The investigation of criminal cases against the once omnipotent oligarch is progressing quite slowly, while his return to the country just for the trial now seems almost impossible. However, we cannot exclude that he will be forced to return to Moldova for other purposes
Semyon ALBU, RTA:
Recently, MP Vasile Bolea, criticizing the current depressing reality, said that “it looks like people will beg to bring Plahotniuc back”. Of course, the statement is controversial: it seems that the majority would like the oligarch to return to motherland, but first of all, to see him in the dock, not in Moldovan politics.
However, such analogies do not appear out of nowhere. In fact, the PAS re-captured Moldova, rolling back our young democracy to 2019. At the same time, Plahotniuc’s regime was much more efficient than the current bunch of Soros Foundation scholars. Most of the macroeconomic indicators were better, the state’s debts did not grow like a weed, and the government sometimes had a fit of generosity giving money on social programmes and infrastructure projects, not just raising the ministerial salaries. At that time, Moldova’s “well-being” even allowed to survive easily the suspension of external financing, as it happened after the scandalous cancellation of the Chisinau mayoral election’s results. But for PAS such a situation would have been akin to a catastrophe.
I’m not trying to introduce Plahotniuc like brilliant ruler. It is obvious that a team with a similar level of competence but not corrupted could have achieved much more. But with the appointment of Maia Sandu and her “yellow plague”, the situation has deteriorated so badly that many people are becoming nostalgic even for Plahotniuc’s time.
Lyrical but important digression is over, let’s move on. In fact, after the escape of the “unofficial landlord of Moldova”, the authorities had two main tasks in the fight against his “legacy”: to cleanse the state system from the coordinator’s people, placed by him in key positions, as well as to investigate his illegal activities sending him to jail afterwards.
Neither the PSRM-ACUM coalition, nor, of course, the alliances of the Socialists with the Democrats and the “SOR” members coped with both tasks. But, most importantly, PAS, from which success was expected most of all, failed in this field. As a result, after more than 2 years of absolute rule of Maia Sandu’s party, most of Plahotniuc’s proxies remain in their places. Some of them are used by the ruling party groups, while others, such as NBM chairman Octavian Armashu, are patronized by Western partners.
Moreover, according to ex-democrats, Plahotniuc still influences Moldovan politics. Modern technologies allow him to keep in touch with his supporters remotely, speak at party meetings, and give instructions. According to Renato Usatii, the coordinator also holds many face-to-face meetings, including with former and current mayors and district chairmen.
As for the investigations against Plahotniuc, they are progressing quite slowly. Despite the fact that everything started promptly: in September 2019, he was put on the international wanted list and criminal cases were opened. Four years later, it is worth recognizing that things are not moving. Only this summer, the first case investigated by the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office was submitted to the court, according to which Plahotniuc is accused of creating and leading a criminal organization, fraud and money laundering. Under these articles, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Submitting case to the court is indeed an important achievement, but extremely late. The oligarch’s proxies played their role, slowing down the process by right or wrong. According to the AP head Veronica Dragalin, her department was ready to bring the case to court in August-September 2022, but in the end it happened almost a year later. And again, for some reason, such an important case was suddenly entrusted to an inexperienced judge, who tried unsuccessfully to abandon it.
And the main problem is that all these investigations, as we understand, are conducted in the absence of the accused. And this is where the story gets confusing.
So, in June 2019, Plahotniuc, as we know, fled to the United States, where he stayed for about a year, even despite the sanctions announced by the State Department in January 2020. Washington shrugged at all requests for extradition and used general phrases. Then the oligarch left the territory of the United States and travelled through Romania to Turkey, where his traces were lost. According to various rumors, since then he has been living either there, or in Northern Cyprus or in the Persian Gulf countries.
In fact, then official Chisinau missed the relocation of its former ruler. But how did he move so freely, being on the international wanted list? The explanation is simple: no search has ever been conducted. Interpol simply did not accept the documents from our General Prosecutor’s Office, because they were, by our own admission, “poorly” drafted - and I think everyone understands why. A little later, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL Files removed information about Plahotniuc from its databases. You will be surprised, but even now, in 2023, he is not on the international wanted list, despite all incoming applications from Chisinau.
What we have as a result: on the one hand, criminal cases are brought against the oligarch, his property inside and outside Moldova is seized, sanctions are imposed on him - by the States, the European Union, Canada, Switzerland, etc. That is, everything is all right. On the other hand, not a cent of the stolen billion has been returned to Moldova so far, Plahotniuc walks free, who knows where, and continues to invisibly influence our politics without anyone searching for him.
The authorities, in the absence of an overall investigation, have to make enquiries to each country separately as to whether they have Plahotniuc. Everyone who has been asked has given a negative answer. Including Turkey to Maia Sandu personally. But apparently, someone is lying. But why?
This provides a huge space for conspiracy theories. It is easy to explain why the cases against Plahotniuc are moving so slowly in Moldova. But what motivates our partners not to extradite the ex-leader of the Democratic Party is a much more interesting question. After all, if Washington wanted to hand him over to us for trial, it could have done that long ago, back in 2019-2020, when he was living in the United States. Nevertheless, he was allowed to stay there quietly for a year and leave the country without any problems for a new “shelter”. The behavior of Interpol, which stubbornly refuses to declare him internationally wanted, also seems rather strange.
I suppose that the US still considers Plahotniuc quite useful and keeps him on the bench for some purposes. There are enough options. He can be used as an additional factor of influence on Moldovan affairs, given the large number of his proxies in the authorities. They can keep him as a “scarecrow” in order to further discipline the “good people” by the threat of his return. As a last resort, they permit to return to Moldova, if the “yellows” fail completely - and everything is going towards that - and they need an “efficient manager”, who is well acquainted with local realities. And the existence of criminal cases is not a hindrance. They can easily be “drowned” or at least “held back”, and they will not interfere much with political career. Ilan Shor became a deputy while being involved in the investigation on the theft of a billion dollars. Even Western sanctions are not a hindrance - they only concern a ban on entry and seizure of assets.
Many of Plahotniuc’s former colleagues and supporters say that he is still in shape and cherishes dreams of making a comeback, preparing a new political project for this purpose. Usatii also claimed that Plahotniuc even has agreements with the Americans about his return to Moldova. It is impossible to verify whether this is true, but I am almost certain that some American politicians easily allow such a scenario. So, answering the question of when and in what capacity Plahotniuc will be back, we can answer as follows: “when” – as soon as the interests of the current Moldovan supervisors demand it, and “in what capacity” – as a ready-made player on our political field, and not as a defendant.