Magnitsky Act for Moldova: So Much for Justice and Sovereignty

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Christian RUSSU
In order to strengthen the regime and defeat the opposition, the ruling party is ready to sacrifice even justice and the international legal personality of the country, making Moldova look like a banana republic
Despite the country’s acute socio-economic crisis, the ruling party has been active in another area. Recently, another legal innovation was born in its depths, causing frank bewilderment and undisguised disappointment in the legal community. It is about the legislative initiative submitted by the Minister of Justice Sergiu Litvinenco on transferring to the national legislation of the sanctions applied by the foreign states against the Moldavian citizens. The so-called Magnitsky Act for Moldova. As if on the same subject, Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita informed the public that the British government had imposed personal sanctions against Vlad Plahotniuc and Ilan Sor, following the example of the United States. In our version of the famous U.S. Magnitsky Act, sanctioned individuals face a freezing of assets: they will be deprived of their rights to dispose of them, and the state will receive them. Another punitive measure is the possibility of revoking television and radio broadcasting licenses through the Coordinating Council of Television and Radio (CCTR) if the media assets of sanctioned individuals are involved. The latter will also be prohibited from providing financial services: opening bank accounts, transferring money, and taking out loans. As for the potential goals of this act. In addition to indicating that those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity may fall within its scope, one point immediately attracts attention in the text. That sanctions can be imposed on persons who, “while being in the leadership of a party or holding a responsible public office, have committed corrupt acts.” Sanctions can also be imposed for violations or abuses of the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, opinion and expression, religion or belief. In addition, those who have not committed such crimes, but have had business relations (for example, provided or received financial or other support) with citizens or companies who have subsequently fallen under sanctions may also fall under the restrictions. Presenting this wonderful project to the public, Sergiu Litvinenco said that it will definitely go through public consultations, but there is also an intention to adopt it in its final reading by the end of the year. Those who closely follow the political twists and turns in the country probably understood at once what the last phrase means. And indeed, the PAS, which has repeatedly violated the procedural aspects and transparency requirements, decided not to bother with it this time. The 20-page document, which had obviously been in preparation for several weeks, was published on Friday, the day it was announced. The whole weekend was given for the promised public consultations, after which on Monday, December 12, the issue was “closed”. Legal nonsense Even without a thoughtful examination of the proposed bill, it is obvious that from a legal point of view it is nonsense, bordering on idiocy. A sovereign state cannot, a priori, impose sanctions on its citizens on the basis of sanctions imposed by other countries for political reasons. This contradicts the current law in its basic part that a person can only be held accountable based on the law. We are talking, in case any officials have forgotten, about the Criminal Code. Another telling fact is that the Magnitsky sanctions mechanism in the U.S. is a political tool that is not even applied to foreign nationals on the basis of decisions of U.S. courts. In the U.S. the sanctions are regulated by an administrative institution – the Treasury Department.Thus, one can find oneself under Moldovan sanctions even if their guilt of committing a crime has not been recognized by the court. And this violates the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence. It is absolutely unclear how the authorities plan to explain all this to the European partners, especially given the need to comply with the requirements for an EU candidate country. We are not planning to join the United States, and Washington has not assumed any obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and is not obliged to comply with the decisions of the ECtHR, for which we regularly get in trouble. Another absurd provision of the law is its “retroactive effect”, which means that persons who committed no crime and acted strictly within the law but lacked the gift of foresight can be sanctioned nine years later without any court decision. This is not even selective justice – this is a legal bludgeon to persecute those undesirable. De-sovereignising the country’s legal system It was actually no surprise to anyone that the PAS, with its hands now completely untied, has invented yet another tool to fight the opposition. After all, Sergiu Litvinenco persisted earlier in trying to ban the Sor party through the Constitutional Court. The numerous legal violations that experts found at the time did not stop our scandalous minister either. However, after Domnica Manole, who had taken over as a CC chair not without Litvinenko’s help, sought the advice of the Venice Commission (where she is employed as a part-time judge) it became clear that the authorities would take a different path. And it will no longer heed the opinion that the Commission will present tomorrow. Another important point. The very fact of putting forward such an initiative with reference to the decisions of the US and UK authorities is a precedent. The ruling regime is essentially ready to sacrifice the formal attributes of our state for the sake of a dubious attempt to punish Sor who, by the way, was virtually outlawed by the former not so long ago. I would remind you that last summer Sergiu Litvinenco personally approved the decision to move the trial of Orhei’s ex-mayor from Cahul to Chisinau, which meant the actual resumption of the trial from scratch and freedom of action for the accused. Apparently, however, Ilan Sor promised something in return and failed to deliver, causing the authorities to take a strong grudge and be ready to retaliate without regard for the national interest of the country. Sergiu Litvinenco as the author of the bill thought it was a good PR move to announce it on International Anti-Corruption Day declared by the UN General Assembly to coincide with the opening for signature of the UN Convention against Corruption. But in doing so he once again proven himself to be a professional failure. Indeed, the provisions of this convention, ratified by our parliament in 2007, do not envisage any restrictions on the sovereignty of participating states, reaffirming the principle of non-interference in internal affairs. The Convention does not grant any country the right to exercise in the territory of another country the jurisdiction and functions that are exclusively assigned to its authorities under domestic law. In our case, it appears that the authorities are voluntarily spreading the implications of sovereign decisions of other states in our country. Perhaps, in that case, we should also decide straight away on the list of states whose decisions we are prepared to implement and whose – not, so as not to confuse ourselves again later on. It is no exaggeration to say that if the authorities were to pass this bill, our republic would almost officially get the status of a “banana republic”. That said, the loss of another piece of sovereignty and legal mayhem are based only on the PAS’s narrow corporate desire to further entrench its authoritarian police regime. Indeed, never before has Moldova witnessed a government so awesome in every sense.