“A machine with intercepting antennae”. What versions prosecutors are examining in the leaked data from dignitaries’ Telegram accounts and why the investigation is dragging on
Nine months after several conversations attributed to high-ranking Moldovan officials were published in the public domain, no one is accused or suspected of hacking into their accounts. In November 2022, a criminal prosecution was launched on the fact of “illegal interception of a computer data transmission”, but so far there is no finality on this case. The Moldova-Leaks website became inactive after Dorin Recean was voted in as Prime Minister of Moldova.
On 9 November 2022, on a portal created just a day before – Moldova-Leaks.com, several private conversations from the Telegram network attributed to the then Minister of Justice Sergiu Litvinenco were published. At the same time, messages urging followers to access the portal appeared on the public accounts of President Maia Sandu and then Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spînu, and the government announced the same day that these accounts had been hacked.
The administrators of Moldova-Leaks did not reveal their identity, but announced on the website that this was “the largest leak of private correspondence of high-ranking officials in Moldova” and that other leaks of other dignitaries were to follow.
Two days later, alleged conversations of the current Prime Minister, Dorin Recean, who was then President Maia Sandu’s adviser on defence and national security and secretary of the Supreme Security Council (SSC), appeared on the website.
Leaked conversations of Vadim Pistrinciuc, a former MP, Ana Revenco, then Minister of Internal Affairs, Dumitru Alaiba, then MP, and Ion Munteanu, acting Prosecutor General, followed. The PCCOCS announced that the Telegram account of the chief of the General Inspectorate of Police, Viorel Cernăuțeanu, was also hacked and that criminal proceedings have been launched.
In the alleged conversations of the former Minister of Justice, Sergiu Litvinenco, he allegedly discussed with some members of the Superior Council of Prosecutors about supporting Veronica Dragalin’s candidacy in the competition for the post of head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office. Initially, the former justice minister said that all the leaked messages were faked, and later said that the information was truncated and taken out of context.
Nine months after the scandal broke, we asked those whose accounts were hacked if they had been heard and if they knew how it happened.
Litvinenco: “I have not been asked about the content of what was published”
Sergiu Litvinenco, former Minister of Justice
Sergiu Litvinenco, former Minister of Justice, told ZdG that he was heard by prosecutors, reiterating his belief that the published discussions were truncated: “I was heard in connection with this case. If I am not mistaken, it happened in April. It is, after all, the job of the prosecutors to investigate and say what happened, who the organisers were and whether the criminal actions were directed from home or abroad. In any case, it is clear to me that criminal-oligarchic groups were behind the actions taken by me as Minister of Justice and some of the results that were in place at the time. I was not asked about the content of what was published. But this is also natural, since those so-called conversations were truncated, misplaced and taken out of context, which led to the distortion of information for the purpose of manipulation and fabrication of falsehoods.”
“A machine with antennae that intercept”
Vadim Pistrinciuc, a former MP, said he was interviewed by prosecutors about a month ago. “I went to the prosecutor’s office. They explained to me, as far as I can understand, what the technical possibilities are, how the phone could have been hacked. But there are also made-up things there, I mean, some of it was broken information, some of it was ‘drawn’. The prosecutor seemed very knowledgeable about the technical aspects that I didn’t know, for example, a machine with antennas that intercepts. He asked me if I hadn’t seen such a machine near me or a van. I told him that I live in an ordinary block and there are always lots of cars parked around. He also told me how these things are technically done. I didn’t file a complaint to be called to the hearing, but I wrote there that I was an injured party. They contacted me earlier, in spring, but I was not in the country,” said Vadim Pistrinciuc.
Dumitru Alaiba, Minister of Economy, says he filed a complaint that his account had been hacked, but did not go to the prosecutor’s office to make a statement. “A prosecutor wrote to me, I failed to react to that message. That was about two weeks ago. My mistake, I think I will come back,” the minister told ZdG.
“I just answered the prosecutors’ questions and that’s all”
Andrei Spînu, Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development, said he was heard and gave evidence in the case about a month ago. He says he has no further information from prosecutors on how his account could have been hacked. “I just answered the prosecutors’ questions and that’s it.” He hadn’t filed a complaint before he was called to testify either.
Viorel Cernăuțeanu, head of the Inspectorate General of Police, told ZdG that he was heard in November 2022, immediately after his account was hacked: “I was heard then, immediately, when the situation happened. My phone was also examined, all the proper procedural procedures.”
Ion Munteanu, acting prosecutor general, did not return our calls or our message to him. The press service of the prosecutor’s office informed us that he is on leave.
We have not received any reply from Prime Minister Dorin Recean, to whom we sent our questions through his spokesman, Daniel Voda, nor from Ana Revenco, former Minister of Internal Affairs.
Prosecution for “unlawful interception of a computer data transmission”
The Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organised Crime and Special Cases (PCCOCS) has initiated criminal proceedings for “illegal interception of a computer data transmission” in the case of leaks from officials’ Telegram channels. We asked the institution, through its spokesman, whether the content of those alleged chats is also being examined.
“The criminal prosecution was initiated following complaints filed by individuals who claimed that their rights had been violated. Thus, PCCOCS prosecutors are examining the case in the light of the article of the Criminal Code that provides for “illegal interception of a computer data transmission,” said Emil Gaitur, PCCOCS spokesman, at ZdG’s request.
Earlier, however, he told Europa Liberă that the Prosecutor General’s Office had also referred the matter to the PCCOCS “regarding the alleged involvement of dignitaries in the work of several institutions, through interference in the adoption of decisions”.
According to the PCCOCS representative, “the criminal prosecution on the case is ongoing, so people are still being interviewed and new evidentiary material is being administered. In addition, I would like to inform you that PCCOCS prosecutors have also made inquiries in other states, some of which have also provided answers. We will inform the public more broadly as new developments generate increased public interest”, said Emil Gaitur.
Prosecutor: “Action is being taken, including with the involvement of authorities in other countries, we are waiting for answers”
The prosecutor prosecuting the case, Alexandru Păun, told ZdG that the prosecution is taking time, “because actions are being taken, including with the involvement of authorities from other countries, we are waiting for answers. Requests have been made, including letters rogatory, and we are waiting for answers. That’s why, possibly, according to some, it is taking so long. It’s a standard procedure.”
Asked about the version of vans equipped with antennae that could have intercepted the phones, the prosecutor said, “You are very well informed, but it is the confidentiality of the prosecution.”
The first prosecutor from whom the case was withdrawn: “I don’t know the reason. That’s what the boss decided, I think.”
Initially, the prosecution on this case was led by another prosecutor. More specifically, by Ruslan Perevoznic, son of Iurie Perevoznic, former deputy of the suspended prosecutor general, Alexandr Stoianoglo. The case was later transferred to another prosecutor.
“Initially me, later it was withdrawn from me. I don’t know the reason. That’s what the chief decided, I think,” the prosecutor told ZdG. He said he had carried out several special investigative measures, but had not interviewed anyone while handling the case.
I asked him if he knew why the prosecution was taking so long. “There must be rogatory commissions. We, after collecting information from the IP addresses we have traced, have determined that they are not from Moldova and several letters rogatory have been prepared to the countries from which the IPs originate. And we are waiting for the answers. It usually takes half a year for a response to come back,” the prosecutor explained. He also said that when the case was under his management, the version of acting from outside Moldova was examined, as well as the version of acting from within. “It was in the works, I don’t know if they managed to strengthen it or combat it,” the prosecutor said, referring to the version that the perpetrators acted from within the country.