Criminal Cases Becoming Non-Criminal for a Moldovan Prosecutor
A former prosecutor from the Chișinău Prosecutor’s Office was tried for exceeding his authority and accused of investigating fraudulently a murder case of a Dutch citizen killed by three Moldovan citizens. After a trial that lasted almost five years, the prosecutor obtained an insignificant punishment.
The judges found the prosecutor guilty, but they classified his actions not criminal but contraventional. As the contraventional cases are analyzed only for a maximum of three months after the event, the criminal proceedings were closed due to almost five years past.
The judges’ decision was motivated, in particular, by the conclusions of the Constitutional Court, which, in 2017, decided that the phrase “public interests” is unconstitutional, and this element was the primary accusation brought against the former prosecutor.
Corneliu Pleşca worked for nine years as a prosecutor, initially at the Prosecutor’s Office of the Ciocana district in Chișinău, and at the Prosecutor’s Office of Chișinău after. He resigned in December 2015, a month before the Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal investigation for abuse of office on his behalf.
Three Moldovan citizens killed a Dutch citizen
The Dutch Prosecutor’s Office established that three Moldovan citizens were involved in the murder and sent more information to the Chișinău authorities to detain the perpetrators. After several special investigative measures, one of the three perpetrators was found in Moldova. Shortly afterward, the man was detained. As Moldova does not extradite its citizens, the Moldovan and the Dutch authorities decided to send Vicol’s case to the Moldovan court.
During September 2014 – May 2015, former prosecutor Pleşca was executing the Dutch authorities’ requests, the case of a robbery, resulting in the death of the Dutch citizen, Hendrik Willem Te-Selle. Corneliu Pleşca allegedly fraudulently investigated the case, thus, in July 2016, the General Prosecutor’s Office announced sending his case to the court.
From accuser to the defendant: charged with a light penalty
The case of murdered passed from Corneliu Pleşca to another prosecutor, Liliana Verdeș, and was sent to court. After going over the case study, Liliana Verdeș addressed her superiors regarding Pleşca’s accusation in court. As the leader of the criminal investigation group, prosecutor Pleşca charged Igor Vicol for robbery attack on a person for the purpose of stealing property, followed by violence dangerous for the life and health of the aggressed person, without indicating in the charge the victim’s death.
In October 2015, prosecutor Liliana Verdeș withdrew the criminal case from the court, amending the accusation. Subsequently, Igor Vicol’s charge included the murder of the victim and all courts in Moldova sentenced him irrevocably to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutor Corneliu Pleşca received a trial, for he had denatured the accusation and used his official position to conceal several audio discussions that could be interpreted against him. According to the investigation officer Roman Chilari, the intercepted audio discussions follow the accused Igor Vicol, his lawyer, and his brother. The three mentioned having the possibility to influence the prosecutor conducting the investigation [Corneliu Pleșca] so that the accused would not be sentenced to imprisonment.
Another accusation: Pleşca allegedly concealed compromising phone records
The prosecutors established that Pleşca requested from the investigating officer the intercepted audio discussions and would have concealed them, not presenting them to the investigating judge and not including them in the case file. As a consequence, the prosecutors found that Corneliu Pleşca caused “considerable damage to public interests expressed by irreparably damaging the image of justice and the image of the Prosecutor’s Office of Moldova, including the relations with public authorities of The Netherlands.”
The former prosecutor defends himself: he allegedly coordinated with Dutch prosecutors.
Corneliu Pleşca pleaded not guilty throughout the trial. He claimed that he coordinated his investigative actions with his superiors and the Dutch authorities. Also, Pleşca told the judges that he would have convinced one of the three defendants in the Dutch citizen’s death case to admit the deed and report the conditions that helped discover the murder. The prosecutor claims he told Vicol and his lawyer that it would be to their advantage to examine the case in a simplified procedure. Pleşca also stated that the other two defendants were definitively convicted in the Netherlands for aggravated theft and violence, committed by two or more persons together, which resulted in the victim’s death.
Regarding the phone interceptions, Corneliu Pleşca claimed that they were recorded and reported to the investigating judge and that the procedure was entirely performed by officer Roman Chilari. Pleşca stated that he did not know about the recorded discussions about his position influence and mentioned that each CD was reported to the case prosecutor in the Netherlands.
The Chișinău Courts ended the case by canceling prosecutor’s penalty
The Chișinău Court and the Chișinău Court of Appeal examined the criminal case of Corneliu Pleşca for four years in the first instance. In mid-January 2021, the Chișinău Court concluded that Corneliu Pleșca is guilty. According to the courts, after hearing several prosecutors and investigating officers in Pleşca’s case, they confirmed the accusation brought against him. Both courts found the former prosecutor guilty, except that the sentence applied was a light one.
The judges motivated the punishment applied to the former prosecutor by referring to the Constitutional Court decision from June 2017 to declare unconstitutional the phrase „serious consequences”, this detail playing a major role in Corneliu Pleşca’s accusation. This detail changed the charge against Pleșca from criminal to contraventional, and the courts ended the criminal proceedings against the former prosecutor because the general term of prescription of the contravention liability is three months and it expired since the action was committed in the period 2014-2015. The case can reach the Supreme Court of Justice if the parties will contest the decision of the Chișinău Court within 30 days from its statement, a fact recorded on January 13, 2021.
General Prosecutor’s Office: “We risk that obscene crimes, with enormous harmful consequences, remain unpunished in proportion to their severity”
Currently, Corneliu Pleşca is a lawyer. He obtained his license in April 2016, a few months after leaving the prosecutor’s office while being prosecuted. At the ZdG’s request, the former prosecutor refused to discuss his case. “Look at the information, it is made public. Research. I do not give any explanation or comment”, pointed out the former prosecutor.
It is not the first time that the courts reclassify criminal offenses into non-criminal acts and end the criminal cases arguing their decisions based on the Constitutional Court’s decision to declare unconstitutional the phrase „serious consequences”. ZdG asked the General Prosecutor’s Office if prosecutors have a plan to combat such cases in the future. Deputy General Prosecutor Mircea Roșioru claims that the institution took note of these situations.
“We took note of these situations. I recall that after the Constitutional Court declared the phrase “serious consequences” unconstitutional, a working group formed to identify the aggravating factors to replace it. For example, instead of serious consequences, phrases such as particularly large proportions, the death of one or more people, and other phrasings were proposed. The disadvantage of such a work was that no matter how well the project, we risked that some serious consequences would remain outside the area of incrimination.
What happened to that subsequent project, I do not know. Certainly, that even today the Parliament has not adopted a law to cover these incriminating gaps. Nothing can be done to the crimes committed until the Constitutional Court’s decisions which have continuity until today, but it could be done for the future. Otherwise, we risk that horrible crimes with enormous prejudicial consequences remain unpunished in the right proportion to their severity,” states Mircea Roșioru.