In 2020, no high-ranking Moldovan officials have been sentenced for corruption. On the contrary, judges delay significant cases or release investigated suspects.
Justice Courts defer high-profile cases for years, reassigning them from one court to another, and, in the end, they are either sent for re-trial or those targeted are cleared.
In 2020, the Moldovan judiciary conditionally released two persons whose names are in the Kroll report on the $1 billion bank fraud. The suspects had previously been sentenced for passive corruption, influence peddling, and money laundering.
Every year, on December 9, the world marks International Anticorruption Day. Moldova also celebrates this day; however, it celebrates through bombastic speeches and promises rather than showing actions. A ZdG analysis shows that, between 2019 – 2020, judges have delayed high-profile corruption cases and other similar matters, previously sent to court, without issuing any verdicts.
High-profile cases opened in the last year
Sternioală and Chitoroaga cases
Last November, Oleg Sternioală, a judge at the Supreme Court of Justice, was detained in a criminal case on money laundering in large proportions and illegal enrichment. According to prosecutors’ suspicions, the difference of about 320,000 euros between the suspect’s income and his expenses constitutes hidden illicit goods. The corrupt judge transferred the property right to third parties, covering the source of the goods. Although more than a year passed, the case has not yet been sent to court and the magistrate is free.
One year ago, Anticorruption prosecutors initiated a case for illicit enrichment targeting Nicolae Chitoroagă, former head of the Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organized Crime. The case is still under criminal investigation. The suspect, as well as his wedding godfather, was kept in pre-trial detention until December 2019 but was later released.
Metalferos case still under criminal investigation
In December 2019 and in August 2020, the prosecutors carried out searches at Metalferos, a joint-stock company in which the state is the major shareholder and other companies, detaining 23 people for money laundering in the interest of a criminal organization. Among them were four officers of the Directorate for the Investigation of Economic Frauds, who belonged to a criminal group led by Vladimir Plahotniuc, former leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova. So far, this case has not reached the court, and it is still at the stage of criminal prosecution.
The case of Viorel Morari, head of Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, suspended from office, is the only one sent to court.
At the beginning of January 2020, Viorel Morari, former head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office was detained for abuse of office and forgery in public acts and subsequently for interference in the conduct of criminal proceedings. Prior to his arrest, the chief prosecutor was suspended from office, following General Prosecutor Alexandru Stoianoglo’s order.
The former chief prosecutor of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office was detained and placed in pre-trial detention, he was released in mid-February, on the day of the first court hearing. The case is currently being examined in the first instance. In the meantime, Viorel Morari pleaded not guilty and stated that he was the victim of a “political case.”
While he was in custody, another case was started in his name, on “illicit enrichment and money laundering in particularly large proportions, and abuse of office.” On June 25, however, he was removed from prosecution.
The bankers’ case, the case of the bribe for a burial place and of the rigged expertise, still under investigation
In March 2020, in the context of the billion dollar bank fraud investigation, several National Bank of Moldova’s leaders were detained: Dorin Dragutanu, former governor, Emma Tăbîrță, former deputy governor, Aureliu Cincilei, vice-governor, Ion Sturzu, vice-governor, as well as a chief executive. They are suspected of participating in fraud and money laundering. The case is at the stage of criminal investigation and has not been sent to the court yet.
In September 2020, three employers from the administration of the Saint Lazarus Cemetery from Chișinău were arrested following the searches carried out by the National Anti-corruption Centre in a criminal case initiated for corruption. According to National Anti-corruption representatives, they are suspected of allegedly claiming illegal sums of money from the relatives of the deceased, who were to obtain burial places at the cemetery. Criminal cases have been initiated for fraud, influence peddling, active and passive corruption. So far, the cases have not been sent to court.
On November 20, National Anti-corruption Centre officers detained the director of the Forensic Medicine Center and ten forensic doctors. They are suspected of illegally acquiring money through criminal schemes for judicial expertise and other services. Two criminal cases were initiated, for passive corruption and fraud. Similar to other significant cases, they are still at the stage of criminal investigation.
