• One Year After Vladimir Plahotniuc, the Country’s Tycoon Left Moldova. What Happened with the Cases Opened Against Him.

    One Year After Vladimir Plahotniuc, the Country’s Tycoon Left Moldova. What Happened with the Cases Opened Against Him.

    Vladimir Plahotniuc, also named Puppet Master, controlled Moldova through blackmailing and terror from 2016 to 2019. A year after Plahotniuc fled the country and went to the United States, none of the criminal cases opened against Plahotniuc have a sentence. Plahotniuc’s entourage, who was accused of being involved in various illegal schemes, wasn’t prosecuted. His godson, Andrian Candu is establishing a new party that is becoming an influential power in the Parliament. Constantin Botnari, aka Borsetka, has no criminal case opened against him, even a year after Plahotniuc fled the country.

    Politicians, who previously promised that Plahotniuc will stay in prison after they come to power, came up with various excuses and accusations to explain Plahotniuc’s impunity.

    In 2010, Plahotniuc was introduced on the Democratic Party’s candidate list for the parliamentary elections. Plahotniuc appeared on the party’s candidate list in the last moments and was placed after the then-Democratic Party’s President, Marian Lupu, who was a former member of the Communist Party. Before Plahotniuc stepped into politics, he was viewed as a mysterious character about whom it was said that he did shadow businesses, being protected by the Communist Government from 2001-2009.  

    Vladimir Plahotniuc, Moldova’s biggest oligarch

     Accusations From 2010 Against Plahotniuc

    In August 2010, Sergiu Mocanu, former Adviser to President Vladimir Voronin, held a press conference together with the director of Gemini shopping center, director of Carmez company, former director of Franzeluța state-owned company and former shareholders of Victoriabank, Victor and Viorel Țopa. They accused Plahotniuc of a hostile takeover of the shares in the bank/companies, claiming that they suffered following the hostile takeover. Although from 2010 until June 2019, when Plahotniuc fled the country, there were more accusations against him, the accusations weren’t investigated. 

    In January 2011, it was found that Plahotniuc has a double identity, having Romanian documents in which his name was Vlad Ulinici. A few months later, the then Prime Minister, Vlad Filat, accuses Plahotniuc of taking over the assets earned by others. Oleg Voronin, the son of the former President of Moldova and the leader of the Communist Party, Vladimir Voronin, also mentioned about Plahotniuc taking over businesses. “Where are all these businesses that I would have taken with force by 2009? They are all in Plahotniuc’s hands. He is the one who took over them, in his specific way,” Oleg Voronin declared in an interview from December 2012.

    At the same time, about Plahotniuc it was said that he took part in several privatizations that caused damages of millions to the state. Companies controlled by Plahotniuc took possession of the Codru Hotel, the National Hotel, Guguță Coffee Shop, and the islands on the lake from the La izvor park, these goods were previously owned by the state.  

    In October 2015, Filat was accusing Plahotniuc of taking over the state institutions and creating an odious system. The same day Filat’s parliamentary immunity was removed, and Filat was detained. Plahotniuc was also accused of hostile takeovers of banks. And the companies affiliated to him and his men were accused of obtaining millions, annually, from state-owned companies like Metalferos or Moldtelecom.

    Accused of Holding a Video Library with Incriminating Images

    Following Plahotniuc’s escape from Moldova, from June 2019, Filat stated that Plahotniuc was also the final beneficiary of the Chișinău Airport concession, adding that Shor was a pawn. Plahotniuc was also publicly accused of subordinating the judges and prosecutors. During 2016-2019, the same period he took over the state institutions, Plahotniuc was accused of creating companies, which had the capacity to tap telephones or obtain private photos of public persons, so he can blackmail the persons later.  

    Allegedly, Plahotniuc would own an entire video library with such video images. And these images would have helped him to hold on to power. Before Plahotniuc escaped but also after his escape, several politicians, including President Igor Dodon, claimed that Plahotniuc will be held accountable and will face years in prison for everything he has done. 

    The Case of Usurpation of State Power – First Criminal Case Opened Against Plahotniuc

    After losing power, Plahotniuc left the country and fled to the U.S. In the last year, criminal cases were opened only regarding some accusations against him and his men. None of the cases has a final sentence, all are still under investigation.  

    On August 5, the General Prosecutor’s Office, led by interim Prosecutor General Dumitru Robu, ordered the opening of a criminal case on the usurpation of state power that took place under the former Democratic Party government from June 7-14, 2019. The case on the usurpation of state power was the first case targeting Plahotniuc and his men.  

