Moldova Weekly #9: the fault in our governor, all the president's might, grand crash auto
The fault in our governor
Alexandru Slusari, head of the parliamentary committee investigating the bank fraud, published the declassified minutes of a meeting from November 7, 2014, between a group of high-ranking officials at the time, including Prime Minister Iurie Leancă, Speaker Andrian Candu and National Bank governor Dorin Drăguțan. The latter, supported by Candu, pushed the idea to provide the three defrauded banks with government-guaranteed emergency loans. The officials agreed. However, the National Bank did not put the banks under special administration until November 27. During these 20 days, BEM, Banca Socială and Unibank issued a total of over 25 billion lei in loans. With the data from the National Bank in his hand, Slusari was fuming and called Drăguțan “the number one criminal” for allowing this to happen.
Last week, the General Assembly of Judges dismissed the High Council of the Judiciary (CSM). Or not. Government officials and CSM itself say the Assembly didn’t have quorum and, as such, its decisions have no legal effect. CSM chief Dorel Musteață says the Council didn’t receive the official proceedings of the Assembly. Five CSM members then challenged the Assembly’s decision on the grounds that CSM members cannot be dismissed with less votes than they were appointed. Prime Minister Maia Sandu and Justice Minister Olesea Stamate both had harsh words for the Assembly, while President Igor Dodon called for calm and non-interference in the judiciary’s internal issues. Some analysts claim the attempted coup was actually instigated and supported by Dodon.
Fittingly for an independent and sovereign country like Moldova, the US Embassy chimed in, “concerned” about the reports that the General Assembly of Judges wants to block the government efforts. The Embassy reaffirmed US support for anticorruption and judiciary reforms in Moldova, including the external vetting of judges and prosecutors.
Supreme Justice Court chairman Ion Druță resigned on Tuesday, but CSM has yet to accept his resignation. On Wednesday, Druță was temporarily detained by anticorruption prosecutors on charges of illegal enrichment, but the judges decided he should not be remanded during the investigation.
The Ministry of Justice announced the beginning of the selection contest for the new Prosecutor General. Lawyers and judges with at least 8 years of experience, as well as prosecutors with at least 5 years of experience, are invited to apply. A pre-selection committee will choose 2-3 candidates and put them forward to the High Council of Prosecutors, who will appoint one of them as the new PG. Only two of the pre-selection committee’s members are known so far: Justice Minister Stamate and foreign expert James Hamiltor, Ireland’s former Director of Public Prosecutions. They will be joined by a civil society representative, an experienced judge or prosecutor, and a renowned expert appointed by the President. The committee will also be advised by a psychologist.
Despite ACUM seemingly giving up on their previous promise of a foreign Prosecutor General, the Democrats promised the necessary votes to make it happen. This is more likely an attempt by PDM to undermine the already shaky alliance between ACUM and PSRM.
The old standard
The Central Electoral Commission definitively denied former acting mayor Ruslan Codreanu registration in the upcoming local elections. He tried to run as an independent candidate, but CEC officials say he did not present sufficient valid signatures in his support. Some ruling coalition MPs criticized Codreanu for not gathering enough reserve signatures, but admitted the decision may have been too harsh. Underdog candidate Victor Chironda proposed to launch a petition to reduce the number of signatures required of independent hopefuls.
Meanwhile, former Communist turned progressive leftist Grigore Petrenco accused the ruling coalition and CEC of double standards. He points out at the official financial statements of the Socialists and ACUM. The former indicate only 15000 lei spent on billboards last week, despite Chișinău being full of billboards with their candidate’s face. ACUM doesn’t seem more honest either, declaring zero rent for the week when they used the open-air Green Theater to formally launch their electoral campaign. Petrenco says CEC could eliminate both parties from the elections if it only checked their financial statements.
CEC announced it won’t publish the income statements of all candidates running in the local elections because they are too many and CEC cannot process all the information. Only voters in Chișinău will be lucky enough to have access to their candidates’ income statements.
Grand Crash Auto
A Porsche Cayenne crashed into a trolleybus at 130 km/h. The driver was a drunk woman, with 43 previous traffic tickets and 5 criminal charges in her record. The passenger in her car died and numerous other people on the trolleybus were injured or hospitalized. The driver herself ended up in intensive care. There was considerable public outcry on why she still had a license despite her record. PM Maia Sandu and President Dodon both promised harsher punishments for drunk driving and repeat offences. The story got a twist when it was revealed that the justice minister’s father is actually the guilty driver’s lawyer in one of her previous cases. Olesea Stamate confirmed the information, but explained that particular case was still pending trial, so it cannot be said her father helped the driver escape punishment.
On Monday, the Moldova-EU Association Council reunited for its fifth meeting and, a couple of days later, EU Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini travelled to Chișinău. She promised the first installment of the €100 million macro-financial assistance would soon be unlocked. Mogherini praised the new government’s reforms and plans but stressed that financial support will be conditioned on the continuation of reforms and adherence to the unpopular IMF agreement. Mogherini explained that EU funds will be allotted for the fight against corruption, gender equality, local development of regions and support for SMEs and NGOs.
This week, at the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PDM’s Andrian Candu complained about the current government’s witch hunt against opposition parties. Ironically, PACE voted an amendment demanding the termination of all politically motivated criminal cases started by the previous PDM government. During the same session, PACE rejected two other Moldova-related amendments: a Russian proposal to make the stay of Russian troops in Transnistria permanent and a Turkish proposal to enlarge the autonomy of Gagauzia.
All the President’s might
President Igor Dodon called for more cooperation and compromise from his coalition partners ACUM. He denied rumors that the Socialists had demanded the resignation of some ministers, even though “two or three of them shouldn’t be there”. He warned that his criticism of the government so far has been mild, but he could easily put ACUM’s Cabinet to the ground with a couple of punches. Dodon hinted that, after the local elections, the Socialists might try to take over the social-economic portfolios.
The head of the state proved his might and power when he demanded the termination of four Arab students’ residence permits. The students were filmed getting into a squabble with a Moldovan mother on the street, in front of her daughter. The protector of the nation quickly reacted to this foreign aggression and demanded the students be punished. By evening, the university expelled them.
An airplane almost crashed into some service vehicles at the airport. The initial version was human error, with a former official complaining that air traffic controllers are overworked. An ATC union chief later revealed that in 2015 MoldATSA paid €1.8 million for a traffic monitoring system. However, the service vehicles were not equipped with emitters that would make them visible on the radar. Avia Invest, the airport operator, denied the accusation.
In the Parliament, the MPs finally approved Munteanu committee’s reports on the privatization of Air Moldova and the lease of the Chișinău Airport. The committee formally recommended the termination of both contracts. The authorities will now be gearing up for a litigation with Nat Rothschild, who took over Avia Invest from fugitive MP Ilan Șor.
The municipal water utility Apă-Canal Chișinău complained about coordinated discharges of toxic water that kill bacteria at the wastewater plant. ACC says the discharges usually take place at night and “have a political subtext” in the context of the upcoming elections. In other words, the company is calling this a politically fabricated problem. ACC claims it had repeatedly asked for help from other state institutions, including the prosecutor, but to no avail.
The prosecutors don’t seem interested in ACC’s accusations and are instead investigating the utility for not respecting the technological process at the wastewater plant and for the misuse of public money. The overall damage on both charges is estimated at 70 million lei. A couple of weeks ago, the Competition Council fined ACC for not applying differential tariffs to the water-polluting companies. ACC director Valeriu Meșca announced his resignation in a FB post that was later deleted, meaning he probably changed his mind.