Is Plahotniuc to Be Returned to Moldova?

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Vladimir ROTAR A few days ago, a number of Moldovan and foreign media outlets spread the information that the United States denied political asylum to Vlad Plahotniuc and he might return to Moldova. Will the notorious oligarch really fall into Moldovan justice’s hands? Even a year after fleeing Moldova, the ex Democratic Party leader, Vlad Plahotniuc, remains one of the main newsmakers in the country and at the same time the “No. 1 enemy” for the ruling coalition. To return the once omnipotent oligarch to the republic and arrange his trial is probably a cherished dream and one of the main tasks for the current leadership of the Republic of Moldova. It is worth recognizing that in recent years it became possible coming a little closer to its implementation. And now, many Moldovan and not only media report that Plahotniuc was finally denied political asylum in the United States, which means that the fugitive oligarch will soon be in Chisinau. Is it for real? The returning Plahotniuc “operation” to his homeland began immediately after the PSRM and ACUM coalition formed. Last summer, the then-Prime Minister Maia Sandu advised the Attorney General to develop criminal cases against the oligarch and to make appropriate charges noting that this would bring to "a demand for his extradition from any country wherever he is, including the United States." In addition, Sandu was planning a blow to the Plahotniuc’s welfare, seriously counting on Washington’s help. At least, so she said during her visit to the United States, she was assured of assistance in investigating the stolen billion and of its defendants’ assets freezing - first of all of course, the PDM ex-chairman. Anyway, Moldova’s own accusations against Vlad Plahotniuc somehow did not add up. Only in the fall did the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office finally charge him with money laundering on a particularly large scale and a little later the puppeteer was put on the international wanted list. At the same time, in a paradoxical way Chisinau had no contact with Washington about the oligarch’s extradition, although by that time everyone already knew his whereabouts. In late November, US Ambassador Derek Hogan explicitly indicated that there was still no official request for extradition. At the beginning of the new year, it seemed that things had moved off the ground. US State Secretary Mike Pompeo said Washington imposed sanctions on the former Democratic Party leader and members of his family that particularly means the ban on obtaining American visas. However, even after this, the former Moldova’s owner continued to calmly stay in the United States despite the fact that negotiations on sending him home were held one way or another. In March, Igor Dodon announced that the US authorities demanded from Moldova submitting necessary documents for Vlad Plahotniuc’s extradition while the prosecutor's office and the National Anti-Corruption Center were working closely with the FBI on this issue. A few days later, the US Embassy informed about the measures taken to deport the ex-leader of the Democratic Party. The next step of this long-running saga was in May when Prosecutor General of Moldova accused Plahotniuc of criminal group creating, money laundering and fraud and for the first time the case of the stolen billion was officially connected with the oligarch. After this, the Moldovan authorities reiterated their firm intention to extradite the oligarch from the United States. The Prosecutor General’s Office sent the necessary materials to the American side today. As can be seen from the above brief chronicle of events over the past year, there were more words than action during this time, as is often the case in Moldova. Chisinau actually “missed” Plahotniuc’s departure from the country and then at an extremely sluggish pace, turned the flywheel of criminal cases against him. In fact, this process was dispersed only in recent months and only then when the figures the oligarch left on Moldova’s chessboard led to a tough and uncompromising struggle against the ruling coalition and the last one felt the need for an “asymmetric” response. As for the United States, on whose decisions Plahotniuc’s fate mainly depends, the situation here is ambiguous. On the one hand, Washington seems to be playing on the good side. As an evidence is the January denial of political asylum and the personal sanctions of the State Department that followed (by the way, for the first time in history, they were awarded to a Moldovan citizen). On the other hand, as you can see after six months, Plahotniuc continues to stay in the United States despite all the prohibitions and sanctions and his property is also fine. This is explained by the fact that even the State Secretary’s statement can hardly be regarded as a consolidated position of the American establishment. The latter is represented by many influence groups and lobbyists, constantly competing and conflicting among themselves while the Moldovan oligarch has many patrons among them - since those far times when he ruled Moldova with his iron hand and "fought Russian influence in the republic." First of all, in the camp of the American Democrats who are believed to have taken over the East European direction of US foreign policy this year. And this is not to mention the fact that, according to some reports Plahotniuc is an informant of the American special services. Moreover, even after being expelled from the country, Plahotniuc remains a powerful influencing factor in internal political processes in Moldova. The past months events, when the PDM faction in parliament was halved in a short time and the conditions for the collapse of the ruling coalition were created clearly showed the strength and capabilities of the oligarch even remotely. To lose such a trump card that plays for you right now (and which can be played more than once in the future) makes simply no reason for the USA at the moment. Therefore, it is not necessary to rely on the fact that Plahotniuc will actually be soon deported from the United States and delivered to Moldova. As for the past information in the media, it is based on the Radio Liberty message which just does not say anything about. It just provides all the same information about the political asylum refusal and Pompeo sanctions. But firstly, it is about the following: the refusal was not final and the case was referred to a further instance; secondly, Plahotniuc’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against State Department in order to lift restrictions. And until this statement is considered there is no question of expulsion out of the country. Attorney General Alexander Stoyanoglo also spoke earlier about extraditions difficulties even if the United States agree on. According to him, this requires an agreement with the United States to provide legal assistance, which is currently not available (and apparently, nobody hurries to solve this problem). However, recently the Moldavian authorities prefer not to mention this moment. Therefore, no matter how many people in Moldova would like to see Plahotniuc in the dock this is still a long way off. Taking advantage of loopholes in the democratic system of American justice and of some American partners’ patronage the puppeteer can hide for a long time in the United States, remaining inaccessible to his enemies in Moldova. At the same time, there is reason to believe that sooner or later the PDM’s ex-leader will nevertheless be returned to the republic - but it is unlikely that this will happen in the current election year.