Moldovan Justice under the Heel of Maia Sandu

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Cristian RUSSU
The PAS regime is rapidly clearing out the remaining untapped areas in the justice system, demanding full loyalty from judges and prosecutors and doing whatever it wants on the way to achieving absolute power.
A month after timid attempts at self-assembly of judges who disagreed with the authoritarian methods of the current regime, the regime launched a decisive counterattack and actually achieved the capitulation of the remaining spots of disloyalty in the judicial system. Today, few people doubt that the authorities will continue to go ahead in establishing full control over all areas of the country’s life, not disdaining either the violation of the principles of the rule of law or the complete disregard for the opinion of the opposition and society. Moreover, the base political traits are more and more clearly manifested in the behavior of the top, and many decisions are often taken banally based on revenge and a thirst for the speedy removal of unwelcome people. First of all, after the notorious general meeting of judges, the parliament made three appointments (not from among the judges) to the Superior Council of Magistrates, “restoring” its functionality in such a simple way. The remarks of local and international legal experts that the SCM would be illegitimate in such a composition, and all its resolutions would be dubious, were simply brushed aside. Further, in order to prevent judges who failed pre-vetting from appealing the results of the review and delaying the subordination of the judiciary, this same pre-vetting board was given the power (again through parliament) to independently determine in which cases the decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice should be enforced. In fact, the MPs created a legal precedent, when a temporary agency that does not have the status of a judicial body is entitled to ignore rules of the court, moreover, of the supreme level. Speaking politically, the ruling majority opens more and more “Overton Windows” through controlled MPs. In the meantime, our entire “progressive public” and a bunch of NGOs that have been grafting grants for decades seem to keep mum. Judges who tried to avoid a “mopping up” through the pre-vetting board, or who refused to execute dubious decisions in the pocket justice bodies, were “thrown a lasso”, by a resolution of the Commission for Emergency Situations, forbidding them to quit. It is impossible to call such a step otherwise than an attempt to take judges hostage. Minister of Justice Veronica Mihailov-Moraru cynically motivated its adoption by the “public interests” and the need to continue “consideration of high-profile corruption cases.” Although in this particular case, conscience (or, rather, fear for own reputation) forced one of the new SCM members, Alexandru Postica, who was employed for a long time as a human rights expert in Promo-LEX, to ask for the cancellation of the relevant resolution of the Commission for Emergency Situations to avoid questions about the legality decisions of “forcibly held” judges. But do not think that this is an attempt to put a spoke in the wheels of the regime’s anti-democratic policy. It looks more like a desire to create a comfortable environment for the implementation of decisions from above. This is confirmed by the attempt of the agency by self-governing judges to challenge the constitutional nature of the provisions of the Law on SCM, requiring its members to recuse in circumstances that exclude their participation in the consideration of the issue or raise doubts about their objectivity. The thing is that if these requirements are met, the Superior Council of Magistrates becomes invalid, since its meetings are duly convened in the presence of at least two-thirds of the members who are not in conflict of interest. Thus, former human rights activists considered it necessary to protect themselves from possible remorse, realizing what they have to do. Especially when we have an example of leaked correspondence between ex-Minister of Justice Sergiu Litvinenco and members of the Supreme Council of Prosecutors. Apparently, new attempts of joint opposition of judges to reforms in justice are not expected, since today’s general meeting revised their plans with the adoption of a statement on the situation in the judiciary, agreeing to elect members of the SCM only from among those who passed the assessment of the pre-vetting board. Hence, we can consider this issue with the Superior Council of Magistrates closed. However, the main success of the authorities in the total mopping up of the justice became the removal of Domnica Manole, Head of the Constitutional Court, who has much spoiled the nerves of the ruling party in recent months. It was surprising, but Manole (perhaps out of revenge on Maia Sandu’s entourage for unflattering comments about her mental abilities) at the end of her mandate cut down almost all the government’s initiatives. First, we are talking about delaying the procedure for recognizing the Sor Party unconstitutional through a request for the opinion of the Venice Commission. Since the end of the year, PAS has repeatedly predicted a positive court rule on this issue. First, it was expected in early spring, then the dates shifted to May, but dun is in the mire. Further, in early April, the court ruled that the resolutions of the Supreme Court of Justice were binding on the pre-vetting board, nullifying the regime’s efforts to prevent failed judges from challenging the decisions of the assessment board and angered Olesea Stamate, the chief lawyer of the ruling party. The last straw was the verdict of the Constitutional Court dated April 11 regarding the verification of the constitutional nature of the ban on wearing the St. George ribbon in Moldova and assigning it a symbol of military aggression. As you remember, in last May, the socialists failed to challenge this law. And now, having suddenly become the last stronghold of legality, Domnica Manole took and revised that decision, stipulating the permit to wear the St. George ribbon, otherwise than to promote war. This trick hit the image of the party in power in its demonstrative anti-Russian actions, and also rallied the opposition, which leaders announced their intention to wear the ribbon at the marches on 9 May. Thereafter, the ruling regime did not beat around the bush and, at the end of Manole’s mandate; it appointed Nicolae Rosca, former lawyer Maia Sandu and father of her current adviser Olga Rosca, as the head of the Constitutional Court. Nicolae Rosca step up to the plate in 2020 by voting for the recognition of the agreement on the allocation of a Russian 200-million euros loan as unconstitutional. Then he publicly stated “Moldova would not die” without this loan, which was agreed upon by the then President Igor Dodon. The Minister of Justice unequivocally replied to soft attempts by journalists to question this appointment that there were, of course, no reasons to doubt the impartiality of the new Chair of the Constitutional Court. Thus, this most important institution in our official system was also captured by the ruling party. After such a blow, we can safely say that the entire national judicial system got a deep knockout. In the near future, we should expect a review of all those decisions that were taken by the Constitutional Court in its previous composition: both regarding the St. George ribbon and the ban on the Sor Party. The verdict of the Appeals Chamber on the recognition of the sentence against Ilan Sor only confirmed these predictions. The only limit in establishing absolute control over the judiciary system and the prosecutor’s office remains internal strife in the ruling party, which Maia Sandu apparently has not been able to stop in recent months.