How did U.S. authorities reach decision to impose sanctions? What are possible reactions and consequences? IPN debate


Last week the United States announced serious sanctions against personages from Moldova and also against personages and entities from Russia that performed activities with regard to the Republic of Moldova. The real effects of such a move for Moldovan society are yet to be felt. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate “How did the U.S. authorities reach the decision to impose sanctions? What are the possible reactions and consequences?” discussed the possible developments in the possible confrontation between the current government and persons or even forces subject to sanctions.

Igor Boțan, the standing exert of IPN’s project, said the sanctions become a foreign policy mechanism when the verbal calls to stop the human rights violations or acts of corruption that threaten security are not sufficient, while the direct interventions are dangerous or costly. “The sanctions are perfectly legal as the states that impose them do it based on their laws. The restrictive measures are imposed by states, including the U.S., or the European community and can refer to governments of third countries, state entities, private individuals,” explained the expert.

Acceding to him, there are three types of sanctions: those imposed by the UN, which can be transposed to the national, community law; sanctions to strengthen the UN sanctions by stricter measures than those imposed and by additional measures, and fully autonomous sanctions. The Magnitsky Act adopted by the U.S. in 2012 formed part of the law to abrogate the Jackson-Vanik amendment on Russia and Moldova, while the amendment itself introduced commercial restrictions in response to the human rights violations in Russia.

“The Magnitsky Act allowed banning the issuing of visas and freezing of bank accounts. The list of those who fell under this law initially consisted of names that weren’t well known. In 2016, the Magnitsky Act was replaced with a new one with global effect, the Global Magnitsky Act. The new law enables the U.S. authorities to take measures against persons from all over the world who are responsible for human rights violations,” stated Igor Boțan.

He reminded that on October 26, 2022, the United States Department of the Treasury announced the imposition of sanctions based on executive orders against Moldovan oligarchs Vladimir Plahotniuc and Ilan Shor and against other individuals and entities for systemic corruption based on the Magnitsky Act and the Act on Kremlin-supported interference in elections. The sanctions include the ban en entry into the U.S., also as emigrants, freezing of the two oligarch’ assets in the U.S., if there are such, and ban on transactions in the U.S. and with U.S. citizens and on the sale of goods, provision of services and transfer of money to Plahotniuc and Shor from any funds.

Sergiu Tofilat financial-banking and energy expert, of WatchDog Community, said the adding of persons to the sanctions list is a political decision that does not substitute the legal proceedings in courts. The arguments invoked in this case are of a different nature. “On the sanctions list through the angle of the Global Magnitsky Act, they usually put persons engaged in serious acts of corruption, their allies, persons who facilitated these acts and also persons involved in human rights abuses, related to illegal detention, illegal conviction, intimidation, which is persecution of public figures, opposition leaders, civil society leaders, the independent press,” he noted.

According to the expert, while examining these possibilities, the U.S. abides first of all by its national interests and foreign policy objectives, but the decisions should be based on arguments. They take into account journalistic investigations, documents showing the persons were involved in acts of corruption, fraud, appropriation of public funds. “In the case of Vlad Plahotniuc, it was also taken into account the fact that the whole society during many years staged large-scale protests against him. Collective efforts were made – by civil society and the parties that were then in opposition – as, if we speak about the inclusion of persons in the sanctions list, such a request cannot be made by the official authorities. The Government, Parliament cannot ask to put persons on the sanctions list. In such a case, they have power, legal instruments and can do their homework, conduct investigations, present evidence in court and examine the frauds,” stated the WatchDog expert.

Sergiu Tofilat noted that as regards Plahotniuc and Shor, the efforts were made without the government’s involvement, at least until full power in the state was gained. WatchDog since 2018, together with a number of NGOs, had collected arguments in favor of the inclusion of the two politicians in the sanctions list. “Such instruments exist in a very low number of countries. Few countries approved such legislation that enables to put persons on the sanctions list. Given that the U.S. is the largest economic power in the world and it has a great say in the financial world, evidently almost all the countries that suffer because of dictators, oligarchic, kleptocratic regimes complain and somehow ask their “local Plahotniucs” to be put on the sanctions list,” stated Sergiu Tofilat.

Transparency International Moldova expert Mariana Kalughin said the authorities cannot ask a state to impose particular sanctions. It is actually stupid to do so when you have all the necessary mechanisms, including the law enforcement agencies, for instituting proceedings inside the country over acts committed by persons. For the investigations to be completed, the responsible bodies need to have the necessary capacities. When foreign instruments are used, which are rather political than legal, this points to the incapacity of the state from where these persons are to penalize the committed illegalities. The fact that persons are put on the Magnitsky list does not mean that particular conclusions about them were reached but rather that they are allegedly responsible for particular acts, especially for the violation of human rights and acts of corruption.

The expert noted that Transparency International Moldova was among the organizations that made effort for particular current and former officials to be put on the Magnitsky list. “A particular approach is made and the responsible bodies, primarily the President of the U.S., the minister of finance, the Treasury and the secretary of state, take a common decision. But the charges against the given persons are first probed. Evidently, big responsibility is borne by the Ministry of Finance as it is the one that makes sure the financial sanctions are applied, those related to the transactions and accounts and to other property. A report on the updated list of persons is presented to the Congress once a year,” stated Mariana Kalughin.

The TI-Moldova expert noted that the persons can also be struck off the sanctions list but they need to present evidence to prove that the charges against them are not justified. “What we should bear in mind is that this is rather a political process and instrument. It also does not mean that our prosecution bodies do not have work to do. They have what to do if they want the persons to also be penalized by legal instruments, while the sanctions will be applied as a simple ban on entry into the U.S., sequestration of goods or blocking of transactions,” said the expert.

The editor of the Russian language department of RISE Moldova Vladimir Thorik, co-author of the “Kremlinovich” investigation, said the journalistic work in this case centered on the activity of Russian political technologists. Later, the editorial office learned that the Security and Intelligence Service also knew about the involvement of these. Back in 2020, the Service informed the Prosecutor’s Office, but the latter didn’t identity elements of an offense. Therefore, no criminal case over the involvement of foreign intelligence services in Moldovan politics has been started during two years.

The journalist said they investigated the involvement of Russian political technologists and monitored the contacts with persons close to Igor Dodon. With the assistance of Russian counterparts, the editorial office identified the political technologists who were later added to the U.S. sanctions list. The journalists of RISE Moldova proved that the persons who are in pictures near the leaders of the Party of Socialists (PSRM) are political technologists. In the autumn of 2020, the PSRM’s leaders also dealt with the election campaign of Igor Dodon, who competed for a second term in office as President.

“We proved that these Russians are political technologists and namely they were put on the sanctions list. We provided concrete details in our investigation “Kremlinovich” – a nick-name that Igor Dodon attributed to himself. This information about political technologists was detailed with the help of Russian counterparts. We proved with the assistance of instruments we possessed, but the Prosecutor’s Office hasn’t conducted any investigation yet,” stated Vladimir Thorik.

The public debate entitled “How did the U.S. authorities reach the decision to impose sanctions? What are the possible reactions and consequences?” was the 265th installment of IPN’s project “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.