Protesters in rent: Who are the “quadratists” from Orhei who paid the ZdG reporters, disguised as protesters? The reaction of the police and the Prosecutor’s Office
Recruiting and rewarding the people brought to the protests of the Shor Party – these are the tasks of the so-called “quadratists” from Orhei. They are the ones who coordinate the organizing process at the city level, make the lists of protesters and send them the money for participating in the demonstrations organized by the Shor Party. The locals call them “quadratists” because the city is divided into sectors, called “squares or quadrats”, and each organizer is responsible for one such “quadrat”.
Ziarul de Gardă identified some of the people who are responsible for this, after documenting undercover how hundreds of people from Orhei are paid and brought to organized protests. Among them are party activists, municipal councilors of the Shor Party, as well as employees at Orhei City Hall.
In the undercover investigation “Protestants for rent”, Ziarul de Gardă revealed that the protesters of the Shor Party are brought to demonstrations and are paid to participate in them. Four ZdG reporters infiltrated the protesters brought from Orhei, and three of the journalists filmed how they were later paid by the so-called “quadratists”.
The “quadratists” who passed the money to the ZdG reporters deny that they did so
One of those who sent the money is Lidia Botnaru. She offered a “reward” to the undercover reporter, Vasile Ursachi (Ion Croitoru, undercover name, e.n.). The transfer of money took place at a cigarette and alcohol shop called “Tobacco & Alcohol Shop”, where the woman said she worked. She accompanied a group of protesters from Orhei to Chișinău.
The store where she works is managed by the Municipal Enterprise for Trade and Markets Purchases, founded by the Orhei Municipal Council. Administrator is Eduard Țepordei.
Although she was filmed handing over the money, Lidia Botnaru later denied that she had done so and that she participated in the organization of the Orhei protesters.
ZdG: You personally gave me the money in the cigarette shop. If you remember, on Thursday, September 22, you called me around 3:30 p.m. I entered the store and you gave me 400 lei (20 Euros).
L. Botnaru: I don’t remember.
ZdG: We filmed this.
L. Botnaru: Mhmm…
ZdG: Can you tell us where this money comes from? Do they come from the town hall, from the Shor Party?
L. Botnaru: I have no idea.
ZdG: Do you work at the town hall? Or help organize the protest?
L. Botnaru: No, no, no. I don’t work there.
ZdG: So you were asked to help organize these protests, meaning to accompany the people and give them money from the town hall?
L. Botnaru: I don’t organize anything.
ZdG: Well, you were right there with me, in the same minibus, you organized the people, you told us to all be in one place, you gathered everyone in the minibus, you called us about the money, we got the money. You were involved in organizing these protests.
L. Botnaru: I wasn’t, I don’t know.
ZdG: We have pictures of the moment you give me money. You took it out of the envelope and gave me 400 lei on Thursday.
L. Botnaru: Why did you involve me in this?
ZdG: But is it true?
L. Botnaru: Nothing is true.
ZdG: I just want to understand who asked you to do this, Mrs. Iazadji or…
L. Botnaru: That’s why you asked us to take you then? Right?
ZdG: Yes, but I asked you, did Mrs. Iazadji ask you to help her, or someone from above, Mrs. Cristina, the vice mayor, Mrs. Cojocari?
L. Botnaru: Don’t ask me anything, please
ZdG: But do you admit that you dealt with this? (participation in organizing protests)
L. Botnaru: No, I didn’t do anything. I work at the cigarette shop and that’s it!
“What money? I don’t remember that”
Another “quadratista” who had the mission of transmitting the money is the pensioner Valentina Cerchez. She coordinated the group of people in the minibus in which our colleague Natalia Zaharescu (Aliona Lazari, undercover name, e.n.) was and who sent money to the undercover journalist. Confronted later, on the phone, Valentina Cerchez admitted that she is a member of the party and that she goes to all the protests, together with her acquaintances. She denied, however, that she would pass the money to the protesters. ” What money? What are you talking about? “, the woman reacted. At the same time, she said that she remembers Aliona Lazari (the undercover journalist, e.n.), but does not remember giving her money.
” V. Cerchez: Yes, I remember Aliona Lazari, a young girl, who was sitting next to me, shouting next to me “Down with Maia Sandu!” – that’s what I remember. She was riding the bus with me – that’s what I remember. But I don’t remember giving her the money.”
ZdG: Where did you get this money? You gave me money.
V. Cerchez: What money? I don’t remember that. You must be confusing me with someone.
ZdG: I’m not confusing you. This is your phone number. You called me from this number.
V. Cerchez: Yes, I probably suggested that you go to the protest.
ZdG: Do you work at the town hall?
