. According to Sandu, they don’t want lower taxes, but a fair and working justice system so that they can protect their investments. Some investors from North Carolina allegedly had tried to invest in Moldova before, but were put off by corrupt officials.
Kroll is revealed
Alexandru Slusari, head of the parliamentary committee investigating the banking fraud, announced on Friday he had received Kroll’s final list of beneficiaries of the fraud. According to Slusari, the main group of beneficiaries is Vlad Plahotniuc and his entourage. The former PDM leader escaped abroad soon after the new government came into power. The second group of beneficiaries is made of another fugitive oligarch, Ilan Șor, and jailed ex-prime minister Vlad Filat. Other known figures named by Slusari include former president Petru Lucinschi (although Slusari might have meant his son, Chiril, a former Lib Dem MP) and Gabriel Stati, the son of billionaire Anatol Stati.
Earlier this week, the Agency for the Recovery of Criminal Goods froze assets valued at about 364 million lei (over 20 million $), belonging to those involved in the bank fraud. The Agency also seized 11 luxury and armored cars. IMF representative in Moldova Volodymyr Tulin visited the National Anticorruption Center, praised these recent efforts and promised the IMF would help Moldova find and recover the stolen money.
Justice League of Moldova
Last week, 87 judges asked the High Council of Judges (CSM) to organize an extraordinary Assembly of Judges and then to quit altogether. CSM ruled to delay its decision on the matter and to investigate if all the magistrates signed the letter freely and consciously. In turn, the Association of Judges claimed CSM was pressuring some signatories to revoke their signatures. The association then contested CSM’s delay of the decision. The Chișinău Court of Appeal examined the case in record time and ruled to oblige CSM to organize an extraordinary Assembly of Judges as requested. Some voices from civil society shed doubt on the whole affair, suggesting a group of opportunistic judges are trying to exploit the change of regime. Even Justice Minister Olesea Stamate said the Court of Appeal’s ruling proved the judiciary served the obscure interests of particular groups, not the law and the ordinary people.
On the other front of the justice reform, the Parliament finally passed the amendments on the reform of the prosecution service, cancelling the ongoing selection of a new chief prosecutor by the High Council of Prosecutors (CSP). Instead, CSP will have to choose from a shortlist of at least two candidates pre-selected by a committee at the Ministry of Justice. The Democratic Party labeled this an infringement on the independence of the prosecution service and will challenge the reform at the Constitutional Court.
Seemingly making the most of his time as acting Prosecutor General, Dumitru Robu restored Viorel Morari as head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office. The latter quit in April 2019 after being linked to the hostile takeover of a business. Morari later complained he was forced to quit by the previous PG Eduard Harunjen and even testified against him.
The Russian Forum
President Dodon is hosting a Moldo-Russian Forum in Chișinău. He says that Russian billionaire Igor Bukato is interested in building Chișinău’s long-awaited ring road. Dodon’s praised Bukato’s previous infrastructure projects in Russia, although some might describe him as a ‘subscriber’ to government contracts, and promised to initiate official negotiations soon. Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak had some less pleasing news: Moscow might reintroduce import taxes for Moldovan agrifood products in response to their own farmers’ complaints and terrible budget losses of… $6 million. He also announced that the list of Moldovan companies allowed to export to Russia was reviewed to exclude middlemen.
Meanwhile, the shareholder’s meeting of Moldovagaz appointed a new Supervisory Council. Moldova will be represented by Călin Negură, a department chief at the Ministry of Economy, famous for being one of the highest paid officials in the country, and civil society expert Adrian Lupușor. The latter will be also be deputy chairman of the Council. Notably, Elena Burmistrova, the manager in charge of Gazprom’s exports, will head the Council.
The deadline for applications to run in the upcoming local elections has passed. In Chișinău, 21 candidates have submitted their papers to the Central Electoral committee. Seven have already been registered, while CEC is examining the remaining 14 files. There’s a notable inflation of pro-Romanian unionist candidates – at least 8 who are openly so. Another awkward situation concerns the rivalry between Andrei Năstase (ACUM) and Vladimir Cebotari (PDM). The former, as minister of the interior, asked the prosecutors to investigate Cebotari’s role in the banking fraud. The prosecutors did turn their eyes to Cebotari, but for a different reason - the airport lease. Although stripped of his MP immunity, Cebotari still enjoys the protection offered by the Election Code to all candidates during the electoral campaign.