Moldova Weekly #8: 100 days of bummer, a Moldovan President in New York, currency for current
100 days of bummer
Prime Minister Maia Sandu presented her Cabinet’s 100-day report. She started with a short fable about a boat floating adrift, steered by rats who keep the supplies to themselves. That’s the Moldova she found when she became head of the government. Maia Sandu was also very bitter at “critics who complain from their couches” instead of joining the government to change things. As she finally got to the accomplishments part of her report, the PM talked about cancelling the widely criticized mixed voting system, unlocking foreign financial assistance, passing the reform of the prosecution service in Parliament, changing the managers of all major state-owned enterprises and putting a stop to all the previous corruption schemes. Some of the other achievements are only first steps: the larger justice reform, preparations to get the likes of Air Moldova, the Airport, the nationwide bus station network back under state management or ownership, and so on. The PM admitted that things are moving slower than she would like because of resistance from the former regime’s allies. However, she asked people to keep their faith in the government, which she described as the most honest and well-meaning the history of independent Moldova.
A Moldovan President in New York
President Igor Dodon travelled to the UN General Assembly in New York, where he met with several foreign leaders, businessmen and ‘influential Jewish organizations’. Among US officials, he only got a proper meeting with David Hale, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, but Dodon and his wife did manage to get a photo-op with Donald and Melania Trump.
The highlight of Dodon’s trip was his speech to the UN General Assembly. Contrary to the ”defender of the traditional Orthodox values” speech he employs at home, the president spoke about women empowerment and gender equality, boasting that the Moldovan Parliament and Cabinet, as well as the Gagauz Autonomy, are all headed by women. Nonetheless, he couldn’t resist appending a couple of lines about the women’s primary role as mothers. More in line with his usual talking points, Dodon asked for international recognition of Moldova’s permanent neutrality, but notably did not ask for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria. He was lambasted for this by PAS, who labelled the president’s speech as incoherent. The prime minister’s party stressed that real neutrality and sovereignty cannot be achieved while tolerating the presence of foreign occupation troops in the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also criticized the president’s ”unbalanced” approach.
Last week, 87 judges demanded the High Council of Judges to summon an Extraordinary Assembly of Judges (CSM), but were denied. They went to the Court of Appeal who sided with them and obliged CSM to organize the assembly as requested. CSM did not agree and the Court Appeal ruled to summon the assembly anyways, raising many eyebrows. CSM challenged the decision, but the judges went on and gathered on Friday. By afternoon, they announced 202 out of 396 judges had joined the Assembly, thus reaching the required quorum. They voted to dismiss the six judges in CSM and called for another extraordinary assembly on October 25.
Prime Minister Maia Sandu and Justice Minister Olesea Stamate called the assembly and its decisions illegal, insisting that the gathered judges did not have a quorum and that they violated procedural requirements. Experts say the change of CSM members could be used to effectively block the body’s work and hamper the planned reform of the judiciary. Given that the government wants to create an expert commission that will vet all judges, a crippled CSM will not be able to dismiss the judges who fail the commission’s examination. The reform plans have been criticized by MEDEL, a European association of judges, for infringing on the judiciary’s independence.
Meanwhile, the press published more details about the 87 signatories who started all this. Among them we find some of the most notorious Moldovan magistrates, including those who sentenced Vlad Filat and Veaceslav Platon to jail, those who left Ilan Șor at large and one of those who sent mentally ill Andrei Braguța to jail, where he was beaten to death.
The fall of the polls
Four polls have been published this week, as municipal elections draw near. Although the figures vary considerably, all polls put Ion Ceban (PSRM) and Andrei Năstase (ACUM/PDA) in front. Ceban lost the previous elections to Năstase, but the result was later canceled in court. Since then, Năstase has always referred to himself as the elected mayor. These elections are even more important as he tries to steady his party’s boat. After several important members departed and polls that show PDA is being overshadowed by their bloc partners PAS, winning the capital might very well be a matter of political survival for Năstase and his party.
