The European track of the Republic of Moldova involves a break with its recent past, when the country was virtually at the mercy of highly influential oligarchs, who used their political leverage and media influence to create a genuine kleptocracy. One solution would be to apply the model employed by Ukraine, a country that passed a anti-oligarchic law.
In fact, this is one of the nine prerequisites demanded by the European Council upon granting the Republic of Moldova EU candidate status on June 23 in Brussels. Furthermore, these prerequisites must be fulfilled by the end of the year.
Anti-corruption measures must be doubled by an anti-oligarchic law
A year after being sworn in, Moldova’s Justice Minister, Sergiu Litvinenco wrote on his Facebook page that significant steps have been taken to tighten oversight of political and election corruption, as well as sanctions applied in the case of illegal party funding.
Nevertheless, a anti-oligarchic law enables the authorities to properly identify and punish oligarchs or crime groups, who use their media trusts and the parties they fund to promote their obscure and kleptocratic interests.
As a matter of fact, the region has a legal precedent in this respect. In November 2021, another country with European aspirations, Ukraine, banned the funding of political parties or media trusts by oligarchs, as well as their participation in the privatization of state assets.
An anti-oligarchic law is more important now than ever in the Republic of Moldova, considering that Moldovan oligarchs investigated for corruption have for some time joined forces with pro-Russian forces to hamper the process of reforms kick-started by the pro-European administration in Chișinău.
Although after obtaining EU candidate status people are talking about an irreversible path towards EU accession, the Republic of Moldova is far from achieving this objective.
Domestic and external kleptocratic forces are acting in sync to slow down and even sabotage this process. They still have leverage and men representing their interests in state institutions – which are not exactly powerful – the same institutions that are visibly reform-resistant. They control media trusts that have set all their guns on fulfilling the anti-reform agenda. These oligarchs continue to fund political parties.
The kleptocratic brotherhood. Moldovan oligarchs and their shadow tactics
Even if it no longer has the power it once had, the General Media trust, de facto controlled by fugitive Vlad Plahotniuc, still plays a key role in Moldovan society, fostering anti-establishment policies and eroding public trust in the Action and Solidarity Party’s governing capacity every day.
Plahotnic held the Republic of Moldova hostage over 2016 – June 2019, when the international troika USA – Russia – EU was capable of persuading him to give up his grip on power and flee the country. The troika’s intervention was necessary, despite the shaping up of majority against Plahotniuc. His party, the Democratic Party, was supposed to remain in opposition at the end of the February 2019 election.
Plahotniuc injected huge amounts of capital in his media trust, consisting of a number of television stations and online publications, but also in an army of trolls and influencers. He swiftly managed to monopolize the media market in the Republic of Moldova, using it via one of his companies to financially strong-arm the other key players. For years, the Moldovan oligarch waged wars against his political rivals by means of his powerful media outlets.
Over two years since Plahotniuc fled Moldova, his media strategy remains in place and seems to focus its rhetoric on the judiciary. Plahotniuc himself is wanted on three charges for aggravated economic fraud, including in the “billion-dollar theft” case of 2012-2014.
Another two oligarchs who’ve had run-ins with the law – Ilan Shor and Veaceslav Platon – have presently joined forces. Shor owns several TV stations and online news agencies, while Platon is also sponsoring Shor’s televisions and others linked with PSRM, to ensure their financial well-being, also funding the army of trolls and influencers who badmouth the government. Shor has already been convicted to seven and a half years in prison in the court of first instance in the “billion-dollar theft” case and fled Moldova in 2019.
Shor and Platon systematically organize rallies and concerts which they hope will escalate into powerful protests that would overthrow the government. They try to exploit the severe economic difficulties facing the Republic of Moldova as a result of a number of factors – the fallout from COVID, the impact of the energy crisis and, starting February 24, the consequences of the war in Ukraine, which triggered a massive flow of refugees to Moldova and largely blocked the country’s access to Eastern markets. Besides, inflation has soared to 35.5%, one the highest levels reported in Europe. A contributing factor was the ineffective policy of the Central Bank of Moldova, led by one of Plahotniuc’s close associates.
Platon is actually supported by his partner, journalist Natalia Morari, who for years had pretended to be an anti-oligarch ethical journalist. She is now criticizing pro-European forces, accusing them of abuses and trying to control the judiciary. All this time, her life partner, Veaceslav Platon, is wanted at international level for aggravated economic fraud in the Republic of Moldova.
The alliance of oligarchs and pro-Russian politicians
The center of gravity of anti-establishment protests is Comrat, the capital of ATUG, the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Găgăuzia, a hotbed of pro-Russian separatism in the Republic of Moldova. Every week, ATUG plays host to protests led by Victor Petrov, a politician linked to PSRM and cross-border crime organizations in Russia. Petrov is the new rising star of pro-Russian politics in the Republic of Moldova. Attending his rallies are Socialist MPs from Chișinău, and together they try to shape up a new anti-European current that could also stage street protests.
The Party of Socialists led by former pro-Russian president Igor Dodon continues to own important televisions, news portals and radio stations that foster anti-European propaganda and depict the fight against corruption as a “witch hunt” targeting the political rivals of the Action and Solidarity Party.
In fact, facing five extremely serious counts, Dodon risks spending the next twenty years in prison, which is the aggregate sentence the judges might hand him. The indictment includes corruption charges and treason in favor of external powers. Moreover, Dodon is also accused of funding his own party – PSRM – with capital from an organized crime group, the one owned by Vlad Plahotniuc.
Anti-oligarchic and cleansing the political class
Therefore, the current context requires an anti-oligarchic law in order to remove toxic elements that for thirty years have been dominating ex-Soviet Moldova and which have no bearing on genuine politics, which serves citizens in any rule-of-law country.
Moldova needs swift and firm action, and the first organized crime group with such political implications that might be dismantled is Ilan Shor’s Party. Outlawing this party, for years funded with illicit capital and which uses bribe and election handouts to sway its voters, has been a long time coming. For the time being, the authorities have not taken firm action for fear their move might be interpreted as an abuse of power.
This time around, the rules of the game might change. Even Brussels seems to rally behind this idea in order to advance Moldova’s European track, which might also encourage Chișinău to take the appropriate action with a view to properly “deoligarchizing” the state.