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

Foto: Shut­ter­stock, Alexey Struyskiy

Im Rahmen unseres Pro­jek­tes „Öst­li­che Part­ner­schaft Plus“ ver­öf­fent­li­chen wir eine erste Reihe von Input Papers zum Thema Kor­rup­ti­ons­be­kämp­fung in der Ukraine, Geor­gien und Moldau. Die Autoren aus der Region (Kate­ryna Ryzhenko, Ion Guzun, Sandro Kevk­hish­vili) ana­ly­sie­ren die Rolle der Euro­päi­schen Union bei der Unter­stüt­zung der Kor­rup­ti­ons­be­kämp­fung und for­mu­lie­ren Ihre Hand­lungs­emp­feh­lun­gen an die Ent­schei­dungs­trä­ger in Berlin und Brüssel. 

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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