The case of Renato Usatii as a symbol of a ‘captured state’ in Moldova
Over the past six years Moldova has undergone a tragic transition from being hailed as the “success story” of the EU’s much-vaunted Eastern Partnership to what Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, has branded a “captured state”, writes Colin Stevens.
Moldova also face the prospect of being a “failed state”, in the same company as North Korea, if its young democratic system remains in the hands of oligarchs, including the all-powerful business tycoon Vlad Plahotniuc (pictured), the man who effectively rules the country.
He is accused of using the instruments of power, which are totally under his control, to suppress opposition forces through arbitrary arrests, blackmailing and fabricated lawsuits.
In particular Plahotniuc wants to get rid of the leader of “Our Party” and the mayor of Beltsi, Renato Usatii, as well as other local leaders of the party.
In order to highlight the plight currently facing the country, a top level delegation from Moldova was in Strasbourg this week to speak to parliamentarians and other top officials.
Speaking at a news conference at the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe on Thursday, each of the Moldovan representatives revealed that most of their colleagues are now under criminal investigations under fabricated lawsuits instigated by Plahotniuc’s proxies in the judiciary and prosecution offices.
The Moldovan politicians who travelled to Strasbourg included Ilian Casu, Municipal Councillor of Chisinau; Elena Gritco, a municipal councillor in Balti; Victor Bogatico, Mayor of Riscani; Victor Petrioglo, Mayor of Vulcanesti; Eduard Plesca, a Falesti District councillor and lawyer Angela Istrati.
The aim, they said, was to provide “genuine and objective information about what is really happening on Moldovan political scene”.
“The case of Renato Usatii, the leading opposition politician, is a symbol of a captured state in Moldova and that is why we, the members of the suppressed Moldovan opposition, have come to the Council of Europe to search for justice.”
Moldovan representatives added: “Plahotniuc’s regime is using all means to keep Usatii in exile in Russia. Plahotniuc even offered him a large sum of money to quit the country forever.
“The reason is that Usatii is successfully co-operating with law enforcement bodies in both Romania and Great Britain to rid the country off Plahotniuc. Plahotniuc is also afraid that Usatii will cooperate with the British authorities in relation to a criminal case dealing with the murder of a Russian banker.”
On 12 April, the EU agreed to some €100 million financial assistance for Moldova, supposedly to help support its structural reform agenda.
But Victor Petrioglu, mayor of Vulcanesti in the Gagauz region, said, “The region, which is governed by the opposition, has never received any of the European assistance allocated to Moldova. This is an indication of the selective democracy that currently operates in the country.”
Usatii has supplied documents about the alleged involvement of Plahotniuc and his close associate Ilan Shor in what was dubbed “the robbery of the century” when €1bn mysteriously disappeared from Moldovan state banks.
Further comment came from Angela Istrati who said, “We expect a proper reaction from the Council of Europe regarding the case of Renato Usatii and other political prisoners in Moldova.
“We would also like to see strict monitoring of the situation in Moldova.”
Elena Gritco, vice chair of Our Party and another speaker at the press conference, said, “We would like the Council of Europe to investigate crimes committed by Plahotniuc. Usatii is not hiding but is a victim of Plahotniuc’s regime
“If he goes back to Moldova he’ll be arrested and most probably killed in prison. This is one reason why the CoE was right to describe Moldova as a captured state.”
“Plahotniuc’s victims are his political rivals whose popularity threaten to challenge his power and aspirations to control political mechanisms of the country.
“The case of Renato Usatii and his party associates clearly prove that normal laws are not applied in Moldova nowadays. Instead, we see fabricated lawsuits, the ousting of party nominees from various electoral campaigns and an arrest warrant issued by the Moldovan Interpol office against Usatii.”
“We are here to defend our people and our statehood. We also try to defend our colleagues who are now in prison or under prosecution.”
She added, “Today we are asking: Is Strasbourg really able to guarantee the Moldovan opposition rights taken for granted by others in Europe?”
Another speaker, Ilian Casu, said the delegation has been “very warmly received” by the PACE representatives who, he said, had promised to take the situation in the country “under strict control” and send CoE monitoring groups to Moldova.
Casu commented, “They promised to use all legal means to restore the rule of law in the country. When we met the human rights commissioner earlier this week he promised to come to Moldova in September with the fact finding mission. He also expressed concern that the case of Renato Usatii had been taken up by the Interpol.”
Casu told reporters that the accusations against Usatii were “absolutely groundless,” adding, “As usual they have charged him with something he has never done. All the accusations had been put forward with violation of the judicial procedures”.
“For example, he’s been accused of smuggling foreign currency to the country while another case even deals with accusations of murder as well as a number of other crimes!”
During a 4 day stay in Strasbourg, which came at the invitation on the CoU Venice Commission, the Moldovan representatives held numerous meetings with PACE officials and national deputies.
They met the vice-chairman of the Venice Commission Thomas Markert and discussed a troubling situation with possible drastic changes in Moldova’s electoral system, which was initiated recently by Plahotniuc and was met with skepticism by the Commission.
The Moldovan representatives stressed that this change in election law merely seeks to shore up Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party that currently has very low popularity in the country.
The Moldovan envoys also had detailed discussions with the leaders of the Socialist group of PACE, headed by Italian MP Michele Nicoletti and Stefan Schennach from Austria.
Italian Senator Sergio Divina promised to closely monitor the situation and, after their meeting with the Moldovan delegation, both Nicoletti and Schennach spoke of the need to “closely monitor the situation” in Moldova as happens in other countries.
Representatives of Human Rights Watch, the leading rights NGO, also met with the delegation and said that the situation in the country “should be taken under strict control”.
After a productive series of meetings, the delegation said the clear cut message to emerge from this week’s visit to France was: “Please take a close look at the Moldovan political landscape as it is suffering from illegal deeds of its sole oligarch – Vlad Plahotniuc .
“This man has subjugated Moldova’s judiciary and law enforcement and has put it at the behest of his own political ambitions.”