High-profile cases that issued sentences in 2020
The case of the former Prime Minister, Vladimir Filat
Former Prime Minister Vladimir Filat was detained in 2015 and sentenced to nine years in prison with execution, being found guilty of passive corruption and influence trafficking. In December 2019, after serving two-thirds of the sentence, he was released on parole for almost three years before the sentence term. The national courts reduced the sentence as compensation for the inhuman and degrading conditions in which Filat was detained.
The case of the former Minister of Infrastructure, Iurie Chirinciuc
In mid-May 2019, the Chișinău Court of Appeal sentenced the former Minister of Transport Iurie Chirinciuc to three years and a half in prison for influence-peddling and abuse of office. Last December, while authorities investigated Iurie Chirinciuc, the Supreme Court of Justice magistrates dismissed the Chișinău Court of Appeal’s decision. It upheld the decision of the first instance court, ruling a lighter sentence of one year and four months of delayed imprisonment for the former minister.
The “Corruption of deputies” case: the Court of Appeal acquitted the defendants
In June 2020, the Chișinău Court of Appeal ordered the closing of the criminal proceedings against Vitalie Burlacu and Irina Baglai, who, in March 2014, were caught in flagrante delicto trying to send, through third-parties, $250,000 to deputies in the Parliament. The magistrates dismissed the Chișinău Court of Appeal sentence on the grounds that “there are other circumstances that exclude or condition the initiation of criminal prosecution.” The two were released from the courtroom.
The case of the controversial businessman Veaceslav Platon
In April 2017, Veaceslav Platon was sentenced to 18 years in prison for allegedly obtaining, through illegal schemes, approximately 50 million euros from Moldovan Bank “Banca de Economii”, following loans granted to companies run by intermediaries. On June 15 this year, the Court suspended his sentence. Platon’s subsequent sentence serving is conditioned by the criminal process review, initiated by the Prosecutor’s Office.
The case of the former head of Fiscal Services
In February 2013, Nicolae Vicol, the former head of Fiscal Services, was tried in a corruption case and sentenced to five and a half years of imprisonment in a semi-closed penitentiary.
On June 30 this year, the Chișinău Court of Appeal decided to dismiss the first sentence and to hold another trial for the case. Vicol has been announced in search for over five years. However, following the latest Court decision, he can now return to Moldova.
The case of the former head of Security and Intelligence Service |
Two years ago, seven Turkish citizens, teachers at Orizont High School in Chisinau and Ceadir-Lunga district (southern Moldova), were expelled from Moldova. Vasile Botnari, former head of the Information and Security Service, is the only defendant in the case, accused of abuse of office. The Courts fined him with 4,000 euros and deprived him from holding public office for five years.
Laundromat Judges’ case
In September this year, the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office removed from prosecution 14 former and current judges, accused of money laundering in the “Laundromat” case, on the grounds that the deed did not meet the elements of the crime. Subsequently, at the end of this October, the Superior Council of Magistracy accepted the requests of five magistrates targeted in the case to be reinstated in the positions they held until 2016, when they became subjects of criminal prosecution, and ordered to have their salary paid for the period in which they were suspended from the judge positions.
The case of the head of the Supreme Court of Justice, Ion Druță
On December 7, 2020, the Chișinău Court of Appeal annulled the Superior Council of Magistracy decision to initiate criminal prosecution, search and arrest of Ion Drută, former head of the Supreme Court of Justice. He was investigated for interference in the administration of justice. In April, 2020, the Anti-corruption Centre removed Drută from prosecution.
No convictions in the last year because no one wanted to deal with big corruption.
Cristina Țărnă, anti-corruption expert, claims that this year the General Prosecutor’s Office followed the policy “not to disturb the government and not to cause problems to anyone at the political level.” According to the expert, if in previous years the judiciary was criticized for being selective, this year, “we see that there are no cases of any kind, except cases of coddling those previously convicted.”
“There could be no convictions during this year because no one wanted to deal with big corruption. The political party with the most votes in Parliament determines the National Anticorruption Centre decisions. There are quarrels between the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office and the General Prosecutor’s Office. People with severe integrity problems have been appointed to key positions, how can we expect high-level sentences? As long as the General Prosecutor’s Office will tell us that they do not intervene in politics and that they do not do politics, there will be no one to send to court high-profile cases and cases of big corruption. This is the conclusion of this year,” pointed out the anti-corruption expert.