    The file was initiated following a complaint filed by Andrei Năstase, the then Minister of Interior and co-leader of the ACUM Bloc. Năstase stated in his complaint that Plahotniuc’s actions were meant to accede and maintain the state power for him and the so-called enslaved Government led by the Democratic Party. For this, he acted through the judges from the Constitutional Court and ordered the dissolution of Parliament. Năstase also stated that although the mandate of the Government led by Pavel Filip was finished,  Plahotniuc ordered the Filip Government to continue its work, and didn’t admit the newly established Government, led by Maia Sandu, to execute its duties.  

    After 400 persons were deposed, the case could be closed. However, according to the information offered by the representatives of the Office of the Prosecutor General, there is no decision in the usurpation of state power case, and the investigation continues. 

    The Cases Regarding Large-Scale Money Laundering

    The prosecutors investigate Plahotniuc in two other cases. The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office declared that the criminal prosecution commenced on September 23, 2019. According to the prosecutors during the years 2013-2015, Plahotniuc created a criminal scheme with the purpose of converting, transferring, acquiring, owning, and using some goods that he definitely knew constituted illicit income. 

    In order to conceal the illicit nature of the goods, Plahotniuc set up – through intermediaries – several domestic and foreign companies including. The money – about $18 million and €3.5 million in illicit funds – was circulated through those companies. 

    Plahotniuc was aware that the money constituted illicit financial means, obtained through non-performing bank loans from Banca De Economii, Unibank, and Banca Socială. These three banks were involved in the 2014 “Billion Case,” which according to the Kroll 2 report involved $1 billion – or around 12 percent of Moldova’s GDP – stolen through illicit loans. 

    On September 23, 2019, the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office also commenced another criminal prosecution in Plahotniuc’s name, accusing him of large-scale money laundering. According to the materials of the second case, during 2013-2014, Plahotniuc’s company Tukumaan Limited paid:

    • an approximately $7.2 million loan to Finpar Invest, a company affiliated to Plahotniuc;
    • 381,344 euros for air transport services for passengers to Nobil Air;
    • €1.55 million and $1.14 million in transfers to an account opened at ABLV Bank in Plahotniuc’s wife’s name, through the company Asian Development Limited.

    Another person was preventively arrested in the criminal case and charged with complicity in the crime of money laundering, for acting as a “manager” of a domestic trading company through which some of the money was transferred. However, the case has no sentence and the person previously preventively arrested was released. 

    Following these accusations, the prosecutors issued a 30-day arrest warrant in Plahotniuc’s name, in his absence and announced him in the international search. “The investigation into the case continues. The accomplice previously detained, still has the accused status. The person was released since December 2019,” the interim head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, Serghei Gavajuc, told ZdG.  

    Subsequently, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office seized the share capital of several companies affiliated to Plahotniuc (Bass Systems, BB-Dializa, and GMG Production) in the large-scale money laundering case. In February 2020, the prosecutors lifted the seizure on equity capital and several operational accounts belonging to Bass System company, one of the most important IT companies in Moldova. 

    A Passport with Another Identity and the Searches from Metalferos, State-Owned Company

    On October 29, 2019, the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office announced that initiated a criminal case against Plafotniuc, for obtaining a second Moldovan passport with another identity. 

    “The criminal case was launched on the basis of power abuse accusations, committed in the interest of an organized criminal group or a criminal organization,” the Office of the Prosecutor General announced in November 2019. The case is at the investigation stage. 

    In December 2019, the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office carried out 48 searches at Metalferos, a state-owned company, which was allegedly controlled by Plahotniuc. Serghei Gavajuc, interim head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, told ZdG that the criminal investigation in the Metalferos case continues, but Plahotniuc has no legal standing in the case. 

    The Last Case: Plahotniuc Would’ve Benefited of $100 Million from the Bank Fraud  

    In May 2020, Alexandr Stoianolgo, the Prosecutor General, announced that Plahotniuc is investigated in another case, claiming that Plahotniuc is one of the main beneficiaries of the “Billion Theft”. Stoianoglo also stated that the $100 million have been traced. 

