While the authorities report ostensible successes in investigating high-profile corruption crimes, including the stolen billion, the politically controlled justice system is actually working for completely different purposes, such as banning the Sor Party
Last week there were many reports about the prosecutors’ successes in investigating the stolen billion case. However, it seems that behind the cheerful reports there was only the desire to strike at those who dared to jeopardize the PAS’ monopoly on the Moldovan political scene.
It all started with the unusual activity of Ion Munteanu, already two weeks in the position of acting Prosecutor General. On November 1, he visited the Chisinau City Court in Buiucani, where he held a meeting with judges about the “stalling” of high-profile cases, including the stolen billion. This kind of behavior, for the Prosecutor’s Office chief to hand out instructions to judges on how to conduct their trials, was unthinkable even in Plahotniuc’s time. But it is easy to understand why he broadcasts such things: the day before, exactly the same messages, and with threats of personal responsibility of judges, were voiced by Minister of Justice Sergiu Litvinenсo himself, one of the 15 members of the Supreme Council of Prosecutors who appointed Munteanu.
“Any unjustified delay in the trial of criminals sanctioned by international sanctions, in addition to the fact that the public will face another indictment, cannot be interpreted otherwise than as aiding and abetting criminals,” said the official.
The civil sector’s lack of response to blatant interference in the judicial system is no longer surprising. And yet our development partners have invested millions of euros in various human rights organizations and expert centers. In addition, they received grant support from the budget. Of course, it is hard to imagine that Munteanu’s actions would be condemned by the Soros Foundation in Moldova, headed by his brother. However, the solidarity-based silence of the rest of the Chisinau Think Tanks confirms that there is no mature civil society in the country, and that numerous NGOs serve the interests of either the political elite or the West.
Generally, the current government’s practice of appointing “temporary” officials to positions of responsibility in the justice system is in itself contrary to the principles of a law-governed state. By appointing the acting Prosecutor General Office or acting deputy prosecutors for specialized prosecution offices (by the way, November 1 Veronica Dragalin also appointed temporary assistants), the government does not give these people time to prove themselves, but actually takes them under its full control. Officials can walk around with such titles for months, and then be thrown out of the system when necessary. A striking example is Dumitru Robu, Munteanu’s predecessor, who was denied even the position of deputy head of the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime and Special Investigations.
It is written in black and white in the Constitution that the Prosecutor General is appointed for 7 years in order to be independent from political influence and trends during that period. But in reality, especially after the PAS came to power, these principles are ignored with increasing cynicism. Following this logic, under the slogan of “achieving maximum expertise”, it is possible to limit the term of office of deputies and the Prime Minister, and even of the President.
Another high-profile event took place last week: on the morning of November 2, Veronica Dragalin reported that former deputy and well-known businessman Vladimir Andronachi had been detained. Like Veaceslav Platon, he suddenly turned out to be persona non grata for Ukraine, and then not without the help of law enforcement officers he was returned to his homeland. A few hours after his arrest, Andronachi was charged with receiving 32 million lei from Banca de Economii in 2014 for a project to renovate a building for the bank. His accountant was also arrested at the same time. In the same days, prosecutors reported the extradition from Austria of Iurie Topale, the former head of the state enterprise Railways of Moldova, accused of mismanagement of the company.
The authorities, of course, present these events as a clear success in the investigation of high-profile corruption cases, above all the case of the stolen billion. They also add the prosecution of Sor party leaders to this success. The inclusion by Washington of Ilan Sor and Vladimir Plahotniuc in the so-called Magnitsky List was in this sense the cherry on the top for the ruling party, which demanded the application of these sanctions in Moldova.
However, there are huge holes in all this PR-campaign to improve the tattered image of Maia Sandu and the PAS.
First of all, the sanctions against Plahotniuk and Sor are merely a political tool that this country uses against undesirable persons and have nothing to do with admitting guilt in court for any particular acts. The existing practice is that applicants cannot even challenge such decisions in U.S. courts: they are simply denied this right.
That is why, the statements by the authorities that the judicial system should be guided not by legal arguments but by political sanctions sound absurd. The latter, by the way, were very opportune. This allows us to say with certainty that the “U.S. sanctions” were in fact imposed at the request of our leadership to add political pressure on the ex-mayor of Orhei who gathers thousands of people for protests weekly, and on Vladimir Plahotniuc who stated his intention to return to politics in Moldova.
On the other hand, the authorities themselves have recently admitted to problems with the theft of the billion investigation. For example, Veronica Dragalin said that the prosecutors from her agency were unable to handle the case and that it might be worth hiring Kroll specialists again, as they were already involved for the similar task during Plahotniuc’s time. Such messages from the anti-corruption chief indicate either her insufficient professional competence, or the authorities lacking interest in real progress in investigating the “crime of the century”.
As legal experts repeatedly pointed out, data collected and presented in the Kroll reports cannot be used as evidence in court – under current law, only information obtained by local prosecutors can be used for that purpose. Yet, their efforts are not particularly appreciated by PAS. Thus, the current “acting heads” of the prosecutor’s office terminated investigative actions against and returned judicial immunity to all 16 judges who participated in the ruling on a billion withdrawn from Moldovan banks and appeared in the materials of criminal cases on this theft and the Laundromat. The recent searches at the Sor party headquarters, during which the prosecutors confiscated more money than they declared (and returned only after Ilan Sor accused them of the theft), provided yet another example of discord in power structures.
The only conclusion to be drawn from the above is that there has been no real progress in the investigation of high-profile cases, which the Minister of Justice and his colleagues tell us about daily on television. Instead, there is enormous progress in griping the justice system, which is almost under control. And this is already yielding results which are sufficient, for example, to start eliminating the Sor party along with the U.S. sanctions. As early as tomorrow, a relevant request by Sergiu Litvinenco may be adopted at a government meeting and sent to the Constitutional Court. And all this despite the fact that not so long ago the same Litvinenco said that such a decision requires a final court decision on the case of allegedly illegal funding of the party.
Hence, all the transformations taking place in the justice system have nothing to do with any kind of anti-oligarchic cleansing or the fight against corruption. It is already obvious that their only goal is to liquidate any viable opposition. The return of Vladimir Andronache and Iurie Topală to their home country is also in the same line, and might be used by PAS to find new levers of pressure on Ilan Sor and Vladimir Plahotniuc.