Moldova: addressing corruption or legal scapegoating?

From left to right: Balan Iulian – Solicitor, Moldova, Marina Tauber - Head of the SOR political party of Moldova, Lorenzo Fontana - MEP, Lega Nord, Denis Ulanov – Solicitor, Moldova.

A recent letter to the Moldovan Parliament, Government and prosecutor by MEP Lorenzo Fontana drew attention to the case of Ilan Shor, the Mayor of the town of Orhei, currently facing charges of involvement in the so-called one billion dollar scandal.


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“Interference”

The letter raised a number of questions of some political consequence, pertaining to the rule of law in the Republic of Moldova was swiftly dismissed by the Prosecutor General of Moldova, Viorel Morari , as a case of interference by certain European officials the legal proceedings of national sovereign institutions, which constitutes interference with the investigation.

However, that interference is likely to continue as it pertains to political issues of the rule of law, in Moldova, and the transparency of the financial system, in the EU as much as in Moldova.

A delegation of Shor’s legal team, Mr. Denis Ulanov and Mr. Iulian Balan, together with the Vice President of his political party, Ms. Marina Tauber, were in Strasburg for a series of consultation with a number of MEPs from different political groups. In the press conference that followed, it was also announced that a European Parliament delegation is expected to visit Moldova.

The attention paid by Members of the European Parliament focuses on the legal process, which leaves a number of questions as to whether Moldova is taking steps to deal with corruption or the political system is seeking to end international outcry by scapegoating, that is, focusing an investigation on a single individual.

Political Context

Moldova is one of the three states that signed an Association Agreement with the European Union in 2014 and was regarded its star pupil in terms of reforms.

However, the collapse of the Moldovan economy is the most politically embarrassing situation that the EU has faced in the East Partnership. Soon after the conclusion of the so-called delivery Summit in Vilnius, the small country of 3,5 million people was forced to bail out three banks whose reserves were apparently robbed of hundreds of millions of dollars, amounting to about 10-15% of Moldova’s GDP, depending on the estimates.

This grand theft took place on the watch of a pro-EU government, which came to power in 2009. Since February 2015, thousands of Moldovans took to the streets calling for the government’s resignation. The stolen money triggered a rapid depreciation of the national currency, the leu, and a steep decline in living standards for the poorest country in Europe.

Despite being a champion of reforms in the EaP, the country is now embroiled in a series of financial scandals. A recent report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCP) suggests Moldova has been a money-laundering hub and over $80bn passed through Chisinau from 2010 to 2014. Interestingly, Moldovan authorities seem to be responding to an international outcry merely by prosecuting the one businessman who volunteered to testify about high-level corruption, that is, the 30-year old Ilan Shor.

Open Questions

Independently of the substance of the case against the 30-year old businessman-politician, there are a number of questions that are of profound interest to the European Commission and the European Parliament.

The nexus of corrupt dealings in Moldova has for years unfolded through a nexus of companies in Latvia, Cyprus, and the UK. Dealing with corruption in Moldova is an issue that is also about European transparency. Through the testimony of Ilan Shor, Moldova jailed the former Prime Minister Vlad Filat and is investigating Veaceslav Platon, a businessman linked to the broader nexus of money laundering in the country. Filat is already serving a 9-year corruption sentence for bribes by business interests involved in the scam.

Ilan Shor testified that for years he paid what amounted to “protection” money to the former Prime Minister, while as a banker he was blackmailed into authorizing a $250 million that was clearly never meant to be repaid. Furthermore, a report that has been leaked to the press – known as the Kroll report – does not make part of the prosecutions’ case. If it did, the defense would be able to invite all kinds of witnesses that could presumably open the scope of the investigation to directions that legal sources claim could prove controversial.

While detention cannot exceed one month under Moldovan law, on June 22, Shor will have been under house arrest for a year. Moldovan authorities have given his legal team less than two weeks to summon their witnesses, while the prosecution is given around 8 months; moreover, from the 20 witnesses requested by the defense, only 6 were approved.

Meanwhile, members of both the government and the opposition have proclaimed his guilt. Beyond the substance of the case and independently of whether or not Ilan Shor is guilty, his legal team is arguing that there are issues of arbitrary arrest, there is no presumption of innocence and, therefore, they argue there is no fair trial. For MEPs, the broader question is whether there is a case of focusing on a single individual to ensure that a system of corruption remains untouched.

The Vice President of Shor’s political party, Marina Tauber, told a press conference that this was a case of political prosecution. Asked by New Europe who is the “prosecutor,” she said that she did not want to make a “legal case,” as one should if you were to mention names and parties. But, politically speaking “there is a question of systemic action and inaction that points towards those who benefit by targeting Ilan Shor, whilst obstructing him from engaging in national politics, where he could finish the job he started, ending the endless ‘give-and-take’ political culture’ in Moldova.

A statement distributed to the press by Mr. Shor talks about politics in Moldova that are about improving social services and quality of life, rather than “playing the same card of confrontation along the East-West axis.” In a country whose politics are primarily framed as either “pro-European” or “pro-Russian,” the call for “pro-Moldovan” politics appeals to several members of the European Parliament. More to the point, rule of law and transparency in Moldova, appears to be the quintessence of “European politics.”

 

 

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