All the other candidates lag a long way behind. The best of the rest, former interim mayor Rusland Codreanu, was denied registration as an independent candidate by the electoral authorities because too many of the signatures gathered in support of his candidacy were rejected. His team challenged the decision, which was instead defended by some PAS members, who told Codreanu he should have gathered more ‘reserve signatures’. Some polls also indicate a large number of undecided voters (up to nearly 25%), which in theory could leave room for a surprise.
The government greenlighted the ”de-offshorization” bill, which will ban offshore entities and offshore-registered persons from participating in public-private partnerships, government tenders and procurements, lease and privatization contracts. Keeping in line with these anti-offshore efforts, the Ministry of Health asked the government to cancel BB-Dializa’s monopoly on dialysis services. The company is owned by a Cypriote offshore and was granted a quasi-monopoly by Pavel Filip’s Cabinet. The Ministry of Health wants to reduce the term of the PPP to the standard 12 years instead of 24 years agreed by Filip and to cancel the stipulation prohibiting the government to initiate other PPPs related to dialysis services.
Good news came from Paris, where the Court of Appeal agreed to pause the litigation between Moldova and Komstroy/Energoalians and wait for the opinion of the European Court of Justice on whether buying another company’s right to payment can be considered an investment under the Energy Charter Treaty. The litigation stems from the procurement of electricity from Ukraine via an offshore in 1999-2000. Read more about it here: The Energoalians Affair: What You Need to Know.
Anticorruption prosecutors have frozen over 300 million lei of Air Moldova’s registered capital as part of an investigation concerning money laundering during the privatization of the company. The flag carrier was controversially privatized for pennies (50 million lei) on the condition the investor pay its humongous debt of over 1 billion lei. Authorities now say the debt has not been repaid. In turn, the company hit back by claiming that the government was contractually obliged to contribute 150 million lei, but did not fulfill its commitment.
The separate investigation into the airport is not lagging behind either. Rosian Vasiloi, head of the Border Police, said there were four doors through which people close to the former government could sneak out of the country without passport control. This was reportedly facilitated by the operator of the Airport, Avia Invest, which managed the video surveillance system. Vasiloi explained that the seven kidnapped Turkish teachers, wanted by Erdoğan for their Gülenist ties, were sent to Turkey via such a door.
Currency for current
Moldova will get a €40 million grant and a €60 million loan to inter-connect its electricity grid to Romania’s and, by extension, to the European one. The project has been developed together with the EU, EBRD, EIB and the World Bank. Finance Minister Natalia Gavriliță, who signed the agreement, said the project will help Moldova reduce its energy dependence.
Chișinău currently buys electricity from separatist Transnistria, where energy is cheap because they don’t really pay for gas. Instead, Moldovagaz has to bear the burden of Transnistria’s $6 billion debt to Gazprom. In addition to the interconnection of electricity networks, Moldova is also working on a gas pipe from Iași to Chișinău, which would allow the import of gas from Romania.
Former PDM MP, kickboxer Constantin Țuțu got two arrest warrants in absentia. The first comes from Moldovan anticorruption prosecutors, who want him for swindling €20,000 out of the family of an arrested man in exchange for the promise of getting him free. The second warrant comes from Russia, where he is wanted for drug trafficking together with his former party leader Vlad Plahotniuc. The warrant against the latter was cancelled however because the Interpol rejected Russia’s request to announced him a wanted man. Interpol officers saw political undertones to that request.
Țuțu is also known for his involvement in a gunfight in 2012, when a man was killed and another one injured. He was acquitted in April 2019 by the Court of Appeal, but that sentence can still be challenged at the Supreme Justice Court.
The Autumn of the President
Prosecutors are investigating former President Petru Lucinschi’s potential role in the banking fraud, given that his name appears in the Kroll reports. They also searched his office and home. Lucinschi had previously explained that he had bought shares at one of three defrauded banks at the recommendation of Ilan Șor, whom he did not suspect of bad intentions. Lucinschi denies any wrongdoing and swears that he did not take out any credit in Unibank, did not vote for any bad loan, did not receive any dividends and didn’t even have an account at Unibank. During the previous government, the ex-president’s younger son was sentenced to jail for his role in the banking fraud. Meanwhile, the elder son was sentenced to jail in Romania for influence peddling.