The other day Veronica Dragalin, the new head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, held her first press conference two weeks after taking office. Praise and criticism have been pouring in. Let’s start with the critical messages.
The main problem that dissatisfied people have pointed out is that this person came from the USA, does not speak Romanian well, does not know the system well here, does not have the experience of having lived in Moldova and so the big concern arises – will she be able to handle such a heavy task just when we need so much to punish the corrupt?
The critics seem to be quite right in expressing this concern. Except that this question should be asked of us all in the first place: what have we all been doing so wrong for 30 years that we have had to have someone come from across the ocean sort out the prosecution? In fact, the question is better asked of the 10 Prosecutors General that Moldova has had since 1991: Dumitru Postovan, Valeriu Catană, Mircea Iuga, Vasile Rusu, Valeriu Balaban, Valeriu Gurbulea, Valeriu Zubco, Corneliu Gurin, Eduard Harunjen, Alexandr Stoianoglo. What have these 10 men- prosecutors done, that they have let corruption to run rampant, justice to degrade so that the anti-corruption system is annihilated, compromised and citizens no longer trust it?
It is also a pertinent question for the hundreds of employees of the last years in the prosecutor’s office: how did it come to this, why was there no pressure and resistance on the inside, where were the strong voices among the prosecutors, to coalesce 10, 5, 3 years ago to not allow the anti-corruption system to derail?
If there was no group of prosecutors to break the vicious circle from within 5 years ago, then we have to put our hand on our heart and admit that there was no strong, honest and courageous prosecutor-leader. I am sure and I even personally know young, upright prosecutors, well versed in the law, who can do an excellent job in the system, but could not lead it now, because the opaque side of the corrupt in the system is still quite strong, well fuelled from illicit sources and would dominate and strike them down.
Dealing with a system mired in evils is very difficult. You can have infinitely good intentions, but unless you’re prepared to give up virtually everything that pertains to personal comfort and well-being, the corrupt cohort will absorb you.
We at ZdG have had a good taste, over the years, of the resistance of the corrupt. Although we are not on a mission to put the corrupt in jail, only to expose corruption in public, we have always had to fight back on an invisible front: the corrupt have attacked us in the most unimaginable ways and we have always had to learn to stand our ground. Besides criticism, verbal attacks, court cases, there were cases of bribery proposals, temptations to bribe, but the hardest was something else: when family members approached us.
Yes, in those 18 years, the corrupt approached my mother, other relatives of mine, relatives of Anita Grosu, other colleagues, trying to silence us. Those were hard times, when you had no one to complain to, nowhere to denounce and no one to defend you in the system. How hard it is to have your mother come and tell you that you’d better stop, because they phoned her and told her it was dangerous. How hard it is to have your children attacked for your work. How hard it is to have your friends ask you not to publish an investigation and you quit one by one, basically all your friends, but not to quit investigating. How hard it is to feel alone, infinitely alone in this fight. How hard it is to fight big corruption but how easy it is to feel at peace with your own conscience years later.
“We as an institution have 9 state prosecutors, who have the responsibility to represent the prosecution in all criminal cases on trial throughout the country. We at the moment have about 400 cases pending in court. Nine prosecutors. I have spoken to each of them, and I can tell you under what conditions they work. They have only 3 offices, 4 prosecutors in one, 3 in the second, and 2 in the third. They only have 2 consultants helping them,” Veronica Dragalin said at her first press conference.
How effective can 9 prosecutors fight 400 tough cases? There are hundreds of corruption temptations for these 9 prosecutors and hundreds of opportunities to humiliate their families. How hard it will be for them. Will survive those who will be able to give up false friends, godfathers, in-laws and corrupted members of the system, those who will be able to stand after their families are attacked, those who will be able to survive on low salaries and triple work, those who will be able to accept loneliness and decency.
The job of Head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, whoever is in this position at the moment, cannot bring personal benefits, financial or otherwise. This job will be of great benefit only to the system and to the citizens of Moldova, if it succeeds.
“The criminals in the system – I mean prosecutors, officers, and judges – who to this day commit such crimes, are the most dangerous criminals,” Veronica Dragalin said at her first press conference, with an overtly American accent. No one contradicted her. But none of Moldova’s upright prosecutors has made such a statement before. They probably didn’t feel free enough to make it public. It probably would have stopped them from rising through the ranks. For now.