Input Paper “Overview of the current sit­u­a­tion and chal­lenges of the fight against cor­rup­tion in the Repub­lic of Moldova”

Foto: Shut­ter­stock, Alexey Struyskiy

As part of our project “Eastern Part­ner­ship Plus”, we are pub­lish­ing a first series of input papers on the topic of anti-cor­rup­tion reforms in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The authors from the region (Kateryna Ryzhenko, Ion Guzun, Sandro Kevkhishvili) analyse the role of the Euro­pean Union in sup­port­ing the fight against cor­rup­tion and for­mu­late their polit­i­cal rec­om­men­da­tions for deci­sion-makers in Berlin and Brussels.

By Ion Guzun, Attor­ney at Law

Overview of the current sit­u­a­tion and chal­lenges of the fight against corruption 

On 8 June 2019, Moldova’s Par­lia­ment adopted a dec­la­ra­tion rec­og­niz­ing that the state had been cap­tured by the oli­garch Vladimir Pla­hot­niuc and the Demo­c­ra­tic Party of Moldova (PDM) under his lead­er­ship. That same day, the two parties of the ACUM Bloc and the Party of the Social­ists entered into an unlikely agree­ment to form a new coali­tion gov­ern­ment with ACUM’s Maia Sandhu as prime min­is­ter. The newly estab­lished gov­ern­ment under­took to inves­ti­gate cor­rup­tion schemes and illicit finan­cial flows, fight cor­rup­tion and reform the judi­ciary. Feeling threat­ened by the rev­o­lu­tion­ary mea­sures taken by the Sandu Gov­ern­ment to remove polit­i­cal influ­ence from the judi­ciary and Pros­e­cu­tor General’s Office, the PSRM toppled the gov­ern­ment five months after its appoint­ment. The suc­ceed­ing PSRM-led coali­tion gov­ern­ment under Ion Chicu stalled the judi­cial reforms and the anti-cor­rup­tion mea­sures, while the Social­ists focused on re-build­ing the Pla­hot­niuc style power vertical.

The appoint­ment of a new Pros­e­cu­tor General in Novem­ber 2019 did not bring the expected break­through in the inves­ti­ga­tion of high-profile cor­rup­tion cases, such as the banking fraud and Laun­dro­mat money-laun­der­ing scheme. On the con­trary, the Pros­e­cu­tor General’s Office released from prison or freed from crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion mul­ti­ple indi­vid­u­als involved in money laun­der­ing and the billion-dollar banking fraud, among them the con­tro­ver­sial busi­ness­man Veaceslav Platon, two Shor Party MPs who figure in the Kroll reports[1] and Vlad Filat,[2] the former prime min­is­ter. The Pros­e­cu­tor General’s Office refused to launch an offi­cial inves­ti­ga­tion into the alleged bribery of then Pres­i­dent Igor Dodon, even after a video leaked in the summer of 2020 showing Igor Dodon taking a plastic bag from the oli­garch Vladimir Pla­hot­niuc in 2019 had gone viral.[3] Another inves­ti­ga­tion into bribery among MPs launched in 2020 has been also stalled.

Although Moldova has made some progress, such as amend­ments to the leg­is­la­tion on sanc­tions of crim­i­nal offenses and improv­ing policy doc­u­ments and pro­ce­dures on money laun­der­ing, these achieve­ments were made pos­si­ble largely thanks to the exter­nal pres­sure exerted via the con­di­tion­al­ity mech­a­nism attached to the EU macro-finan­cial assis­tance, and far less due the exis­tence of any genuine polit­i­cal will on the part of the incum­bent gov­ern­ment. No progress has yet been made towards strength­en­ing the anti-cor­rup­tion insti­tu­tions by nar­row­ing the com­pe­tences (and thus sharp­en­ing the focus) of the spe­cial­ized Anti-cor­rup­tion Prosecutor’s Office (APO).

