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The arrest of Moldova’s Prosecutor General: a step towards reform, or a stage in the fight over institutions?

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©EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU  |   People take part in a protest march in the Great National Assembly Square in Chisinau, Moldova, 07 April 2019. The protesters asked for justice and demanded authorities to tell the truth about the 07 April 2009 incidents.

The Prosecutor General of the Republic of Moldova Alexandr Stoianoglo was detained on October 5, after officers of the Intelligence and Security Service searched the Prosecutor General's Office in a corruption and abuse of power case. Stoianoglo is accused of signing documents that facilitated money laundering in the Russian Laundromat case and of acquitting businessman Veaceslav Platon in the bank fraud case. The Prosecutor General, on the other hand, claims that his case is politically instrumented, by order of President Maia Sandu. Recently, Stoianoglo has also said that he is a target because he is an ethnic Gagauz and that he is the victim of a smear campaign carried out by civil society, the media and the former EU ambassador to Chisinau, Peter Michalko.

Stoianoglo is just the latest prosecutor general involved in a scandal in Chisinau. Over time, various important people in the Republic of Moldova have tried to control this office, both to protect themselves from potential investigations and to have a tool to use against their political (or economic) opponents. It is one of the main reasons why the judicial reform, vital if the Republic of Moldova wants a European prospect, has been dragging so far.

The hunting party in Padurea Domneasca and the dismantling of the Alliance for European Integration

On December 23, 2012, a businessman, Sorin Paciu, who would die the next day at the hospital, was accidentally shot during a hunting party in the Pădurea Domnească Reserve. The hunting party was attended by about 30 people with important positions in the Republic of Moldova, including the then Prosecutor General Valeriu Zubco, the President of the Chisinau Court of Appeal, Ion Plesca, the Vice President of the Court, Gheorghe Cretu, the Director of Moldsilva State Agency, Ion Lupu and others.

Authorities tried to cover up the case, but two weeks later, on January 6, 2013, the incident was brought to the attention of the public by Sergiu Mocanu, a politician who had declared himself a fighter against the “mafia” which he said was led by the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, who at the time was the strongman behind the Democratic Party, one of the members of the ruling Alliance for European Integration. Mocanu stated that the Prosecutor General Valeriu Zubco was the one who had shot Paciu and that the crime was allegedly hidden at the behest of Vladimir Plahotniuc. Zubco was fired on January 21, 2013, which exacerbated the smoldering war between Prime Minister Vlad Filat and Vladimir Plahotniuc. A political crisis broke out in Chisinau, the Alliance for European Integration fell apart, and the Filat government was dismissed in March 2013.

There had been rumors in Chisinau ever since 2009, when the Alliance for European Integration was formed (by Filat's Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and the “Moldova Noastra - Our Moldova” Alliance), that the position of prosecutor general had been bought by Plahotniuc from Serafim Ureachean, the leader of the “Our Moldova” Alliance. This information was confirmed in 2019 by the former premier Vlad Filat, who stated that the office of Prosecutor General that  Valeriu Zubco was running for was sold for two million euros. Former MP Veaceslav Platon also confirmed that the position had been sold.

In April 2013, Parliament elected Corneliu Gurin as Prosecutor General of the Republic of Moldova, a man also suspected of being Plahotniuc's man. Two years later, Gurin asked Parliament to lift Vlad Filat's immunity, accusing him of involvement in the billion-dollar theft. Filat was detained and subsequently sentenced to prison, from where he was released on parole in December 2019.

From Plahotniuc’s supremacy to the Dodon-Stoiangolo-Platon triad

The Prosecutor's Office, just like other important state institutions, was under Vlad Plahotniuc's control until the summer of 2019, when he fled the Republic of Moldova, after the formation of a new governing alliance between the Party of Socialists and the deputies of the bloc NOW (PAS and DA Platform). And this alliance, which had the endorsement of the EU, the USA and Russia, fell apart when it came to appointing a new Prosecutor General. During her short term as Prime Minister, between June and December 2019, Maia Sandu tried to launch important reforms in the judiciary and to take state institutions out of the control of various interest groups.

However, the contest organized by the Ministry of Justice for the position of prosecutor general was contested by the very Sandu government, based on information that it had been rigged. In her capacity as Prime Minister, Maia Sandu took political responsibility for appointing a prosecutor, but the alliance was broken by the Socialists. The contest for the position of Prosecutor General went on, resulting in the appointment of Alexandru Stoianoglo as General Prosecutor of the Republic of Moldova, in November 2019.

Even though he claims that he took the office as a result of winning the contest and that he was not appointed on political grounds, Alexandru Stoianoglo was not perceived as an independent prosecutor, and his actions in the almost two years at the head of the Prosecutor General’s Office did not convince the public. On the contrary, there were many reasons for people to believe that he was serving certain interests, especially those of the former President Igor Dodon.

In the summer parliamentary elections, the Action and Solidarity Party won a majority in the Legislature. The main message that ensured the victory of President Maia Sandu and her party in the presidential and parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova was one promoting anti-corruption and justice reform. The new power has called on the Prosecutor's Office to solve major corruption cases, such as the “the billion-dollar theft” and the Laundromat, in which famous former politicians and oligarchs are involved, such as Vlad Plahotniuc, Ilan Shor and Veaceslav Platon - all three currently fugitives.

