Igor Dodon’s more than 190 witnesses in the “kuliok” case. A former prime minister, the former director of the National Anti-Corruption Centre, the mayor of the capital and a member of parliament who died two years ago are among them.
Socialist deputies, former employees of the National Anti-Corruption Centre (CNA) and the State Protection and Guard Service, employees of the presidential residence in Condrita, former ministers and even a former prime minister will make statements before the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) judges in favour of former President Igor Dodon, who is under criminal investigation in the case in which he is accused of passive corruption and illegal financing of the PSRM.
The Supreme Court of Justice has completed the preliminary hearing in the case which will investigate the episode filmed in June 2019, when Igor Dodon received a black bag from Vladimir Plahotniuc.
The session was completed not before the lawyers asked for the criminal case to be transferred to another court, the recusal of the trial panel and the suspension of the trial. All three requests were rejected.
“I’ve only seen something like this during the period of the captured state, you know by whom”, commented one of the ex-president’s lawyers about the magistrates’ behaviour.
“Faster, fuller and more objective”
On Monday, October 31, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) continued the preliminary hearing in the case generically called “kuliok” or “black bag”, in which former Moldovan President Igor Dodon is accused of demanding almost a million dollars from Vladimir Plahotniuc and Sergei Yaralov to negotiate with the Russian Federation.
The session started with a bang for Dodon’s defenders who, after completing protocol formalities, asked for the criminal case to be transferred from the CSJ to another court which, in their view, would examine the case “more quickly, completely and objectively”. It is not known to which court the transfer of the case was requested, as the former president’s lawyers did not indicate this in their request, which is why the panel declared their request inadmissible. The decision was taken on the spot, without the judges consulting each other in the deliberation chamber.
Judges accused of siding with prosecutors
After the defence had exhausted its case for transfer of the case, the lawyers were due to present the list of evidence, at which point both the first and second sessions were adjourned. But Igor Dodon’s lawyers chose to submit a new request for recusal. The fourth in the three court sessions.
The defence, arguing that the magistrates are not objective and that their impartiality raises several questions, asked for the entire panel of judges examining the criminal case to be recused and for the case to be assigned to another panel. “We note that you are giving priority to the prosecution side,” argued lawyer Ion Vîzdoagă.
On this request, the panel composed of Ghenadie Plămădeală, Anatolie Țurcan and Vladimir Timofti as president, decided, on the spot, to register the request at the Criminal Registry to be distributed for examination to another panel. All the while, Igor Dodon was making notes on an A4 sheet, without even engaging much in discussions with his lawyers.
“How long does it take?” asked Vizdoagă, as the magistrates were about to register the application at the Registry.
“It’s not known. 10-15 minutes. We are trying our best to make it as quick as possible,” Timofti replied and, along with the other two magistrates, withdrew from the courtroom.
Igor Dodon: “We note that the judges of the Supreme Court are under pressure from the government”
During the break when a new panel was being formed to decide on the recusal of the panel, the former president did not miss the opportunity to come out in front of his supporters, gathered again this time in front of the CSJ.
Guarded from behind by his two bodyguards, Igor Dodon told his supporters that the case in which he is accused of having demanded almost a million dollars from Vladimir Plahotniuc and Sergei Yaralov is orchestrated by President Maia Sandu in order to neutralise him politically.
“We note that the judges of the CSJ are under pressure from the government. The so-called vetting. The evaluation of these judges has begun. One out of three has passed the so-called vetting under pressure, so that they take decisions as they should. These decisions are political. They have absolutely no evidence against me. The purpose is to neutralize the political opponent. They are afraid of me. The fear of Maia Sandu and PAS deputies is growing,” said Igor Dodon.
“Продажный прокурор” (corrupt prosecutor – ed.)
While the former president was speaking to the people, four women came out of the crowd and approached the door of the CSJ building, where prosecutors Petru Iarmaliuc and Vitalie Codreanu were also heading.
“Slowly. Don’t shout,” one of them said to the others. Then, with half a voice, the women began chanting, “How long are you going to mock the man? You brat, shame on you.” Earlier, the same women shouted at the prosecutors, who were buying coffee at a nearby kiosk, chants such as “продажный прокурор” (corrupt prosecutor – ed.) “мясо, он проголодался” (meat, he’s hungry – ed.).
The women’s outburst also prompted the former president to comment on the act of justice. “Not all judges and prosecutors are ready to do such transgressions and carry out Maia Sandu’s illegal instructions. That’s why they identify such people. Without backbone, without experience, hoping that they will fulfill Maia Sandu’s whims,” said Dodon, who ended his plea with, “I don’t give up. Neither should you.”
Lawyer: “I have only seen something like this during the period of the captured state, you know by whom”
To the applause of supporters, who chanted “freedom” and “Sandu, traitor of the country”, Igor Dodon together with his lawyers returned to the courtroom, where the new panel consisting of judges Ion Guzun, Liliana Catan and Nadejda Toma was about to decide on the request to recuse the panel of judges examining the case brought against the former president.
