Moldova, a small but vital country in Eastern Europe, faces key elections this October and also harbours hopes, albeit faint, of joining the EU. But most would agree that its first priority lies elsewhere – cleaning up what most would say is an utterly corrupt system.
Two years ago the whole Europe was shocked by the outcome of the tragic “royal hunt”. It resulted in an accidental killing of the young businessman and the subsequent shameless efforts on the part of the country's general prosecutor Corneliu Gurin to conceal the incident from public eyes. Even EU officials were forced to comment on the event and criticized the Moldovan government for its “non-European behaviour”.
The hunting itself should not even have been taking place as it was organized in a restricted area in a natural park.
But that case turned out to be only the small part of a huge iceberg of corruption afflicting the Moldovan ruling elite.
Another scandal is that of the so called “robbery of the century” – which over two years on remains unsettled to this day - when in an astonishing development, state control bodies suddenly found that 1 bln dollars of state money had mysteriously vanished from the major Banca de Economii.
The European and international press and media dedicated detailed coverage of the robbery.
That such a huge sum would be stolen by state officials and oligarchs from a country’s bank system prompted many to conclude that Moldova had been simply captured by corrupt politicians and oligarchs.
Many would assert that the main person responsible is still at large, namely businessman Vladimir Plahotniuc, the most powerful person in Moldova.
The Moldovans have recently convicted their former prime-minister Vlad Filat and sentenced him to nine years in prison for his alleged involvement in the crime, but many doubt that he is the real figure behind the robbery rather than a “scape goat”.
Plahotnuic is not called a shadow ruler of Moldova for nothing and many people claim that he, not Filat, was the main beneficiary behind the crime.
That is not all. There is also the case of the prominent Moldovan/Romanian businesman Ilan Shor who is also said to be linked to the bank robbery. Shor – one of the men at the centre of the allegations - has only been charged with one offence - abuse of office while in charge of Banca de Economii. Moldovan financial structures controlled by Shor were mentioned in the scandalous Kroll Report - audit and financial security company hired by the
Moldovan government to investigate the case. But many consider that Ilan Shor is simply a hostage taken by Plahotniuc to guarantee that once his close partner won`t leak any sensitive information abroad (for example in Romania where is seeking to be handled for further prosecution) that might cast a shadow on Plahotniuc.
There are certain other events that give cause for concern including the fact that some people who could have given evidence in connection with the robbery were recently killed. Local sources reported that some key witnesses had “strangely died” recently – one of them is MP Ion Butmalay as well as a number of people from the personnel of National Bank of Moldova. Also some important bank files which contain crucial financial information were missed in a fire. Mikhail Gofman, former officer of the National Centre for fighting corruption, is now under investigation for his press statements about possible involvement of some high-ranking state officials in corruption schemes that resulted in the robbery.
That has led many to suggest that Plahotniuc and his associates have simply tried to destroy all evidence of his and their involvement.
It has led to the general conclusion that the country badly needs to rid itself of the rule of Plahotniuc, the high ranking member of the Democratic Party, and the corrupt politicians who appear to be more than willing to follow in his wake.
As Dr Theodore Karasik, of the Lexington Institute, says Plahotniuc a “political kingmaker has captured the Moldovan state”.
He, and others, argue that Moldova is a corrupt state where top officials including the head of government, violate laws at will.
It is patently clear that this case alone still requires a thorough investigation under close international supervision.
Karasik and other foreign experts say that Moldova has shown “no progress” in fighting corruption and that the “power behind the throne” - Plahotniuc - occupies key official positions and, in effect, currently rules the country.
The only solution, it is said, is to remove Plahotnuic, the country’s only oligarch, from the political and economic arena altogether.
Moldova is a small post-Soviet republic located between Ukraine and Romania. The country is considered one of the poorest in Europe but, despite this, is known for its strong bid to become ever closer to the EU. Being part of the EU’s controversial Eastern Neighbourhood policy, Moldova was once,in fact, called a 'story of success' for its efforts to reform the economy as well as the social and political environment (with the help of European funds).
But, for all that, Moldova is still widely regarded a highly corrupt country which is ruled by corrupt politicians and oligarchs yet, at the same time, appears to be strangely favoured by Europe over the intention to pursue its path of European integration.
This is the same Moldova, it should be noted,that ranked 103 out of 168 in the 2015 Transparency International corruption index.
A relatively new protest movement, Dignity and Truth, says it wants answers from politicians before the elections in October. It wants to know how the situation could have become so deep rooted and says the officials who failed to prevent it must be punished.
The speaker of parliament, Andrian Candu said, "There's disappointment. Disappointment in the whole political class. Disappointment that things stay as they are because we fail to build functional institutions. So the political elite should have this wake-up call."
The crisis, he says, could even affect Moldova's efforts to get closer to the European Union.
"We are very close to disappointing our international partners. If we don't switch from messages to real actions, then we are under the risk of losing our credibility completely."According to opposition sources “the whole state system needs fixing.”
But for many people on the streets of Chisinau, that credibility is already lost. In this toxic environment, a win in October by Plahotnuic or his associates, spells trouble for U.S and EU interests.
The IMF has provided massive credits to Moldova only to see bank funds mysteriously vanish. At this point, it could be argued that the IMF should not provide the next tranche until transparency is improved and anticorruption measures are taken.
According to Dr.Karasik “the EU, and US, should support clean presidential and parliamentary elections in Moldova”. That means, “no odious politicians, such as Plahotnuic, to be viable candidates for top public offices”.
Moldova can do better.