    “The Office of the Prosecutor General has compelling evidence, proving that Plahotniuc benefited from the money obtained through the Shor group, from Banca de Economii, loans that were covered by the National Bank of Moldova. The money, received from Banca de Economii loans, was directed to the purchase of the shares of a bank, the building of the ASITO insurance company, the Fashion House, and the National Hotel. The money received from Banca de Economii loans was also used by Plahotniuc in personal purposes or by its affiliated companies for the purchase of an aircraft, payment of personal charter flights, and of the men close to him,” Stoianoglo claimed. 

    The prosecutors issued an ordinance, accusing Plahotniuc of creating a criminal organization, scam and money laundering, both committed in particularly large proportions. The prosecutors requested the seizure of several immovable goods affiliated to Plahotniuc. However, the Chișinău Court, Ciocana headquarters admitted one out of the six requests. The court ordered the seizure of 10 immovable goods affiliated to Plahotniuc from Moldova (six apartments and four non-residential spaces). The value of the 10 immovable goods is over €1.68 million (33 million lei). The court rejected the other five requests, through which the prosecutors were asking for the seizure of the villas in Switzerland, France, and Romania, five cars and a boat registered in Switzerland, and four cars registered in Moldova, with a total value of €7.7 million. The decision was appealed to the Chișinău Court of Appeal, but the court rejected the appeal.  

    Plahotniuc’s Assets that Are Seized

    Although the prosecutors froze 10 real estate assets affiliated to Plahotniuc, a large part of the Plahotniuc’s fortune was protected even before he left the country. Companies that own several real estates were listed in criminal cases. However, the companies disposed of their real estate assets before June 2019 (headquarters Global Business Center, headquarters of Argus-S security company, and the building of the former Guguță coffee shop).

    In the last year, the prosecutors froze several real estate assets belonging to companies affiliated to Plahotniuc. However, the seizure wasn’t carried out until the end because the cases didn’t reach the court. 

    In June 2019, two weeks after Plahotniuc fled the country, the prosecutors froze the assets affiliated to Plahotniuc. The prosecutors froze the assets of Plahotniuc ‘s TV stations from downtown Chișinău and the Nobil Hotel in the center of Chișinău. 

    In November 2019, the former headquarters of the Democratic Party from downtown Chișinău, which were owned by Constar Invest company founded by an offshore from Belize. 

    On May 26, 2020, a criminal investigation officer from the National. Anticorruption Center issued an ordinance requesting the seizure of several apartments and non-residential spaces owned by Plahotniuc’s family in a block of flats in the downtown Chișinău. Oxana Childescu, Plahotniuc’s wife, owns some of the real estate assets.

    Andrian Candu, Plahotniuc’s godson owns a 234.8 square meters apartment and a non-residential space of 134.6 square meters in the same block as his godfather. According to the data from the Land Registry Office, Candu bought the real estate from his godfather through a sale-purchase contract concluded on June 21, 2019, only a few days after Plahotniuc fled Moldova and a week before the authorities froze Plahotniuc’s assets. Thus, Candu’s assets previously owned by Plahotniuc weren’t seized or frozen. The so-called White House, near the Valea Morilor lake, downtown Chișinău, affiliated to Plahotniuc, wasn’t also seized. Meanwhile, Iurii Luncașu, Plahotniuc’s close friend, and the one who owns de jure the so-called White House was found shot in August 2019.

    Candu Established a Political Movement, Gathering 13 Deputies

    After Plahotniuc fled the country, later his location being confirmed in the U.S., Plahotniuc’s entourage wasn’t prosecuted. Plahotniuc’s godson established a political movement, Pro Moldova parliamentary faction, which has 13 deputies who left the Democratic Party. 

    Deputies who left the Democratic Party and joined Pro Moldova. Andrian Candu, Plahotniuc’s godson speaking.

    Asked by ZdG, the Office of the Prosecutor General representatives informed us that the institution manages no case against Candu. Constantin Botnari, nicknamed Plahotniuc’s “borsetka” wasn’t also prosecuted. Initially, Botnari fled Moldova, but he returned back later. However, the Office of the Prosecutor General didn’t open any case against Botnari. Vladimir Andronachi, who was also one of Plahotniuc’s entourage, is a member of Moldova’s Parliament within the Democratic Party parliamentary faction, the party that supports the Government led by Ion Chicu, and proposed by President Igor Dodon. 

    The Statement from the Office of the Prosecutor General

    “All the cases in which Plahotniuc is involved are ongoing, the criminal investigation is in full swing. Given the complexity of the investigation, it is very important that prosecutors administer relevant and conclusive evidence, act in a professional manner, avoiding procedural errors, and sending the cases to the court with indisputable evidence, which clearly shows his guilt,” is specified in a reaction of the Office of the Prosecutor General.