V. Cerchez: I don’t work anywhere, I’m retired, that’s why I have a very good attitude towards money.
ZdG: So no one gave anyone any money?
V. Cerchez: I, personally, did not give you money. Personally, no one gave me money for my work. I am an activist, I have been in the Shor Party for a long time. But I have no problems with money.
ZdG: But you gave me money.
V. Cerchez: I don’t know, maybe someone gave it to you, but I don’t remember giving you money.
ZdG: I see. Thank you!
V. Cerchez: Welcome! If you want, come with us. We are going again on Sunday.
“God forbid! Where can I get money from?”
Another person that handed money to the protesters is a woman named Tamara, whose last name is Galea, according to the Viber app where her phone number is registered. She is the one who sent the money to the journalist Daniela Calmîș, (Ana Bodiu, undercover name, e.n.) right near her home in Orhei. Confronted later, the woman denied that she had participated in organizing the people and that she handed the money.
” God forbid! Where can I get money? I’m a pensioner, I stay at home, where I could get money?”. She denied knowing Ana Bodiu (undercover journalist) and that she gave her money. “I don’t know, I didn’t give any money to anyone and I’m not interested in discussing such things. Where did you get all this from, I don’t know! I know many people in the city, but I don’t know who this girl is. I didn’t give any money and don’t bother me! “, the woman reacted.
City Hall employee with unclear position
The ZdG investigation found that the process of organizing and recruiting people to participate in the protests is a complex structure in which people employed in public administration from the municipality of Orhei are also involved.
The “quadratista” who seemed to have the greatest decision-making power at the level of the protesters’ organizers from Orhei, the one who coordinated the groups of protesters and drew up lists in the two minibusses and in the bus in which the ZdG journalists boarded undercover, is an employee of Orhei City Hall. Elena Tonean is, according to the web page of the Orhei City Hall, the main specialist in the field of public relations. Although she has the status of a civil servant, we do not find her wealth declaration on the portal of the National Integrity Authority.
We went to Orhei City Hall to talk to Elena Tonean and to ask her about her activity as a “quadratist”, but we didn’t find her at work. In the hall of the town hall, where an information office is set up, we were informed that Elena Tonean is not in her office and that she would be “in the territory because she works with minor children”.
Although initially, the security service of the town hall did not allow us access to the second floor, where the operation office is located, later, after the intervention of an employee from the information office, the security employee allowed us to pass. In the mayor’s antechamber we were also told that Elena Tonean is not at work. Here we also learned that her position would be in the field of social assistance and that she would work with minors. “Public Relations” is displayed on the locked door of the operation’s office, and a colleague from an office whose door also had “Public Relations” written on it, could not specify what Elena Tonean’s position was.
“Write us all the questions you need answers for”
At Orhei City Hall, we found in her office the deputy mayor of the municipality, Cristina Cojocari. She refused to inform us what Elena Tonean’s position is and to comment on the fact that she, being an employee of the town hall, participates in the organization of the protesters from Orhei, which Ziarul de Gardă showed that they are paid for participating in the demonstrations of the Shor Party. “Write us all the questions you need answers for. We will answer quickly”, this was the only answer to all ZdG’s questions.
At the Shor Party protest on September 18, Cristina Cojocari was observed by ZdG reporters walking alongside and talking to Elena Tonean, while they were moving towards the center of Chișinău, from the buses that brought the protesters from Orhei. The vice-mayor of Orhei did not want to comment on this aspect either. “I answered all your questions,” she said, although she didn’t answer any of the questions we asked her.
Two municipal councils – “quadratistes”
Among the “quadratists” are also two municipal councilors from Orhei, which are part of the faction of the Shor Party. One of them is Lidia Iazadji. At the protest on September 18, she was active as an organizer and boasted that she had gathered exactly 260 people on the lists, although the “norm” was 150 people. Lidia Iazadji was the one who called the ZdG reporter, Vasile Ursachi, to invite him to participate in the protest again, after the one on September 18, where the reporters infiltrated the protesters. She then scolded the ZdG journalist, who pretended to be the protester Ion Croitorul, for talking about money on the phone. ” Such things are never discussed on the phone”, the woman scolded him then.
Confronted by phone, after the publication of the ZdG investigation, Lidia Iazadji denied that people are paid for participating in the protests of the Shor Party.
ZdG: You called me about the protests, the participation and the money. You told me not to talk about money on the phone. So you confirm that money is paid for the protests?
L. Iazadji: No.
ZdG: But we have clear evidence that we received money from the organizers.
L. Iazadji: Did you receive the money?
ZdG: Yes. If you remember, I wore a cap and my name was “Ion Croitoru”, I talked with you.
