Seven letdowns from Prosecutor General Stoianoglo one year into his term
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on December 1.
One year ago Alexandr Stoianoglo became Moldova’s new prosecutor general, the first to occupy this crucial position after the fall of the Plahotniuc regime. Even though Stoianoglo’s appointment was the last straw that broke the back of the PSRM-ACUM alliance and led to the Sandu Cabinet being dismissed, the new PG took his position enjoying a relatively high degree of credibility. As a candidate for the job, he cleared the integrity filters jointly established by PSRM and ACUM, got a high score in the contest and ended up being one of the four finalists preselected by the Ministry of Justice.
Even Ștefan Gligor, one of Stoianoglo’s rivals for the job, stated then: “I really hope that the appointment of Mr. Stoianoglo, who has the reputation of a honest and balanced person, will prove to be a pleasant surprise rather than otherwise.”
A year on, that initial trust enjoyed by Stoianoglo has gotten considerably thinner. Under his management, Moldova’s prosecution service not only has not shown any tangible progress in high-profile cases such as the $1B bank fraud (aka the ‘theft of the century’), the Russian Laundromat and the Socialists’ funding, but has also taken massive steps backward on some of them.
Alexandr Stoianoglo has recently presented a report covering his first year in office. According to the prosecutor general, his achievements include, among others: putting an end to extortion and other corrupt practices within the prosecution service targeting businesses, reviewing and closing politically-motivated cases, pressing charges against the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc and members of the central bank leadership in the $1B fraud case, and making progress in a number of high-profile cases, without offering details, though. But the report leaves many crucial questions unanswered.
Veaceslav Platon, previously nicknamed ‘the biggest corporate raider in the CIS’, was freed from prison on the request of Alexandr Stoianoglo, who said that “the case against Veaceslav Platon had been completely fabricated.” According to the prosecutor general, Platon’s case will now be re-tried in a transparent and unbiased manner, but Stoianoglo’s position is crystal clear: the evidence against Platon is entirely fake. If the prosecution has the same position in the courtroom, too, it’s very likely the controversial investor will get away scot-free.
In 2018, Platon was sentenced to an aggregate term of 25 years in prison on multiple counts of fraud and corruption. One case against him was indeed related to the ‘theft of the century’: Platon was accused of stealing and laundering about 40 million euros through Banca de Economii. Another case was about an attempt to corrupt high-ranking officers at Pantera, a special operations unit.
Now, not only has Platon been freed. He’s also been talking to the press about the progress of the complex prosecutorial probe into the theft of the century, selling his version as the truth. As Deputy Speaker Alexandru Slusari put it, “after Platon’s disclosures, people start asking themselves who the real prosecutor general is.”. The Prosecutor General’s Office even had to issue a statement disavowing “the statements made by citizen Platon.”[^6]
The NGO Watchdog.MD recalls that in 2010, as lawmakers representing the European Integration Alliance, Platon and Stoianoglo both blocked an initiative to dissolve economic courts, which were speciality tribunals that, as Watchdog.MD claims, facilitated Platon’s schemes. Leaked footage showing Platon, still an inmate at the time, confabbing casually with Stoianoglo during what was supposed to be a formal examination only added to suspicion about their relationship. However Stoianoglo himself has denied any association with Platon, declaring that they had never even talked tete-a-tete during their time as MPs.
The Laundromat judges
In Russia, Veaceslav Platon has been accused, alongside Renato Usatîi and Vlad Plahotniuc, of orchestrating the Moldovan part of so-called Russian Laundromat, a scheme to move $20-80 billion out of Russia.
In Moldova, prosecutors obtained Platon’s release without pressing any other charges, like in the Laundromat case. Moreover, prosecutors dropped part of the charges against 13 Moldovan judges implicated in the Laundromat. This was decided in September, but journalists found out about it only a month later.
The judges were prosecuted in two separate cases: one on charges of complicity and another one on charges of passing manifestly unlawful decisions. Prosecutors abandoned only the first case, but Gheorge Ulianovschi, a lawyer for some of the judges involved, says the prosecutors’ decision could affect the second case as well.
Five of the judges already got their gavels back, plus the missed salaries for four years of suspension.
