Expert: Justice Reform Falters Again

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Christian RUSSU
Justice institutions, purged in the interests of the ruling party, demonstrate complete incompetence discrediting the very essence of reforms
As one of our bloggers aptly put it, the authorities succeeded in their endeavor to divert the public’s attention from the congress on the left bank. However, the gloomy weather outside was the main source of problems only for the government spokesman Daniel Voda. Everyone else was watching yet another high-profile failure of the justice reform that has been unsuccessfully implemented for the past few years. On 28 February, the Superior Council of Prosecutors celebrated the results of the prosecutor general competition won by Octavian Iachimovschi, deputy of Veronica Dragalin in the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office. This event was the climax of the scandal that from the very beginning accompanied the ruling regime’s attempt to “appoint” a “good man”. Notably, no one could prevent him from doing so, so it is hardly possible to pin everything on hybrid wars and threats. Firstly, the process of appointing the head of the prosecutor’s office was carried out in full compliance with the legislation as it was prepared by the PAS faction in the parliament at the time of starting the competition. Of course, in the best traditions, the legal norms on the prosecutor’s office changed very dynamically, so that eventually, years later, its content returned to the original wording. The past contest envisaged a point system for evaluating candidates, but the bill to change the procedure to simple voting – the same one that became a stumbling block between Igor Grosu and Olesea Stamate – remained on the parliamentary agenda. It is therefore very likely that the next contest will follow a new procedure, or rather the old and reliable one that ensured the appointment of Veronica Dragalin. Secondly, the competition was conducted by the new composition of the Superior Council of Prosecutors. Let me remind you that the reform mentioned the renewal of the administrative institutions in the sphere of justice, the SCP and the SCM (Superior Council of Magistracy), as one of its priority goals, which was also required by the development partners. All SCP members passed through the filter of the Pre-Vetting Commission, and there should be no doubts about the fairness of their decisions. Thirdly, only four out of six candidates, including a lawyer, two attorneys and three prosecutors, were admitted to the final interview. Thus, the members of the SCP dismissed two attorneys, infusing the company of three acting prosecutors with an elderly lawyer. They are the interim prosecutor-general Ion Munteanu, his deputy Igor Demciucin and the deputy head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office Octavian Iachimovschi. In other words, the struggle was between the top-level functionaries of the prosecutor’s office appointed under the current government. These individuals were involved in cases ranging from stealing a billion to prosecuting unwanted judges who dared to rule against PAS representatives. Attitudes towards them varied depending on the nature of the decisions made by prosecutors. For example, Octavian Iachimovschi, the frontrunner of the last contest, was disfavored by the authorities a year ago, but earned attention by his willingness to do dirty work. It was he who was supposed to “resolve” the scandal that was breaking out and threatening the reputation of Maia Sandu. The judge in question is Alexei Panis, against whom Sandu’s entourage has long held a grudge. In late 2021, he dared to cancel the decree by which the president annulled the act of former president Igor Dodon to appoint the president of the Chisinau Court of Appeal. Then early last year, he was among the major troublemakers of the team opposing justice reform who would voice grievances against the Pre-Vetting commission encouraging judges to fight for their rights. As a result, Maia Sandu did not renew the powers of the unwanted judge. However, he challenged the decision and publicly demonstrated how the materials on his case, submitted to the president as grounds for refusal, had been rigged and then classified. Other functionaries from the prosecutor’s office were also involved: the former head of the NAC Iulian Rusu and his ward Eugen Rurac. Alexei Panis, who demanded justice, filed a complaint with the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, and this body initiated a criminal case. However, after realizing the scale of the possible scandal, the case had to be hastily put on hold, and it was Octavian Iachimovschi who proved himself as a “savior”. There are many such episodes involving politicians from the PAS leadership in the troubled fate of our prosecutors, including the top three contenders to head the PG. Among recent cases are the summoning of certain judges to the Supreme Security Council, where they were presented with complaints and recommendations regarding their professional activities. This may also include an attempt to form a special list of judges who are to prosecute cases from the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. Therefore, one can understand Iachimovschi, who was actually waived off the post of prosecutor general. Of course, it is possible to complain about the integrity of the members of the Superior Council of Prosecutors and the entire pre-vetting procedure (financial and professional inspection). Eventually, a scandal did break out. The contestants demanded to see what scores they were given by the SCP members. It got ridiculous. The score put by one of the voters, Olesea Virlan, to Ion Munteanu was three times lower, and after the publication of the voting results she claimed that she had made a mistake! Such confessions from members of the Superior Council of Prosecutors, the already completely reformed self-governing structure in the prosecutor’s office, are the evidence of both personal unfit for office and of the failure of the ruling party’s team, which is carrying out this very justice reform. It is worth recalling that another self-governing structure of judges, the Superior Council of Magistracy, has also been defamed following the disclosure of data on the pre-vetting procedure of some of its members. The activities and statements of Ion Guzun, the SCM chief, have already been criticized by the public and lawyers. The recent acquittal verdict in the case against dismissed Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo sounded as a wake-up call to the authorities. There was so much speculation and reports of pressure on judges that it would not have surprised anyone if Stoianoglo had been found guilty. It is difficult to say what made the judges remain impartial. Perhaps the obvious mess in the justice system due to the actions of PAS, or the indicative example of other functionaries who tried to be obliging. Either way, the decision gave many observers hope that, despite all the experimentation, the justice system had retained some resilience and resistance to subjugation attempts. However, the regime is not sitting idle and intends to find a pressure lever for those who want to criticize it, and to do so in the best authoritarian traditions equating public statements against the authorities, including through social networks, with threats to national security. The PAS MP Lilian Carp, who failed in the election campaign in Chisinau, recently came up with this exact legislative initiative. As for Alexandr Stoianoglo, it is extremely naive to believe that his attempts to return to the Prosecutor General’s chair can be successful. It is more likely that the country’s leadership will soon either finally decide on a candidate among Moldovan prosecutors, or use the situation with the failed competition by local functionaries to invite another outside official from across the Prut who will be brought to the post by simple voting.