Anti-cor­rup­tion reforms: main achieve­ment and failures 

Moldova has adopted a string of various anti-cor­rup­tion strate­gies and action plans since gaining its inde­pen­dence. The latest National Integrity and Anti­cor­rup­tion Strat­egy expired in 2020, but only 50 (39%) of its 127 mea­sures had been imple­mented by mid-2020, though another 20% had been par­tially imple­mented.[4]

The latest Strat­egy and the Action Plan for ensur­ing the inde­pen­dence and the integrity of the justice sector for 2021–2024, adopted by the PSRM-Sor Party coali­tion in late 2020, was due to go into effect as of 1 January 2021. On 17 Feb­ru­ary 2021, Pres­i­dent Maia Sandu returned the justice sector strat­egy to the Par­lia­ment for further review, request­ing the imple­men­ta­tion of the mech­a­nism of the exter­nal eval­u­a­tion of judges, that the assets and inter­est dis­clo­sures sub­mit­ted by judges and pros­e­cu­tors be subject to effec­tive review and that the Con­sti­tu­tion be amended to allow for the con­fis­ca­tion of assets/​ wealth owned by public ser­vants in the absence of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. Par­lia­ment did not re-examine the justice sector strat­egy before 28 April 2021 (when the pres­i­den­tial decree dis­solv­ing par­lia­ment was signed).

The ver­i­fi­ca­tion of asset report­ing is pro­ceed­ing very slowly, and pri­or­ity seems to be given to con­flicts of inter­est, which are of less com­plex­ity. Unfor­tu­nately, the integrity inspec­tors perform only super­fi­cial checks on the asset and inter­est state­ments sub­mit­ted, lim­it­ing these only to form and content and do not compile all the infor­ma­tion from pre­vi­ous years or inves­ti­gate dis­crep­an­cies revealed in this way. As of the time of writing, of 11 inves­ti­ga­tions ini­ti­ated to check assets, four cases citing the unjus­ti­fied prop­erty have been sent to court. The National Integrity Author­ity (NIA) needs to amend the rules gov­ern­ing the ver­i­fi­ca­tion of asset and inter­est state­ments, ensure their effec­tive imple­men­ta­tion with respect to the dis­clo­sures of all high-level actors and ensure the timely pub­li­ca­tion of results of these investigations.

Since 2016, the e‑integrity system has been avail­able for online filing and ver­i­fi­ca­tion of asset and inter­est state­ments. Auto­mated cross-check­ing is extremely impor­tant for the effec­tive ver­i­fi­ca­tion of such state­ments. NIA failed to imple­ment this mech­a­nism, although the donor com­mu­nity has expressed its readi­ness to support the improve­ment thereof, subject to a prior audit of its functioning.

Amend­ments to the Crim­i­nal Code tough­en­ing the sanc­tions for cor­rup­tion offenses entered into force in October 2020. The new legal frame­work, aimed at com­bat­ting cor­rup­tion by improv­ing effec­tive­ness in the crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion phase, will provide for the pos­si­bil­ity of crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion bodies with addi­tional pro­ce­dural tools. Also, the term of impris­on­ment for cor­rup­tion has been increased to 8 years.

The Anti-cor­rup­tion Prosecutor’s Office (APO) of the Repub­lic of Moldova was created to fight high-level cor­rup­tion. However, it devotes sig­nif­i­cant efforts to cases involv­ing small-scale cor­rup­tion. Thus, restrict­ing the mandate of the APO to cases of high-level cor­rup­tion would help its pros­e­cu­tors to focus on the cases of high-level cor­rup­tion; such inves­ti­ga­tions require increased guar­an­tees of inde­pen­dence as well as special methods and means of inves­ti­ga­tion due to the com­plex­ity of the cases and inter­ests involved. Such a mandate jus­ti­fies the main­te­nance of a spe­cial­ized body with a special status.[5]

In 2020, no high-ranking Moldovan offi­cials were sen­tenced for cor­rup­tion. On the con­trary, judges post­poned sig­nif­i­cant cases or released sus­pects under inves­ti­ga­tion, and pros­e­cu­tors have been stalling with respect to the proper inves­ti­ga­tion of sub­stan­ti­ated alle­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion. For instance, Oleg Stern­ioală, a Supreme Court Judge, was detained in Novem­ber 2019 in a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion on sus­pi­cion of large-scale money laun­der­ing and illicit enrich­ment to the tune of about EUR 320,000, the dis­crep­ancy between the suspect’s income and his expen­di­tures. More than a year later, the case has still not been sent to court. Mr. Stern­ioală resigned from the court, but is a prac­tic­ing attor­ney. In June 2020, the Chișinău Appel­late Court issued an order to cease crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings against two indi­vid­u­als caught in fla­grante delicto trying to send, through third-parties, USD 250,000 to members of par­lia­ment in March 2014. This was the first case involv­ing high-level cor­rup­tion of MPs.