    A Statement from Plahotniuc’s Lawyers

    Plahotniuc’s lawyers previously stated that the accusations brought against Plahotniuc would be politically motivated. A similar reaction came after the last case, in which Plahotniuc is accused of benefitting from $100 million from the bank fraud, was opened. 

    “The case opened against Plahotniuc is politically motivated, ordered by the authorities that are now in charge of the state. We could all observe political actors who announced in advance, publicly, the actions, the decisions that some prosecutors were going to implement in Plahotniuc’s case. All these actions are nothing but an obvious attempt to influencing the justice system through public statements and threats, but also through direct pressure on the prosecutors, made Moldova’s authorities. We wish that all the judicial processes take place fairly, impartially and independent of any kind of political influence, in our country,” transmitted Lucian Rogac, one of Plahotniuc’s lawyers.

    Politicians Answer: A Year Passed Since Plahotniuc Fled the Country, but there is no case, previously opened against him, on trial. Why? 

    Alexandru Slusari, president of the parliamentary faction Dignity and Truth Platform Party.

    “Dodon is the least interested in Plahotniuc coming back to Moldova in handcuffs. I think Dodon will appear on the dock next to Plahotniuc in the few months following an open, objective, and public process against Plahotniuc. I believe that if it were not for Dodon’s position and his interference in the justice system, at least a case against Plahotniuc would’ve reached the court at the beginning of 2020. In the beginning, these were the intentions of the Interim Prosecutor General, but then Dodon began interfering with the justice system. Now, we are in the same situation. We have a delay in processing the case and this is a new turn point. Now, there is a deadly struggle between Plahotniuc and Dodon. And everything could be stopped if the two of them make peace tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,” Slusari claims.  

    Igor Grosu, the President of the Action
    and Solidarity Party faction

    “We lack justice. This is the main and systemic problem. This is why the cases are dragged on. Politics is tempted to meddle in the justice system and trick us. Dodon aims to build a system of judges and prosecutors who are loyal to him. Currently, the Prosecutor’s Office and the judiciary are very attentive to changes in society. They, who have well intentions, are waiting for some clear signals from politics, such as: “Dear judges, dear prosecutors, do your job. We do not intervene in your field. We leave the practice of meddling in the justice system,” because they are smart people and understand the risks when there is no predictable government. All this influences what we call justice, fair justice, and accountability of the protagonists of the theft of the billion, laundromat, and other major financial, political catastrophes for Moldova,” Grosu says.

    Corneliu Furculiță, the President of the Socialist Party
    parliamentary faction

    “People, who were loyal to Plahotniuc, were paid by him and did his bidding, infiltrated the system, including the Prosecutor’s Office. Even though the regime was dethroned, what was built brick with brick remained in place. Today it is very complicated for the Prosecutor’s Office to complete some cases and send them to the court because everywhere there are people faithful to Plahotniuc. These people are also directly involved in those schemes or activities. There is also resistance on the inside because if the information from the case will be investigated thoroughly some prosecutors will have to answer. This is why the case moves so slow. But let’s hope that the system will recover, and we will also have prosecutors who will have the courage to start and end the case. I hope that once and for all, there will be justice in this country,” Furculiță says. 

    Galina Bostan, Executive Director of the
    Center for Corruption Analysis and Prevention

    “We wouldn’t have gotten to where we were a year ago if the state institutions had worked as they should have. But let’s admit it that we still have reached this situation. We would’ve gone back to normal, if the state institutions had worked in the public interest, in a proper way. Here, the public institutions can’t stand up for their names. This is why we have nothing and I suppose that even in the near future we will have nothing. I would like to believe that the cases will have a logical ending, but unfortunately, only the cases of petty thefts have a logical ending in our country. For example, a case of a poor old woman who sold some herbs in the X or Y marketplace was completed, but other cases not so much. I wish I was wrong, but I’m afraid that’s what will happen,” Bostan says.

    “The accusations brought against Plahotniuc are quite complex. Currently, he is not in the country. Moreover,  over six years have passed from the alleged bank fraud. Considering all these facts, I think it was normal to estimate that the given investigation would take more than two or four months, maybe even much longer, if you really want a good investigation,” says Vladislav Gribincea, President of the Center for Legal Resources of Moldova.

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