Expert: ECHR Verdict on Stoianoglo Never Vexed the Moldovan Authorities

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Christian RUSSU
A short media buzz is perhaps the only tangible aftereffect of the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling in the case of ex-Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo
The announcement of the European Court of Human Rights’ verdict in favor of Alexandr Stoianoglo has certainly stirred up the country’s information field. We cannot say that many people were encouraged by this news in terms of any significant consequences and changes, but it gave them courage to at least speak out about it on TV and social networks. All in all, the ECHR ruling has left a mixed impression. On the one hand, it contains rather harsh formulations. The Court recognized a violation of Article 6.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights “Right to a Fair Trial” when Stoianoglo was removed from the post of Prosecutor General two years ago. That is, Moldova is accused of trampling on the applicant’s very right to access to justice, which is not so common in the decisions of this institution. Stoianoglo was not given the opportunity to challenge the verdict, to familiarize himself with the complaints filed against him, but at the same time Moldova’s representatives tried to convince the court in Strasbourg that the applicant had not exhausted legal remedies in his home country. The ECHR criticized both the “automatic suspension” of the Prosecutor General’s functions, which was done through a special legislative amendment, and the motives for restricting access to an independent court, which were reduced to “objective grounds related to the state’s interests”. The authorities were also accused for the two-year prolongation of Stoianoglo’s suspension, allegedly because of the latter’s ability to influence the criminal case against him. The ECHR, referring to the opinion of the Venice Commission, ruled to substantially revise the “procedure for assessing the effectiveness” of the prosecutor general, introduced in the legislation under the guise of justice reform, to clarify its essence, to specify the evaluation indicators, etc. On the other hand, the symbolic, even humiliating, amount of compensation for moral damage at the rate of 3600 euros (which is much lower than the requested 20 thousand) hardly covered even the court costs. This brings to mind the idea that the European Court hinted to all potential complainants against official Chisinau that it was futile to appeal to the ECHR in order to obtain anything but moral satisfaction. The absence of widespread public interest in the press conference held by the former prosecutor general after the verdict was also noteworthy, which can be explained by his long absence from the media field. The campaign “Hands off Stoianoglo”, launched in his support, which showed signs of transforming into a full-fledged political project, finally faded away in November last year. Expert expectations about his participation in the elections in Gagauzia were not fulfilled either. In short, Stoianoglo, either on his own or on the advice of someone else, withdrew himself from public and political life. This was the main reason why the ECHR judgement made him a victim, but did not give him subjectivity. The similar experience of Vlad Filat was apparently not taken into account. If we leave aside the general public, who within the past year have forgotten who Stoianoglo is, and look at politicians and justice representatives, they all perfectly understood the content and timing of the EU court’s decision on this case. Of course, no one cherished any illusions that our officials responsible for the illegal suspension of the former prosecutor general would resign as per the European practice. But the current government showed complete indifference to the consequences of a defeat in the ECHR. Nobody even tried to reach an amicable agreement with Stoianoglo to prevent a losing verdict. Well, the Venice Commission’s recommendations on the inadmissibility of collective responsibility in the form of deprivation of the voting rights were also ignored. A month before the court ruling, on 26 September, Maia Sandu signed a decree dismissing Alexandr Stoianoglo from his position based on the decision of the Superior Council of Prosecutors from a year and a half ago. In advance, associate consultants and NGO representatives in charge of the justice reform (part-time members of the Superior Council of Prosecutors, the special commission for the preliminary selection of candidates for the position of chief prosecutor PCCOCS, the Commission for the selection of candidates for ECHR judge’s position and other institutions) stated that there were no consequences for Moldova, except for the need to pay monetary compensation. Such costs, in the opinion of those serving the interests of the ruling elite, are insignificant in the “difficult period of reforming” the justice system. In a similar vein, the Ministry of Justice has said that Stoianoglo will have to wait at least three months for his money, and in general, the law criticized by the ECHR has already been updated, and the future Prosecutors General will not be in any danger. However, Veronica Mihailov-Moraru’s office blatantly lied about the latter. It should have remembered not only of the relevant loophole in the legislation, but also of the fact that its former leaders, including Sergiu Litvinenco, threatened to assign the obligation to pay compensation for cases lost at the ECHR on specific judges and officials. The disregard for the ECHR judgement was also reflected in the fact that just the day before the Supreme Court had announced a competition for the position of the Prosecutor General. That is, a suitable candidate has already been found, so a formal selection is needed to legalize and approve it. Watching what’s going on, especially given the EU requirements under the “State of Law” section to start accession negotiations, it may seem as if the authorities are deliberately sabotaging the process, creating problems on the spot, which in normal circumstances would turn into a public whipping of the official Chisinau on the part of Brussels. But in our case the situation is different, and it is well illustrated by the indicative lack of attention to the case of the former Prosecutor General from Western diplomatic missions. Speaking to the media, Alexandr Stoianoglo did not hide his disappointment: “I was expecting a different reaction from international partners, I was expecting that they would really help us...”. Moldova will not be a pioneer among the countries that, despite obvious problems in the justice sector, receive political support from the EU. Not only has our neighbor on the right bank of the Prut achieved European favor amid endless corruption scandals in the justice system, but is now itself acting as a “lecturer” in this field for Moldova. Although it was Romanian politicians who in their time, under Basescu, injected the ugliest forms of legal lawlessness into our country, including the “phone law” and rigged “contests”.