Nicolae Vicol, the former head of the State Tax Service, may return to Moldova after more than five years. The Chișinău Court of Appeal revoked the preventive measure regarding him after overturning the sentence of the Râșcani Court issued in 2015. The Court ordered the retrial of the criminal case opened against Vicol in another panel of judges.
On June 30, 2020, a panel of judges composed of Sergiu Furdui, Alexandru Spoială, and Silvia Gârbu decided that the corruption case from the State Tax Service, which came to the attention of the public in February 2013, will be re-tried, by the Chișinșu Court. At the Chișinău Court, all parties to the case, including the prosecutor, requested that the case be sent for retrial.
The Arguments of the Chișinău Court of Appeal
The Criminal College found that “the court of the first instance erroneously established the deeds, which do not correspond to the evidence in the case, which was incorrectly assessed. The court of the first instance erroneously reached the conclusion to convict Vicol Nicolae, Gudima Vasile, Beşleagă Anatolie, Bănăruc Eduard, Sîrbu Veaceslav, and Zacrevschi Vadim,” argues the court.
“When adopting the sentence regarding Vicol Nicolae, Gudima Vasile, Beşleagă Anatolie, Bănăruc Eduard, Sîrbu Veaceslav and Zacrevschi Vadim, the first instance court admitted several procedural violations, as well as material ones,” wrote the magistrates from the Chișinău Court of Appeal in a statement, mentioning the reasons for the decision, published on 30 July 2020.
“The Criminal College notes that during the examination of the case in the court of the first instance, several pieces of evidence were investigated, which were not indicated in the indictment and which were obtained on the basis of the conclusion of the investigating judge, issued on the basis of another criminal case that was closed.
The Criminal College finds that the court admitted deviations from the legal norms cited above, invoking some circumstances and norms that are not regulated by the criminal procedure law. Therefore, it is necessary to send the case for retrial in the first instance to another court panel, so that the right to a fair trial of neither party is not affected…,” argued the magistrates.
“When retrying the case, the court of the first instance shall take into account those set forth in this decision, to remove the violations of the law mentioned, to comply with the procedure of judging the case. The first instance court shall rule on all grounds invoked in the appeals, shall thoroughly verify, in all respects, completely and objectively all evidence in strict accordance with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The first instance court shall adopt a legal and well-founded decision. Subsequent to the above, when re-trialing the case, the court of the first instance will take into account both those found by the decision of the Chișinău Board of Directors on June 30, 2020, and those indicated by the Supreme Court of Justice by the decision of October 29, 2019, where all violations and errors were found, admitted in the case of Vicol Nicolae, Bănăruc Eduard, Beșleagă Anatolie, Zacrevschi Vadim,” it is specified in the decision of the Chișinău Board of Directors.
The State Tax Service Corruption Case Made Public in February 2013
At the same time, the magistrates ordered the preventive measure of the arrest, applied to Nicolae Vicol and Anatolie Beșleagă to be revoked. Subsequently, Vicol’s announcement in the search was also canceled.
The corruption case from the State Tax Service, one of the most resonant cases in recent years, was opened in 2012. However, the arrests and searches took place on February 15, 2013, the same day the Liberal Democratic Party and the Communist Party deputies fired Moldova’s tycoon, Vlad Plahotniuc, from the first vice-president of the Parliament position.
A few days before the searches and the arrests took place, former Prime Minister Vlad Filat, the former and current leader of the Liberal Democratic Party denounced the agreement of the Alliance for European Integration, calling Plahotniuc a puppet master and bringing several serious charges against him.
Shortly afterward, Plahotniuc also made public accusations against Filat. In this context, in just a few days, several telephone interceptions, between Nicolae Vicol and various high-ranking officials, including the then Prime Minister Filat, appeared in the public space.
Six people were detained in the case, Nicolae Vicol, then head of the State Tax Service, Eduard Bănăruc, then Deputy Secretary-General of the Government, tax inspector, Anatolie Beşleagă, businessman Vasile Gudima and former employees of the Center for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption and the National Anticorruption Center, Veaceslav Sârbu and Vadim Zacrevschi. All of them were accused of corruption.
The Evolution of the Case in the Last Five Years
In June 2015, a panel of judges formed from Oleg Melniciuc, Aliona Miron, and Lilia Lupaşco, made public the sentence of the first instance in this case. Then, Nicolae Vicol, accused of several charges, received six years in prison. Anatolie Beşleagă, former tax inspector, accused of asking for and receiving 3,000 euros as a bribe, was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of over 5,000 euros (100,000 lei). Eduard Bănăruc, Deputy Secretary-General of the Government, was punished with a fine of over 500 euros (10,000 lei). The businessman Vasile Gudima and former employees of the Center for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption and the National Anticorruption Center, Veaceslav Sârbu and Vadim Zacrevschi, escaped punishment, on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired. They were accused and found guilty of illegally intercepting the deputy head of the State Tax Service, Valentina Negară.
On May 31, 2018, a panel of judges from the Chișinău District Court, formed of Stelian Teleucă, Ion Pleşca, and Oxana Robu, upheld the sentence taken against Sârbu, Zacrevschi, and Gudima, but changed the sentences previously issued on behalf of Vicol, Bănăruc, and Beşleagă.
Thus, Eduard Bănăruc’s criminal trial was terminated for the expiration of the statute of limitations, with the release of criminal liability.
The judges decided that Beşleagă’s sentence, applied by the first instance, should be suspended conditionally for a probationary period of three years. The judges’ clemency was motivated by the fact that Beşleagă admitted he took a bribe while he was heard. The judges stated that he sincerely repented and has three minor children to support. Previously, he did not plead guilty, demanding acquittal.
At the Chișinău District Court, Vicol became the only defendant sentenced to real imprisonment in this case. Vicol, who Moldova before the first instance court issued the sentence, was facing charges on six counts of corruption.
Although he was found guilty in all six counts, the former head of the Tax Office was not prosecuted in three cases. Vicol was not prosecuted, either because the statute of limitations intervened or because the decision of the Constitutional Court of December 7, 2017, intervened, which declared as unconstitutional the phrase public interests or of paragraph 1 of art. 327, Penal Code.
At the same time, in some accusations, the judges found that the prosecutor presented to the defendant Vicol an unclear, non-concrete accusation, without legal support. Consequently, Vicol was sentenced to a final and irrevocable sentence of five and a half years in a semi-closed penitentiary, with deprivation of the right to hold public office for six years.
In October 2019, a panel of judges formed from Vladimir Timofti, Elena Cobzac, Nadejda Toma, Anatolie Turcan, and Victor Boico sent the case for retrial to the Chișinău District Court. The Supreme Court of Justice found several omissions that would have irreparably vitiated the proceedings against the defendants. The Chișinău Court, which will re-examine this case, has not yet scheduled hearings.
Vicol has not yet returned to Moldova, the decision of the Chișinșu Board of Directors has not yet been executed.