Prosecutors refused to start an investigation into the infamous black plastic bag that Igor Dodon, as leaked footage showed, received from oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc while discussing “salaries.” The Anticorruption Prosecution Office clumsily explained: “it has not been possible to determine the content of the bag as well as of the subject that carried out the recording.”
It’s not clear how the prosecutors arrived at the “not possible” conclusion, but what’s certain is that they didn’t even bother to question Igor Dodon, the outgoing Moldovan president and de facto leader of the Socialist Party, about what was in the bag, what “salaries” he was talking about in the leaked video and who “Cornel” was (MP Corneliu Furculiță, head of the Parliament Socialists, is the obvious guess).
Prosecutors simply concluded that the recording wasn’t much of a piece of evidence and refused to investigate further.
The probe into the Russian financing allegedly received by the Socialist Party through offshore companies, known as the Bahamas case, hasn’t made considerable progress either, despite being opened in 2016. PDA lawmaker Iurie Reniță says the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Anticorruption Prosecution Service and the National Agency for Integrity have been playing “a political ping-pong” shifting the investigation back and forth.
During his latest briefing, Stoianoglo said many didn’t understand his attitude of trying to “steer clear of politics.” But telling prosecutors to stop following political orders is one thing, and deliberately ignoring acts of grand corruption perpetrated by politicians is completely another.
After Ilan Șor was convicted in the $1B fraud in June 2017, the businessman-turned-politician appealed and since then his case has been stuck in countless hearing postponements and other dilatory tactics, Last time, a court sitting in his case was postponed on December 11. In the meantime, Șor has become a fugitive from justice. In his report, Alexandr Stoianoglo lays all the blame on Șor’s lawyers and the Cahul Court of Appeals, saying the prosecution can’t do anything about the situation.
Meanwhile, proceedings moved a lot faster for MPs Marina Tauber and Reghina Apostolova, Șor’s fellow party members and business partners. In October, charges against both were dropped in the bank fraud case. Prosecutors had trouble proving the criminal intent part, essentially saying that Tauber and Apostolova didn’t know they were participating in a crime that was perpetrated by someone who they still consider a honest man and their leader.
While Șor’s appeal has been stalled, prosecutors have charged him as a fugitive and requested his extradition from Israel. However, “by Israel’s law, the citizens of this state cannot be subject to extradition,” says Alexandr Stoianoglo.
But this is a half-truth. Per the Israeli Ministry of Justice’s website, if there is robust evidence, Israel can extradite its citizens on condition that after the trial they are returned to serve their sentence in Israel.
The lease of the Chișinău Airport is another endless story starring Ilan Șor. Both the Sandu Cabinet and the Chicu Cabinet promised to return the Airport into state administration, albeit by different methods – the former wanted to declare the lease void for being awarded illegally, and the latter seeks to prove that the lessee, a company linked to Șor, failed to fulfill its contractual obligations.
Obviously, proceedings would move faster if political statements about the illegality of the lease were backed by an effective investigation. A parliamentary inquiry commission set up specifically to address the Airport issue demanded that the Prosecutor General’s Office investigate “all the documents and correspondence among those involved in the contest to award the lease, including by requesting investigative assistance from Russia”.
In fact, an investigation was started back in 2014, but the file has since gathered more dust than the prosecutors were able to gather evidence.
In May 2020, MP Igor Munteanu, head of the inquiry commission, asked the PGO whether there was any progress with the investigation. “We have been informed that requests for assistance were sent to seven foreign jurisdictions, without any result; documents were submitted for expert evaluation; and seven public officials and one entity were formally accused”, summed up Munteanu.
Six months on, the Prosecutor General’s Office has nothing new to tell us about the Airport case.
One of Stoianoglo’s most notable moves as the new prosecutor general was to recognize Vlad Plahotniuc as the main beneficiary of the ‘theft of the century.’ The fugitive oligarch became all of the sudden the only villain, as prosecutors started closing other cases right and left.
And although Plahotniuc became target number one in the bank fraud prosecution, the efforts made to bring him home have not been commensurate. On June 16, Stoianoglo announced that prosecutors had sent an extradition request to the United States.