In Sep­tem­ber 2019, the APO with­drew the charges against 14 former and current judges accused of money laun­der­ing in the “Laun­dro­mat” case, on the grounds that the ele­ments of the offense could not be estab­lished. In late October 2020, the Supe­rior Council of Mag­is­tracy accepted the requests of five mag­is­trates to be rein­stated in the posi­tions they had held until 2016, when they became sub­jects of crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion, and ordered that they receive back pay for the period in which they were sus­pended from acting as judge.

The draft amend­ments which would provide for an exten­sion the anti­cor­rup­tion strat­egy until 2022 are still await­ing a deci­sion by Par­lia­ment. Based on judi­cial sta­tis­tics, the National Anti­cor­rup­tion Centre, NAC claims that the courts issue sen­tences involv­ing “real” impris­on­ment in no more than 16% of all cor­rup­tion cases, and issue fines in 71% of them.[6]

The EU’s role in sup­port­ing the fight against corruption

The fight against cor­rup­tion has been a con­stant pri­or­ity in the EU-Moldova dia­logue and con­sti­tutes an impor­tant part of the EU-Moldova Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment (AA), signed in 2014. The two Asso­ci­a­tion Agendas pro­duced by the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment set out a clear area of actions in the field of rule of law, among them the com­pre­hen­sive reform of the pros­e­cu­tion and the justice sector, actions to advance the fight against cor­rup­tion, espe­cially high-level cor­rup­tion, and to strengthen the inde­pen­dence and func­tion­al­ity of the exist­ing anti-cor­rup­tion insti­tu­tions (the National Anti­cor­rup­tion Centre and the NIA). The second Asso­ci­a­tion Agenda for 2017–2019,[7] which was approved after the one-billion banking theft came to light, defined a more exten­sive and detailed list of anti-cor­rup­tion and anti-money laun­der­ing measures.

Before 2018, the Euro­pean Union had not allo­cated funding to support rule-of-law mea­sures within the frame­work of the Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Instru­ment (ENI). The first ENI-funded pro­gramme aimed at strength­en­ing the rule of law and anti-cor­rup­tion mech­a­nisms was launched in 2018,[8] with a budget of EUR 8.5 million.

In Decem­ber 2020, The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion approved the dis­burse­ment of EUR 5 million in budget support assis­tance to help the deliv­ery of reforms in the police sector in the Repub­lic of Moldova. This new payment comes in the wake of the second instal­ment of the now expired Macro-Finan­cial Assis­tance pro­gramme in July (EUR 30 million), and the first instal­ment (EUR 50 million) of the emer­gency Macro-Finan­cial Assis­tance pro­gramme, dis­bursed in Novem­ber.[9] It encom­passes impor­tant anti-cor­rup­tion and anti-money laun­der­ing com­po­nents vis-à-vis the Min­istry of Inte­rior and the police.[10]

The Joint EU/​CoE Project Con­trol­ling Cor­rup­tion through Law Enforce­ment and Pre­ven­tion (CLEP) started on 1 June 2017, with a dura­tion of 36 months and a budge of EUR 2.2 million.[11] In addi­tion, the EU ini­ti­ated a million-euro Twin­ning project with the NAC in Sep­tem­ber 2017, aimed at strength­en­ing the insti­tu­tional capac­i­ties of the NAC, APO, Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs (MIA), General Police Inspec­torate (GPI) and Customs Service, and thus increas­ing their effec­tive­ness in the fight against cor­rup­tion.[12]

The current High Level Advisor’s Mission pro­vides exper­tise on com­bat­ting cor­rup­tion and money laun­der­ing. This is not the only support that the Euro­pean Union, the Council of Europe, and the other donors provide to assist Moldova in the fight against cor­rup­tion and money laundering.

