The Seamy Side of Moldovan Politics

Home / Reviews / The Seamy Side of Moldovan Politics
Christian RUSSU
Release of private exchanges of prominent figures from the ruling team gave a glimpse behind the scenes of Moldovan politics of the “good times”, revealing numerous facts of corruption, nepotism, and abuse of power
“Sandugate” The leak of the messages of certain prominent representatives of the current government caused great damage to the image of the ruling party. At the same time, the demonstration by the leak authors that they published only part of the information they had is either a well-thought-out Plahotniuc-style ploy to pressure the authorities, or evidence of internal wrangling within the PAS ranks. However, regardless of further developments, the details of the current officials being involved in the corruption of state institutions that have surfaced deserve close attention. Few people in our country, at least roughly, understand how the state system really works. As soon as the government changes, people close to it, including relatives and friends of key figures in the country’s leadership, are appointed to key positions. If the desired official position is not vacant, then political pressure is exerted on the person occupying it in order to remove them. In addition, a crowd of people, willing to “cooperate” for material benefits, immediately begins piling up the doorsteps of the authorities. These can be applicants for some government positions, journalists, and civil sector representatives. All these disgusting cases of political corruption and nepotism have blossomed under the new regime, as evidenced by the Justice Minister’s private correspondence. Sergiu Litvinenco was particularly active, of course, in influencing the decision-making processes in the judiciary, including the High Council of Prosecutors and the Constitutional Court. Thus, in June this year, the minister manipulated the SCJ members, demanding from them by any means to achieve the election of Veronica Dragalin to the post of the head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. For this purpose, pressure was put on other candidates to withdraw from the contest, possible scenarios of voting were calculated, and countermeasures were developed, including violation of regulations. Such a vicious practice can be traced in the messages of both Litvinenco himself and Advisor to the President Dorin Recean. If the latter preferred the role of “mastermind”, the Minister of Justice was constantly in touch with the media, describing the plans of the struggle “for all that is good and against all that is bad”. His impudence in informal communication with his colleagues and journalists was a vivid evidence of his unprincipled and permissive attitude. The leaked messages reveal that in 2021 Litvinenco and a number of security officers were preparing to put Alexandr Stoianoglo, who was under preliminary arrest, behind bars, even discussing his jail cell. Stating that the authorities “need a new Prosecutor General before this one expires,” to the comments of his colleagues that Stoianoglo would not leave voluntarily, Litvinenco boldly stated, “we can help him leave”. In 2019, when discussing with Litvinenco the composition of the Constitutional Court, Veaceslav Negruta, Advisor to President Maia Sandu, unflatteringly referred to its current president, Domnica Manole, calling her stupid and incompetent. Even more unpleasant epithets were addressed to former Prime Minister Ion Sturza. From the same persons’ texts, it appears that back in 2019, Sandu demanded that a criminal case be opened against Igor Dodon. Reaction of the Opposition One of the first to react to the leaks from Telegram chats was former Prosecutor General Eduard Harunjen. Already on November 10 (after it became known that Litvinenco and Negruta had discussed plans to remove him from office in June 2019), Harunjen said in the media that he had asked Maia Sandu to revoke Igor Dodon’s decree on his removal due to “legal and factual circumstances”. To the current Prosecutor General Harunjen texted that his continued tenure in office was becoming “illegal”. Plans to remove Munteanu also came to light from the released messages. The boldness of the former official to come out with criticism and demands to the authorities after a three-year absence from the public space was surprising to many. But it was only the beginning. Several SCJ members declared the need to investigate Litvinenco’s released records, from which it follows that decision-making by the council had been compromised. Apparently, the declaration was signed by those prosecutors who opposed Dragalin’s appointment. According to European and American standards, not only the members of the Supreme Court of Justice, who voted for Dragalin at the behest of the Minister of Justice, but also the head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office should resign. And Prosecutor General Ion Munteanu should have immediately initiated criminal proceedings for political corruption in her appointment. The chairman of the Constitutional Court also reacted quite oddly to the published correspondence – she returned the government’s request seeking to outlaw the Sor party. Given the formal refusal (the request was not published in the Monitorul Oficial), Domnica Manole as if retaliated to her critics with counter-accusation of unprofessionalism. After the comments were eliminated, Litvinenco’s suit against the Sor Party was eventually accepted by the Constitutional Court, but there is no certainty that it will be considered quickly. Some politicians, journalists and ex-officials have already confirmed that the leaks are authentic, as they contained their own messages. Among them are former justice minister Fadei Nagacevschi and former director of the national probation inspectorate Andrei Jaworski. As a result, many stopped viewing the published material as an outright sham. Igor Munteanu’s freshly formed CUB party predictably declared that in the midst of the socio-economic crisis, the government has plunged into endless conflicts and should quit. A similar message was expressed by Ion Chicu’s party which offered its professional services to overcome the crisis. Andrei Nastase and other figures hoping to take advantage of the breach in Maia Sandu’s vertical of power also lifted their spirits. As for the left-wing opposition platforms, they in fact ignored the scandal. This is not surprising: as it turned out later from the hacked account of former PLDM MP Vadim Pistrinciuc, the so-called Common Platform was created by Marc Tcaciuc in close cooperation with the sitting government’s informal creative manager, for whom it is obviously not difficult to find funding to ensure not only additional payments to current officials, but also the functioning of opposition structures. Socialists were more than restrained in their reaction. PSRM leaders pointed to the need to investigate the case by the competent authorities, and the faction’s deputies suggested that the Minister of Justice be heard in Parliament. Some active party members participated in rallies and pickets in the north of the country and in front of the presidential building. This approach is easy to understand because Litvinenco’s published correspondence has much data that compromises the socialists themselves. Reaction of the Authorities The first reaction of the government and those involved in the scandal was expected: they dubbed it as “fakes” concocted by the “thieves and corrupt officials”. Yet, behind the apparent composure there was confusion. After a while, the ruling party aligned its position which described the material as a cut-and-paste containing real messages seeking to manipulate public opinion. Thus, Sergiu Litvinenco’s first reaction to his leaked correspondence was a message in social media that it was “nothing but a lie” and later admitted that part of the correspondence was true but taken out of context. That the authorities were confused was clearly demonstrated by the Sunday night meeting in the presidency involving all the PAS deputies and officials. Following it, only few of the participants wanted to talk to the press, and Oazu Nantoi, a veteran of Moldovan politics, even thumbed a nose at journalists. As usual, the authorities tried to shift attention from the content of the leaks to those who ordered them. Naturally, accusations that Russia’s special services were behind the Telegram hacks followed. Interestingly, however, this opinion has not been publicly backed by our Western partners so far. This could mean that either this incident is not considered worthy of a reaction, or that this scandal is more of a domestic nature. However, it should be noted that the authorities’ observation that the leaked correspondence was incomplete looks plausible. For example, the conversations with diplomats, European advisors, and other representatives of foreign structures have not been released, although there is no doubt that the Minister of Justice or the Advisor to the President have such contacts. No information is available about the officials’ reactions to the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine. It can be assumed that the hackers deliberately confined themselves to the “inner workings” and some details from their personal lives as proof of the leak's authenticity. A week after the break-in, the authorities conducted a small reshuffle in the government, replacing Sergiu Gaiba as Minister of Economy with Dumitru Alaiba. This may indicate a slight redistribution of forces, but there are no serious consequences for the main participants in the scandal so far. One can hardly say that the hackers have achieved their goals. This means that in the near future we can expect more details about political corruption and nepotism in the ruling party.