The actions of the Prosecutor General’s Office concerning these big cases have been either modest or against the law, experts say . Although there have been some actions to investigate bank fraud, they have not been completed yet. On the other hand, the Prosecutor General requested the suspension of Veaceslav Platon's sentence, after previously declaring that his case had been politically fabricated. Platon was released in June 2020. In May 2021, the Prosecutor's Office dropped the charges against Platon in the bank fraud case, and in June he was acquitted by judges. Platon was also listed in two other cases, but was not even banned from leaving the country, so Veaceslav Platon left the Republic of Moldova  after the parliamentary elections of July 2021. In the case of the “Russian laundromat”, the Prosecutor's Office dropped the charges against 13 of the 15 judges involved in the case, on grounds that there was no evidence.

With regard to cases involving the former President Igor Dodon, known as the Bahamas, the Kuliok or the luxury hollidays , the Prosecutor's Office has either closed them or refused to prosecute. The press wrote that the administrator of the company that sponsored PSRM is protected by Dodon and Stoianoglo.

Appointing a new prosecutor – the test that will show the pro-Europeans’ real intentions

President Maia Sandu, the new Minister of Justice Sergiu Litvinenco, and the PAS deputies have harshly criticized the Prosecutor's Office and the Chief Prosecutor for lack of progress in the most resounding cases, for letting some corrupt politicians and businessmen flee Moldova and for doing nothing to bring the fugitives Vlad Plahotniuc and Ilan Shor back to the country. Concerns about the investigation into the bank fraud, and the decision not to prosecute made in several cases have also been voiced in the Supreme Security Council. At an extraordinary sitting of Parliament on 20 August, the MPs noted a lack of progress with regard to the billion-dollar theft case and efforts to recover the money stolen from the banking system in 2014.

The Prosecutor General Alexandru Stoianoglo refused to go to Parliament to present a report on the case, but claimed alleged pressure from the current government on the institution he led.

In the meantime, PAS has amended the legislation on the prosecutor's office, which will also allow the dismissal of the prosecutor general if their work is considered unsatisfactory. Stoianoglo reacted by saying that amending the legislation for his dismissal was a scenario devised by a group of politicians and a network of NGOs and experts. Also, he has stated that the former head of the EU Delegation to Chisinau, Peter Michalko, was receiving information from inside the prosecutor's office from the former head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office, Viorel Morari.

The Prosecutor General made those statements after PAS MP Lilian Carp filed a complaint with the Superior Council of Prosecutors on September 30, requesting that Stoianoglo's actions in 2011 be examined, when he was a deputy and chairman of the Parliamentary Security Committee. Back then he allegedly facilitated the amendment of the legislation on the prevention of money laundering, which allowed the withdrawal of money from accounts blocked by decision of the Service for Prevention and Combating Money Laundering only by filing with the bank the appeal on the decision to suspend financial operations. The case is said to be related to the “Russian Laundromat” money laundering scheme.

The Superior Council of Prosecutors admitted on October 5 the notification filed by the deputy Lilian Carp and appointed a prosecutor to examine the complaint against Stoianoglo. He came to the SCP meeting and warned the members of the council that they risked being held accountable for that. 

On Tuesday night, Alexandr Stoianoglo was detained for 72 hours. During his detention, he said that those actions were a “revenge of the president” and a “return to the seized state”.

However, Stoianoglo's statements must be treated with caution, given the numerous controversies surrounding his name. The litmus paper will be the procedure for selecting and appointing a new prosecutor general and, especially, how they will choose to do their job. Only then we will see whether the pro-European government is really determined to reform the judiciary, or whether this is just another case of “let’s have their man leave so that our man can come”.

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  • Stoianoglo is just the latest prosecutor general involved in a scandal in Chisinau. Over time, various important people in the Republic of Moldova have tried to control this office, both to protect themselves from potential investigations and to have a tool to use against their political (or economic) opponents. It is one of the main reasons why the judicial reform, vital if the Republic of Moldova wants a European prospect, has been dragging so far.
  • There had been rumors in Chisinau ever since 2009, when the Alliance for European Integration was formed (by Filat's Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and the “Moldova Noastra - Our Moldova” Alliance), that the position of prosecutor general had been bought by Plahotniuc from Serafim Ureachean, the leader of the “Our Moldova” Alliance. This information was confirmed in 2019 by the former premier Vlad Filat, who stated that the office of Prosecutor General that Valeriu Zubco was running for was sold for two million euros. Former MP Veaceslav Platon also confirmed that the position had been sold.
  • The Prosecutor's Office, just like other important state institutions, was under Vlad Plahotniuc's control until the summer of 2019, when he fled the Republic of Moldova, after the formation of a new governing alliance between the Party of Socialists and the deputies of the bloc NOW (PAS and DA Platform). And this alliance, which had the endorsement of the EU, the USA and Russia, fell apart when it came to appointing a new Prosecutor General.
  • President Maia Sandu, the new Minister of Justice Sergiu Litvinenco, and the PAS deputies have harshly criticized the Prosecutor's Office and the Chief Prosecutor for lack of progress in the most resounding cases, for letting some corrupt politicians and businessmen flee Moldova and for doing nothing to bring the fugitives Vlad Plahotniuc and Ilan Shor back to the country. Concerns about the investigation into the bank fraud, and the decision not to prosecute made in several cases have also been voiced in the Supreme Security Council. At an extraordinary sitting of Parliament on 20 August, the MPs noted a lack of progress with regard to the billion-dollar theft case and efforts to recover the money stolen from the banking system in 2014.
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