Moldova is to receive the first tranche of the EU’s macro-financial assistance in the near future. However, Brussels’ growing dissatisfaction with the situation in the republic may freeze the further European money receipt.
Yesterday it became known about another Ilan Shor’s case hearing postponement, which is being considered in the Cahul Court of Appeal. This time the reason was the Orhei businessman’s lawyers demand to dismiss the judicial commission. Earlier, the prosecutor’s office also insisted on postponing the session due to the lack of case materials, which were sent to the Supreme Court of Justice.
Ilan Shor’s case trial on the billion theft has long become A Thing Within Itself which clearly has nothing to do either with the rule of law or even with banal logic. Recall, in 2017, the court of first instance sentenced Shor to seven and a half years of prison. However, the Orhei mayor and his lawyers appealed the verdict in the Appeals Chamber and he was released pending for final verdict. Later, as you know, Shor to a certain extent using the patronage of the unofficial Moldova’s owner, was elected to parliament at the head of the party in his own name and even left the country without any problems if necessary. Including in June last year, when Plahotniuc’s regime was replaced by the socialists and pro-European forces coalition.
The situation with the Shor case investigation has not changed much over the past year. The trial is obviously going on with great difficulty and the number of meetings postponements in the Administration of Cahul has exceeded all reasonable limits. Ultimately, even Peter Michalko, the head of the European Union delegation couldn’t resist; last month on the air of one of the Moldovan TV, channels he asked “for how long are we to watch the constant Shor case postponement?”. According to him, “such a delay in trials undermines confidence in the justice system and casts doubt on the effectiveness of the state’s law enforcement agencies.” He also noted, answering the question about the progress within the billion theft investigation, that “to date, the only result, unfortunately, is that no one is in custody at all.”
The statements of the European ambassador provoked a major scandal. The Shor party staged a protest action in front of Michalko’s residence, accusing the diplomat of “interfering in the justice and internal affairs of the Republic of Moldova”. He did not respond in detail to these claims but published on his social network page a link to the Kroll agency report (which, in fact, indicates the Shor and the companies affiliated with being involved in bank theft). The head of the EU delegation was supported by the embassies of a number of European countries, including France, Sweden and Poland that noted Moldova having undertaken obligations to the EU to investigate the billion theft.
Nevertheless, after a month and a half, it is clear that even the European Union representative’s public discontent and the subsequent high-profile scandal did not give the necessary acceleration to the process and Shor’s case continues to “sour” in the Cahul Court of Appeal.
The EU representative’s harsh reaction is not difficult to understand. The billion theft under the guise of the European integration process has become perhaps, the most resonant crime committed in Moldova in the current century and the biggest blow to the European Union image. Since then, the return of the stolen money and bringing to justice all those involved for Brussels is a “matter of honor” and an indispensable requirement for the Moldovan leadership, regardless the party or ideological affiliation of the latter. A requirement that still remains unfulfilled.
Perhaps the reasons for this lie in the fact that despite all the invested financial and political resources, the EU is consistently losing its influence in Moldova. This process especially accelerated during the Vlad Plahotniuc’s reign. The lawlessness perpetrated by the then regime (for example, non-recognition of the results of the Chisinau mayoral elections in 2018), in the end, forced Brussels to completely freeze macro-financial aid to Moldova – but at the same time deprived it, in fact, of the last argument in the dialogue with the Moldovan authorities. While the famous “embassy revolution”, the European Union played as well the third violin role becoming, in fact just a wallet for the newly formed coalition. And after the removal of ACUM from the ruling majority, the degree of influence on affairs in Moldova dropped again to a critically low level.
Now, when due to pandemic and drought Moldova is being in a difficult economic situation, Brussels is trying to take a certain revenge and takes advantage of the republic’s obvious need for external financial stimulation. It is no coincidence that Michalko pointedly reminded Chisinau that it is the largest European aid recipient per capita and only over the last 10 years, projects worth more than one billion euros have been implemented in Moldova. At the same time, he stressed several times that cooperation between the EU and Moldova takes place according to the principle of “promoting aid instead of conditions”, so the money will be given taking into account the course of reforms.
Now Moldova is expecting the first 50 million euros macro-financial assistance tranche, which is expected by the end of September. The next one will be provided after fulfilling the six conditions included in the agreement signed with the government of the Republic of Moldova. One of them, among other things, is progress in the stolen billion case.
However, there is a high probability today that the upcoming tranche might be the last one in the near future. At least, recently Michalko said that the EU does not see satisfactory progress in the Republic of Moldova on the reform of justice, the investigation of bank fraud and within the fight against corruption. The continuous Ilan Shor’s trial delay will also be considered an obviously defiant step.
It looks like the demonstrative disregard for Brussels’ demands is a deliberate choice of the Moldovan leadership, which is guided by internal political and electoral reasons making now decisions, and not by the EU opinion. Apparently, the current leadership of the Republic of Moldova has a growing understanding that further assistance will any way be partially or completely blocked after the end of elections (if, of course, the candidate from the ruling coalition wins in). Especially considering the Moldovan leadership being growingly criticized in various European institutions.
In this sense, the glove thrown in Brussels’ the face looks logical, albeit risky. Plahotniuc’s experience shows that living without European money is certainly possible (albeit difficult). But over the past year, the situation has changed dramatically and there is an opinion that, taking into account all the losses incurred this year, Moldova will definitely not be able to survive without solid European support.
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