Main con­clu­sion and rec­om­men­da­tions as to how the EU could effec­tively support anti-cor­rup­tion reforms 

 Con­clu­sions

  • The EU con­di­tion­al­ity mech­a­nism has been a key impetus for all of the anti-cor­rup­tion and judi­cial reforms imple­mented by the Moldovan gov­ern­ment in recent years.
  • The assets ver­i­fi­ca­tion mech­a­nism and fight against high-level cor­rup­tion remains inef­fec­tive, tar­get­ing mostly the low-level public ser­vants and con­flicts of inter­ests. The exist­ing legal short­com­ings make the inves­ti­ga­tion of illegal enrich­ment a chal­leng­ing task.

Rec­om­men­da­tions

(1) with respect to the Eastern Part­ner­ship frame­work (Asso­ci­a­tion countries)

  • Enhance coop­er­a­tion between the law enforce­ment and anti-cor­rup­tion agen­cies of the EU , includ­ing the Euro­pean Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the EaPs in the areas of com­bat­ting high-level cor­rup­tion, con­trols of foreign assets of high-ranking public offi­cials, the recov­ery of crim­i­nally acquired assets and com­bat­ting finan­cial crime.
  • Extend the scope of the Global Human Rights Sanc­tions Regime (EU ‘Mag­nit­sky Act’) to include indi­vid­u­als involved in high-level cor­rup­tion cases in the EaP countries.
  • Con­tinue to define the rule of law and the fight against cor­rup­tion as key cri­te­ria and con­di­tions for closer polit­i­cal part­ner­ship and finan­cial assis­tance to the EaP countries.
  • Con­tinue to provide civil society with capac­ity support and funding to support mon­i­tor­ing the trans­parency, integrity, and effec­tive­ness of state insti­tu­tions in imple­ment­ing anti-cor­rup­tion and judi­cial reforms.

(2) with respect to the Repub­lic of Moldova specifically

  • Strengthen the capac­ity of the APO and NIA to handle high-level cor­rup­tion cases and the com­pe­ten­cies of the NIA to carry out effec­tive con­trols of assets and inter­est statements.

[1] Ziarul de Gardă, 2 October 2020, “Tauber and Apos­tolova freed from crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion in the banking fraud case”, https://bit.ly/2SlS0OZ.

[2] Radio Free Europe, 4 Decem­ber 2019, “Former Moldovan PM con­victed of bribery released from prison”, https://www.rferl.org/a/former-moldovan-pm-convicted-of-bribery-released-from-prison/30306678.html.

[3] Ziarul de Gardă, 23 June 2020, “The Anti­cor­rup­tion Prosecutor’s Office con­cluded the inves­ti­ga­tion regard­ing the b[l]ack plastic bag”, https://www.zdg.md/en/?p=3722.

[4] National Anti­cor­rup­tion Center, Mon­i­tor­ing Report on imple­men­ta­tion NIA Strat­egy for the semes­ter I, 2020, https://cna.gov.md/public/files/Raport_SNIA__sem_I_2020_.pdf.

[5] The Legal Resources Centre from Moldova, The Anti-Cor­rup­tion Pros­e­cu­tion office should inves­ti­gate only high-level cor­rup­tion, avail­able at https://crjm.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/2018–11-Nota-Competentele-PA-fin_eng.pdf.

[6] National Anti­cor­rup­tion Centre, The study on court sen­tences for cor­rup­tion offenses. Spe­cial­ized courts /​ panels. Inter­na­tional prac­tices and rec­om­men­da­tions for the Repub­lic of Moldova, avail­able in Roman­ian at https://bit.ly/3csMjFR.

[7] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A22017D1489.

[8] https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/annex_3_clean_anti_corruption_final.pdf.

[9] Moldova: EU approves €5 million in support of police sector reform — https://bit.ly/2Tasblf.

[10] https://www.eu4moldova.md/en/content/support-police-reform-republic-moldova.

[11] Council of Europe, Project on Con­trol­ling Cor­rup­tion through Law Enforce­ment and Pre­ven­tion, avail­able at https://www.coe.int/en/web/corruption/completed-projects/clep.

[12] Twin­ning Project “Support to the strength­en­ing of the oper­a­tional capac­i­ties of the Law Enforce­ment Agen­cies of the Repub­lic of Moldova in the field of pre­ven­tion and inves­ti­ga­tion of crim­i­nal acts of cor­rup­tion”, avail­able at https://bit.ly/3cpT3EG.


Ion Guzun, Attor­ney at Law

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