Lawyer Petru Balan justified the request by noting that the defence had observed “certain moments that show the lack of objectivity of the panel of judges”. The defence complained that at the hearing on 24 October, magistrate Vladimir Timofti decided to reject the motion for recusal against him, and that on 31 October the request for transfer filed by the lawyers was not assigned to the integrated case management programme.
“Justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done. We found that in several procedural matters, the panel took the side of the prosecution in a strange way, and this… not only bothers us. We see that the right of defence is being violated. These moments make us believe that they cannot be overlooked. They are appearances. There’s talk that we’re dragging our feet. We are not delaying it, we are just defending our rights. This is the first case of its kind. I’ve only seen something like this during the time of the captured state, you know by whom. I don’t want to admit that what is happening today in this trial is an indigo repeat of what happened in 2018-2019,” said Petru Balan.
Prosecutor: defence arguments are repetitive
In response, prosecutor Petru Iarmaliuc assessed that the request is unfounded and based on the lawyers’ allegations.
“I find that the arguments are repetitive. I observe a clear behaviour of procrastination in the examination of the criminal case. We note that the defenders’ allegations are the fourth attempt to submit such requests for recusal. The defence relies on allegations and statements such as “considers”, “questions”, but does not present objective concrete evidence that would overturn the condition of impartiality. It is a manifestly unfounded request and I request its rejection”, commented the prosecutor.
“The panel of judges is sticking with the defence”, was the counter-reply of lawyer Ion Vîzdoagă. Subsequently, the judges withdrew to the deliberation chamber and decided not to grant the request for recusal filed by the former head of state’s lawyers.
“We have not exhausted all requests and approaches”, was the reply of lawyer Petru Balan at the end of the hearing. “You are restricting our right to present all our requests”, added Ion Vîzdoagă. On the background of the simultaneous speeches between magistrates and lawyers, it was understood that the defence has another request, namely the lifting of the exception of unconstitutionality and the suspension of the trial process until the Constitutional Court’s decision. For “consistency and logic in examining the requests”, prosecutor Iarmaliuc asked first for the list of evidence to be presented, then the request for the exception of unconstitutionality. And the magistrates accepted his request.
Witnesses the lawyers don’t want in court
In the part concerning the presentation of the list of evidence, the lawyers asked for the exclusion of Igor Grigoriev, Igor Dodon’s cousin-in-law, from the list of prosecution witnesses, on the grounds that the two were in hostile relations and that the former had a “desire for revenge”. On the grounds that they are “political opponents, with interests of revenge against Igor Dodon, because they have lost power”, Dumitru Diacov, Pavel Filip, Vladimir Cebotari and Adrian Candu were also asked to be excluded from the list of witnesses. And Oazu Nantoi, Andrei Nastase, Lilian Carp and Alexandru Slusari should be excluded, in the view of the defence, on the grounds that “they are political opponents of the defendant, who came up with accusations and publicly exposed themselves, including on social media, so that Igor Dodon would be tried”.
The lawyers of the former president want to exclude from the list of witnesses of the prosecution the former ambassador to Moscow Andrei Neguța, the former deputy of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM), current member of the political party “Party of Common Action Civic Congress” (PACCC), Mark Tkaciuk, as well as the former deputy of the ACUM bloc Octavian Țîcu and say they will file a request of inadmissibility regarding those concerned, when they will be called for hearings.
Prosecutor Petru Iarmaliuc, in reply, said that it is not Igor Dodon’s lawyers who should judge whether the evidence and witnesses are subjective or not.
Igor Dodon’s witnesses
Afterwards, lawyer Petru Balan read out a list of over 190 people to be summoned to court to testify on behalf of the former president. The list also included former socialist MP Elena Hrenova, who died in November 2020 due to COVID-19. Zinaida Greceanii and Corneliu Furculiță are among the defence witnesses, which prosecutors do not agree with, as the two have the status of defendants in the case on illegal financing of PSRM. Igor Dodon is also expected to be defended by the former director of the National Anti-Corruption Centre (NAC) Ruslan Flocea, the former deputy director of the State Protection and Security Service (SPPS) Petru Corduneanu, the mayor of Chisinau Ion Ceban, former prime minister Ion Chicu, former Socialist MP Stefan Gaccan and former agriculture minister Ion Perju.
The lawyers said that those included in the list of witnesses know “information about the formation of the PSRM budget, expenses of this party in the period included in the subject of the accusation” and “concrete information about the so-called negotiations between PSRM and PDM on the formation of a governing coalition in July 2019”.
The substantive examination next week
Reasoning that “we still have 20 minutes left until the end of today’s scheduled hearing”, the ex-president’s lawyers requested “to leave the issue of the conclusion of the preliminary hearing for another time”. Prosecutor Iarmaliuc, however, did not agree, pointing out that “we have enough time”.
Subsequently, the defence presented the motion on the exception of unconstitutionality and repeatedly asked for the trial to be suspended. The judges of the CSJ partially admitted the request, the matter being referred to the CC, and decided not to suspend the trial.
Thus, on Monday 31 October, the preliminary hearing in the criminal case of Igor Dodon was completed. The next hearing, which will examine the case on the merits, is scheduled for Friday 11 November.