Moldovan Justice: Pseudoreform and Scandals

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Christian RUSSU
PAS’s efforts to clean up the Justice System’s mess have so far resulted in only one thing – the system’s subjugation for the benefit of its own corporate interests
By the end of September, many people expected the protracted confrontation between the suspended Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo and the ruling majority that dismissed him to come to an end. Maia Sandu recently hinted at this in her statements on the need for radical and speedy changes in the justice system. However, instead of changes, all we got was a new round of scandals with the main actors being the protégés of the current government. It must be said that the journalists’ interest in Stoianoglo has significantly decreased in recent months. Naturally, this benefited PAS, allowing it to get rid of this character for good. However, for some reason, it has not yet been possible to put an end to the case. And this has created problems for the ruling party. Thus, under the current law, in the case of the removal of the Prosecutor General, his duties are performed by the appointed Acting Prosecutor. Dumitru Robu was appointed by Maia Sandu on October 6 last year, who, by the way, had previously been a character in journalistic investigations himself.  Robu has been particularly zealous in pressuring opposition MPs from the Sor and Socialist parties and is obviously more than handy as a “dirty work” performer. The only problem was that his term of office was limited to 12 months. When Sergiu Litvinenco was asked in a TV broadcast on 19 September what would happen next, he gave a vague answer that everything allegedly depended on Maia Sandu’s decision. It was the President who had to fire Alexandr Stoianoglo, and formally she had grounds for this after the unsatisfactory evaluation of the Prosecutor General’s performance given by the special commission. Yet, the she found it unwise to get mixed up in this messy story. The more so since Stoianoglo challenged his suspension in court, and the case went all the way to the ECtHR. Speaking about possible ways out of the situation, the Minister of Justice named other unresolved “difficulties”. Among them is the reluctance of the new head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office Veronica Dragalin to work with the deputies assigned to her. Therefore, according to Litvinenco, it is necessary to amend the current legislation again, which will allow Maia Sandu to wait for clarity on the prospects of the trial against Stoianoglo, and Veronica Dragalin to appoint her own deputies. Apparently, based on this logic, Litvinenco and his fellow deputies urgently prepared a bill to amend the Law on Prosecutor’s Office and announced its submission to the parliament as early as September 21. No one saw the text of the bill itself on the parliamentary website on that day, which did not prevent it from being put on the plenary session agenda for the next day and immediately approved in the first reading. It was very “transparent” and democratic. In fact, even under previous regimes, it was quite difficult to imagine such legislative maneuvers to satisfy the whims of individual officials, and moreover, in violation of all existing procedures. It is even more difficult to imagine the opposition’s lack of reaction to the overtly authoritarian ways of the government. I remember that after a one-time display of such levity by the PSRM and Sor deputies in December 2020, the current authorities arranged mass protests, secured sharp criticism from foreign partners, and the subsequent suspension of the decisions made by the Constitutional Court. The reasons for the harmlessness of the Socialist Party, now in opposition, as well as the Sor Party’s protests, failing to notice the lawlessness taking place, deserve separate attention. But the ruling majority’s sense of license is alarming. Obviously, feeling the support of their development partners in the European Union and the United States, PAS officials either ignore the timid attempts of journalists and experts to point out inconsistencies of their policy with democratic standards and the principles of a law-abiding state, or try to introduce censorship under the pretext of protection from the “fifth column” and the oligarchs. In this sense, Litvinenco’s emotional reaction to the journalist’s question about the appropriateness of the behavior of the officials appointed by the authorities is amusing. In particular, the question was about the head of the National Anticorruption Center Yevhen Rurak, who was seen driving a luxury Mercedes S 400 4Matic. The minister ridiculously replied that it was “unworthy” people associated with Plahotniuc and Sor who were keeping an eye on such “worthy” people. Apparently, this fact alone should be a reason to turn a blind eye even to the most blatant acts of corruption of PAS’s appointees. By the way, the head of the NAC eventually filed a complaint over the publication of his photo in a luxury car in the media, stating that he had temporarily borrowed the car from his brother. Another big scandal of the past few days was Security Council Secretary Dorin Recean attending the wedding of İon and Maria Guzun’s daughter. They are the most prominent representatives of the judiciary – he is a judge at the Supreme Court of Justice and she is a judge at the Court of Appeals. The one that Maia Sandu constantly refers to as corrupt and wants to radically reform. Moreover, according to media reports, the Secretary of the Security Council, who is close to Sandu, appeared there as a nuptial father. Remarkably, among the guests were also former high-ranking officials accused of complicity in the theft of a billion from Moldovan banks (ex-chairman of the National Bank Dorin Dragutanu) and former executives of these banks themselves (Victor Bodiu, former chairman of the board of directors of Banca de Economii). The wedding was also attended by acting chairman of the Superior Council of Magistracy, Dorel Musteata, who himself became involved in a scandal after a statement during the Superior Security Council meeting with Maia Sandu’s participation. It was said that within the justice system a group had been formed willing to subordinate it. According to mass media reports, he was talking about the chairman of Constitutional Court Domnica Manole and lawyer Anatol Sisianu. Considering Maia Sandu’s instructions given to Dorel Musteata during the meeting to submit decisions on how to eliminate delays in dealing with high corruption cases by the end of September, the responsibility for the problems in the justice sector is partly attributed to another protégé of the ruling party, Domnica Manole. In late 2021, the National Integrity Authority found a conflict of interest in the CC chair’s actions since Manole participated in the constitutionality evaluation of a parliamentary order of her appointment, without reporting the conflict of interest and without removing herself from the matter. However, on September 25, the Supreme Court finally dismissed the accuser, citing the illegality of outside interference in the activities of the Constitutional Court in general and activities of constitutional judges in particular. There are so many scandals and intrigues in the long-suffering justice system that even their weekly digest would be quite impressive in volume. This is nothing new for our country. But it is very depressing that so far the government’s actions to clean up these Augean stables have not only failed to improve the situation, but have led to a painfully familiar outcome – namely, the subjugation of this system to its corporate interests. This time, however, it is all happening to the applause of Western partners and the “silence” of the opposition.