Two months later, we learn – thanks to journalistic investigations and the suspiciously too well-informed politician Renato Usatîi – that Plahotniuc had left the United States in late August for Romania before holing up in Turkey. On September 29, after this disclosure, the PGO asked the Turkish authorities to hand over the Moldovan oligarch. But as the Moldovan prosecutors were fumbling to make their move, Plahotniuc already made off, on October 4, or at least that is what Ankara said.
The Turkish teachers
The probe into the illegal extradition of seven Turkish teachers in 2018 ended with only one suspect being indicted, the former top intelligence chief Vasile Botnari. As sic! noted on that occasion, Stoianoglo and the PGO simply ignored the role of other suspects: government agents and especially politicians, expecting us to believe that Botnari pulled off the whole operation single-handedly.
When reporters asked Stoianoglo if Botnari was maybe protecting someone higher up by taking the entire blame upon himself, the chief prosecutor shrugged his shoulders saying “we can only guess”, even if he has both the power and the duty to investigate, not only guess.
The situation grew even more ridiculous after Botnari was secretly sentenced to only a fine, and no prison time, for the whole thing.
You can also read what's wrong with the classified sentence in the Turkish teachers case and what other charges the former SIS director should have faced in addition to the very abstract ‘abuse in office’ one.
One year into his term, Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo has nothing much to showcase – no high-profile case successfully completed, no high-profile sentencing with actual prison terms, no major confiscation of assets. Under Stoianoglo, prosecutors have become as lenient as ever, closing investigations and refusing to start others.
To be fair, there is a change as compared to the regime of Vlad Plahotniuc, who used the prosecution service as an instrument of political coercion. But this change hardly lives up to Moldovans’ expectations after the ‘liberation’ of the prosecution service from the oligarch’s hands.
It’s admirable that many politically-motivated cases have been reviewed or dropped on Stoianoglo’s initiative, but the lack of results and communication on high-profile investigations remains to be a problem.
Criminal charges were dropped not only against political activists and businesses harassed by Plahotniuc’s prosecutors, but also against judges prosecuted in the Russian Laundromat scandal, against Ilan Șor’s partners Marina Tauber and Reghina Apostolova. Veaceslav Platon has been freed and now he is back rebuilding his business, not necessarily using orthodox measures (see the Moldasig scandal), and even seems to be influencing the bank fraud investigation. Șor and Plahotniuc are still not brought home. No investigation has even been started into the mysterious black plastic bag, as the other case related to Socialists’ funding is being ping-ponged. The Turkish affair ended only with one man getting a fine. And these are only some of the most visible cases.
After his first year in office, Alexandr Stoianoglo has let us down. But he can still make it right. He is the first prosecutor general in years to be working in a system that is not completely subordinated to one politician. Meaning he has more freedom of maneuver than his predecessors, Corneliu Gurin and Eduard Harunjen. But this also means that he is less entitled to excuses. When he talks about “waves of blockages” he should name them loud and clear. Admittedly, some investigations that have been dragging for four or five years may not be completed within a year, but without transparency and communication, Stoianoglo and his Office cannot expect much public trust. And justice without public trust will always be vulnerable to politics.
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[„După intervențiile lui Platon, lumea deja nu înțelege cine este procurorul general”. Stoianoglo, chemat la audieri în Parlamentî(https://tv8.md/2020/11/26/dupa-interventiile-lui-platon-lumea-deja-nu-intelege-cine-este-procurorul-general-stoianoglo-chemat-la-audieri-in-parlament/), tv8.md
[^6]. Procuratura se delimitează de declarațiile cetățeanului Platon, procuratura.md ↩︎
Ultima oră! Judecătorii anchetați pentru complicitate la spălare de bani în dosarul „Laundromat”, scoși de sub urmărire penală de Procuratura Anticorupție. Cer CSM-ului restabilirea în funcții, zdg.md ↩︎
Procuratura Generala a cerut extradarea lui Ilan Sor, dar conform legislatiei Israelului, cetatenii acestui stat nu sunt extradati. Declaratia a fost facuta astazi de Alexandr Stoianoglo - VIDEO, protv.md ↩︎