L. Iazadji: I don’t know who tells you such a thing. I didn’t tell you about money. Did I talk about money?
ZdG: You said that we don’t talk about money on the phone, but Mrs. Lidia, Lidia Botnaru knows very well when I will receive the money.
L. Iazadji: I didn’t talk about money. People in general speak about different things.
ZdG: I see.
L. Iazadji: Let them speak.
ZdG: So you deny that people get money for protests?
L. Iazadji: Yes, I deny.
In the most recent declaration of wealth, councilor Lidia Iazadji declares an apartment with a value of 6,000 euros, acquired in 1992 with an area of 64 square meters. The woman also owns a Nissan Qashqai car, manufactured and bought in 2019 for 15,000 euros. In the 2018 declaration, which is the oldest one filed by Lidia Iazadji, she indicates a bank deposit of 15,000 euros, the exact value of the Nissan Qashqai car. She previously owned a Nissan Almera car, declared worth 500 euros, which she sold for the same amount in 2020. Her official income for 2021 comes from her pension – 550 euros, and from social support programs – 350 euros, to which 125 euros are added – aid for the cold period of the year.
Natalia Crețu is a municipal councilor in Orhei from the Shor Party and she participated in the organization of the protests too. She was the one who initially refused to take the undercover ZDG reporter, Daniela Calmâș, on the bus because there were no seats and: ” We have people who come and go to protests every time. We cannot leave those who come.” Later, she added Daniela Calmâș to her list and allowed her to get on the bus to go to the protests, after receiving approval from Elena Tonean, the town hall employee. She did not answer ZdG’s calls.
According to her wealth declaration, Natalia Crețu owns a third of a 46 square meter apartment, bought in 2019, which she declared to be worth 1,250 euros. She declares a pension income of 1,025 euros.
“Aren’t you ashamed to ask such a question?”
The “quadratista” Nelea Lupașco, mentioned by several protesters and who could be seen by ZdG reporters drawing up lists, did not deny that she participates in the process of organizing people from Orhei and mobilizes them to come to protests in Chișinău, but she claims she didn’t give money to anyone. ” Aren’t you ashamed to ask such a question? Do you have some sense and humanity? To call and ask if we give money? What kind of money? Isn’t what this man (Ilan Shor, e.n.) does for us enough? Should we ask for money for it? We want to take her down like the idiot she is. What did she do for all these people in Moldova? What question is this? I’m part of it… I protest with my neighbors and we want to take down Mrs. Maria (Maia, e.n.) Sandu. What is the problem? No one receives money for this! No one! What a question, God! “, the woman reacted offended.
Ilan Shor: “I will help people who do not have the means to reach the anti-government demonstrations”
Ziarul de Gardă requested a reaction from the Shore Party. The spokeswoman of the formation, Alina Șargu, did not react to ZdG’s request and did not give us any answer.
On Friday, September 30, one day after the investigation was published in the ZdG print edition, the leader of the Shor Party, the fugitive deputy Ilan Shor, published a message on his Facebook page, in which he claims that he will help ” people who have no possibilities to reach the anti-government demonstrations “. He does not specify whether the statement is related to the ZdG investigation.
” I find that some supporters of the current government continue to humiliate people who protest against the government and accuse them of receiving money to participate in protests. I repeat, a few days ago, I made a public announcement, in which I gave assurances that I would help people who do not have the means to reach the anti-government demonstrations. I said that I will pay, with my own money, the transport and provide water and food to the citizens condemned to absolute poverty by PAS (Action and Solidarity Party, e.n.) and Maia Sandu. So that these people can defend their rights to a dignified life. I’m not ashamed, and cheap threats of criminal charges don’t stop me from admitting it. As a politician, as a man, a citizen of my country, I am obliged to help those who have nothing to do, but want to defend their rights to a decent life in their country “, says Ilan Shor’s statement.
Law enforcement reaction to the undercover investigation of Ziarul de Gardă
Head of the General Police Inspectorate, Viorel Cernăuțeanu: “What was done (ZdG’s investigation), really, is to be appreciated. But I want to point out that the police do not have such powers to document the economic-financial field. This is a prerogative of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office and the National Anticorruption Center.”
Mariana Cherpec, prosecutor, responsible for communication within the General Prosecutor’s Office: “The circumstances that constitute the object of the investigation carried out by Ziarul de Gardă, at this moment, are being investigated by the officers of the National Anticorruption Center, together with the anticorruption prosecutors”.
At the same time, the ZdG reporters who received “rewards” as undercover “protesters” were invited to the National Anticorruption Center to hand over the money and to be heard as witnesses.