Representatives of #Moldova opposition search for justice in Council of Europe
Renato Usatii may not be a name overly familiar to many in Europe but his worrying plight is symptomatic of the crisis that has descended on Moldova, a country still clinging on to hopes of, one day, joining the EU, writes Martin Banks.
Usatii is the leader of a new Moldovan political party called Our Party which was established in 2014.The former successful businessman is also a successful municipal official as mayor of Balti, Moldova’s second city.
In 2015, Usatii was elected the mayor of Bălți with the support of a huge 72% of vote.
So popular has Usatii’s party become that Plahotniuc, a shadow and de facto ruler of Moldova, afraid of any potential challenge to his authority, effectively had it banned from participating in several electoral campaigns.
Plahotniuc decided to try and eradicate his rival by fabricating numerous alleged criminal cases against him – as well as other municipal heads and local deputies belonging Usatii’s Our Party.
As a result Usatii was forced to flee to Russia, where he currently lives and works. He has also received an international warrant, issued through the Moldovan Interpol office in Chisinau.
The timing of his arrest – just days before Moldova’s presidential election in October 2016- further supports claims from the opposition that the authorities are trying to intimidate Usatii.
The brutal truth is that Moldovan opposition forces like Usatii and Our Party have little chance of justice in their own homeland because all its judiciary and law enforcement bodies meekly follow instructions from Plahotniuc and persecute any person who expresses an opposite point of view.
That was the principal reason why a group of municipal leaders, who are also members of Our Party, attended this week’s regular session of PACE – the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe – in Strasbourg to reveal the truth about political abuses in their country.
Invited by the head of the Venice Commission, the delegation met almost all major officials in the Council of Europe, including Director of the Venice Commission Thomas Markert, human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks, as well as with leaders of the Socialist group of PACE represented by Italian MP Michele Nicoletti and his Austrian colleague Stefan Schennbach.
Informal interest in the Moldovan delegation also came from two Italian Senators Sergio Divina and Paolo Corsini.
Attention to the current problems facing the Moldovan opposition and Usatii’s criminal persecution were fully aired during a press conference in the CoU Strasbourg headquarters on 27 April.
Among the speakers at the conference were Ilian Casu, a member of Chisinau municipality, Elena Gritco, vice-Chair of Our Party and their colleagues, including Victor Bogatico and Victor Petrioglu, mayors of Moldovan towns Riscani and Vulcanesti, accompanied by Eduard Plesca, a Falesti District councillor and lawyer Angela Istrati, all members of Our Party.
The facts provided by the group to the audience, including international journalists, were described as “quite shocking”, particularly for modern day Europe with its well-developed democratic system.
The main aim of the visit was to raise awareness of how Plahotniuc is seeking to discredit and sideline opposition leaders,notably Usatii.
The Moldovan politicians described how Plahotniuc, an infamous Moldovan tycoon, has managed to turn the Republic of Moldova into a “classic style tyranny” where the whole state system merely serves his political and financial interests.
The speakers at the conference recalled chilling facts about fabricated lawsuits, arbitrary arrests, detention and other forms of misuse of civilized rules and laws.
During their meetings with the CoE and PACE officials the Moldovan representatives appealed for the grave situation in Moldova to be taken under the strict control of the two organisation’s monitoring bodies.
They said they hoped that the CoE might exert its influence to stop the unjust repressions against Our Party and its leader.
According to Gritco, Usatii cannot return to his own country because he faces a “real threat” to his life and would perish while in jail.
All the European representatives who they met in Strasbourg expressed their “firm intention” to take the political situation in Moldova including the Usatii issue, under the close watch of the CoE, the EU body that was set up to uphold human rights across the Continent.
One reason why Plahotniuc has targeted the exiled Usatii is because he (Plahotniuc) is afraid that Usatii will continue to cooperate with the British authorities in relation to the assassination attempt of a Russian banker German Gorbutsov in 2012 in London.
Usatii has also supplied documents to the authorities about Plahotniuc’s role in “the robbery of the century”.
Usatii was detained on his arrival in Chisinauon October 23 last year after a brief visit to Russia, when he released audio recordings apparently relating to bank frauds that resulted in losses of $1bn from several Moldovan banks. Two days later, he was freed by a Chisinau court without being charged.
Member of German Bundestag Andrej Hunko, speaking during the PACE session, expressed his belief that the criminal case against Renato Usatii has clear political grounds and reflects consequences of the campaign launch by the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc against opposition of Moldova. “Persecution of opposition is a bad signal, it shouldn’t take place”, summed up Andrej Hunko.
Plahotniuc, the most powerful person in Moldova, is believed to exercise a high degree of control over the Moldovan judiciary.But he is also still a prime suspect in the crime of the century when 1bn dollars of state money mysteriously vanished from the major Banca de Economii in Moldova. Plahotnuic is not called a shadow ruler of Moldova for nothing and many people claim that he was the main beneficiary behind the crime.
Part of the EU’s controversial Eastern Neighbourhood policy, Moldova was not so long ago called a ‘story of success’.
This is the same Moldova, it should be noted, that ranked 103 out of 168 in the 2015 Transparency International corruption index.
“Today,” says Jagland, a former Norwegian PM and secretary general of the Council of Europe, “the picture is less optimistic.Over the last six years little has been done to open up the country’s economy and its institutions. Corruption remains endemic and the state is still in the hands of oligarchs, while punishingly low incomes have propelled hundreds of thousands of Moldovans to go abroad in search of a better life.”
Tacit support for Usatii comes from the European Commission with a spokesman telling this website: “Moldova’s consolidation of its democracy and rule of law requires further reform efforts.Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms requires greater attention, in part due to weaknesses in the justice system. Perceived political interference in the judiciary and law enforcement is a systemic impediment to social and economic development.”
Moldova, one of the former Soviet republics, sits at the crossroads between East and West.
But many observers now say the disturbing Usatii case shows that it is also standing at another, rather more significant crossroads – one that will decide its very future.