Human Rights in Moldova: The Turbulent Dniester
“At a press conference during a visit by the delegation of the Moldovan Shor Party, the members of the European Parliament were given a candid picture of the deplorable state of democracy and civil rights in this former Soviet republic.
Discussions focused on Mr Ilan Shor, the Mayor of Orhei in Moldova, who gained recognition as entrepreneur and philanthropist, and on the circumstances surrounding his detention as a party leader. Influential European MPs at the conference included Mr Lorenzo Fontana from Italy’s League of the North; Ms Elizabetta Gardini – a vice-chairman of both the European People’s Party group and the widely-respected Forza Italia; Mr Alberto Chirio, member of the European Parliament Committee for EU’s Association with the Republic of Moldova, and Mr Jean-Luc Schaffhauser.
The keynote speakers were Ilan Shor’s lawyers and Marina Tauber, vice-chairman of the Shor party. The picture of the risks surrounding business and politics in a thoroughly corrupt and impoverished country was chilling enough but the consequences that Mr Shor is facing as a result of his resistance to corruption were even scarier.
In 2013, Ilan Shor, a leader of several successful businesses, including in the banking sector, found himself under enormous pressure from the then Prime Minister Vlad Filat, reputedly a pro-European politician and a “favourite” of Brussels officials.
Filat actually pressured Mr. Shor into acquiring a controlling stake in the government-owned “Banca de economii” which, by that time, after widespread and endemic embezzlement, was hiding a “hole” in the range of several hundred million euros.
Instead of assisting the new owners in leading the bank out of crisis, Filat and his business partner Vyacheslav Platon, described as “the top raider of the CIS”, forced Mr. Shor to issue loans for another 250 million euros which later were considered unrecoverable, following which the government seized the bank and put it under National Bank’s special management. Soon after that, the Banca de Economii, once the largest in Moldova, was declared bankrupt.
Feeling framed and misled by government officials, Mr. Shor was outspoken in his testimony to law enforcement agencies. For the first time in the entire 25-year history of Moldova, it became possible to identify and prove corruption at the highest levels of power. The former Prime Minister Filat was sentenced to an extended prison term.
Under Moldovan law, frank confession removes criminal liability.This, in fact, is common practice in any civilized country. However, enforcement of a good law in Moldova can be sidetracked by authorities. Instead of well-deserved freedom, Mr Shor became defendant in another criminal case and faced onslaught of harassment by the media.
This did not prevent him from easily winning the first round of mayoral elections in a major city of Orhei. Today Orhei, thanks to Mr. Shor and his team, is described as a miracle. It is the cleanest and the most comfortable Moldovan city that has modern infrastructure and offers affordable utilities, maternity capital and upgraded pensions, social stores with affordable goods for pensioners and low-income households.
In the two years since Ilan Shor’s arrival to Orhei, his approval ratings have increased several times over. The same goes for the party which he has led since 2016. Its widely-approved social projects are being carried out not only in Orhei, but all over the country.
The young party has become a champion of the poor and a defender of high social standards and direct democracy, which, apparently, irritated the elitist political “establishment”.
Their spokesmen have deviously manipulated the public opinion by playing the “geopolitical card”. As a result, the country is almost equally divided between the supporters of European integration and the defenders of rapprochement with Russia, with the former accused of earning Moldova its ridiculous ranking as the poorest European country.
Of the two years that Mr. Shor has successfully run the city and the party, exactly one year was spent under house arrest. After producing critical evidence in government corruption cases, a successful mayor and innovative leader finds his civil rights and scope for action severely curbed – and this despite his duties as employer of more than three thousand people.
In their convincing presentation, lawyers Denis Ulanov and Julian Balan as well as Ilan’s associates have emphasized that the outcome for Mr Shor would be determined rather by political expediency and not according to the letter of the law.
Take note of the fact that June 22 marks one year since Mr. Shor has been placed under house arrest. If he is not charged, he must be released. This is the letter of law. However, the prosecutors on the case have already stated their intention to ask the court either to deliver the verdict before June 22 or extend the house arrest.
The first option would be undue pressure on the court, while the second – a direct breach of the law.
Would it be realistic for Mr. Shor to expect fair trial in a country where law enforcement runs against the law?
The European Union (EU) has secured more than a billion euros’ worth of financial assistance to Moldova. Tens of millions were allocated for the reform of the justice system. The EU is entitled to demand both a report on how these funds were spent and a direct evidence of changes in the way justice is delivered.
The outcome of the Shor’s case should be a litmus test establishing the true character of reform and the irreversibility of Moldova’s accession to European standards.
The sense of urgency expressed by the members of the European Parliament during their meetings with the Shor Party is a great token of their determination to extract such proof from Moldovan authorities”.