How and Why PAS Seized the National Bank

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Christian RUSSU
The most important state regulator was seized by political groups from both banks of the Prut River
Until recently, the National Bank remained the only significant state institution outside the ruling party’s control. Maintaining its independence was one of the conditions of international partners providing external financing to the country, primarily the International Monetary Fund. The increased importance of the regulator in the last two years and the IMF’s strict control caused obvious irritation in the PAS, which put all other state structures to its service. Thus, Maia Sandu personally “black-marked” the already former head of the NBM Octavian Armasu. We can consider it as her revenge for refusing to fulfil the political order to whiten the name of the president who once participated in the decision on the “theft of the billion”. Sandu’s ambitions to run for another term trigger serious shifts in the domestic political “kitchen” even in the last weeks of this year. It is obvious that the ruling party realizes there are no 100% guarantees for re-electing their leader and wants to shake up the entire state system by demonstrating the crucial nature of the next election campaign. However, they apparently decided to ignore the possible consequences in the form of the absolute loss of sovereignty in the course of such perturbations. The central bank chief might well have suspected something wrong when reporting to the parliamentarians on 21 December. Especially given the need to provide explanations about the activity of his institution the day before, as well as the political performances of PAS deputies at all parliamentary sessions ahead of the New Year. However, Armasu apparently believed in his invincibility to the last hoping for legal immunity and IMF protection. Meanwhile, PAS played a game of public humiliation of the unwanted NBM head, evoking memories of the “crowd against one” street attack methods. At the same time, none of the attacking legislators referred to normative acts, including those adopted by them, no one challenged Armasu on the substance of the work he had done, nor voiced the facts of abuse or corruption, which, by the way, are numerous in the files of many current functionaries. The main complaint against him was “political tolerance”, and the most “terrible sin” was the payment to a lawyer, whose clients included the fugitive oligarch Ilan Sor. Of course, the deputies of the ruling party did not listen to the explanations of Octavian Armasu and his aides. They considered their arguments sufficient to apply the article of the law stipulating the possibility of dismissing the NBM head due to “failure to meet the conditions for performing duties or committing a gross offence”. Curiously, the new act of violence against the law on the part of the current government was politically shielded by the parliamentary opposition represented by the Socialist and Communist factions. Exactly their votes were used to gain the necessary two-thirds of deputies. The behavior of the BCS on that day was clearly perplexing, regardless of their motives. Whether it was Vlad Batrincea’s political shortsightedness or another conspiracy arising from the experience of productive cooperation in the districts is no longer important. The important thing is that now the PSRM-PCRM bloc will also be held accountable for the raider seizure of the National Bank. But the opposition had every opportunity to give the regime a few decent “left hooks” and foil its plans. It was not Armasu who had assigned to reimburse the stolen money to all citizens through the budget. No, it was decided by the government with Maia Sandu’s participation. And neither in the following years, nor during Sandu’s rule, no one is in a hurry to abolish this appalling norm. Moreover, Armasu was made responsible for the failure of the government and the whole justice system, which the government is unsuccessfully reforming, in recovering the billion, although his responsibility was only to develop amendments to the legislation to prevent such precedents. The socialist deputies were well aware of all this, some of them even wrote about it in their Telegram channels. But for some reason they did not dare to voice these facts in parliament, preferring to lend a hand to the PAS in its game. The clean-up of the National Bank’s management allowed the ruling regime to eliminate any risks associated with the charges in the “theft of the billion” case ahead of the presidential race. In addition, it can now use the multi-billion assets accumulated by Armasu to support Maia Sandu’s electoral campaign.  It seems that the latter point concerns the most the main investors of the NBM, represented by the IMF. The Fund’s representatives, worrying about their investments, have already criticized the authorities for political interference in the National Bank’s activity. Meanwhile, the act of lawlessness created in the parliament is praised by the PAS staff commentators from the so-called “civil society”, such as Valeriu Pasha. The most interesting thing is that few people in parliament had any complaints about the new head of the National Bank, Anca Dragu, a Romanian senator from the Union for the Salvation of Romania (USR) and a kind of analogue of Natalia Gavrilita from the right bank of the Prut with experience in the IMF. Although, if desired, it was possible to refer to the provision of the law on the National Bank, already violated by the deputies, according to which members of its management bodies “cannot be deputies, members of political parties or socio-political formations, carry out political activities or participate in them”. According to Romanian media, the former Romanian Prime Minister and leader of the Renew Europe party in the European Parliament, Dacian Ciolos, with whom Maia Sandu has longstanding ties, helped to improve the gender balance in the ruling party’s power structures. The Romanian National Bank was also aware of the shifts in the NBM leadership and publicly supported Dragu’s appointment. Thus, Bucharest, whose protégé has become Moldova’s most important state regulator, has quite expectedly benefited strategically from the ongoing de-sovereignization of the country. Now it will have to make the main efforts to absorb the territory of the right bank of the Prut within the European integration course pursued by our authorities.