Why was bank theft brought back into focus? IPN debate

During many years, the so-called “billion theft” made internal life for Moldova much more difficult and created a bad name for society and the state at foreign level. The bringing back of this theme into focus could not pass unnoticed. But this time the “billion theft” appeared to the accompaniment of serious political altercations and a more detailed analysis is needed of the relations between the financial and legal aspects, on the one hand, and the political aspect of the theme, on the other hand. The participants in a public debate titled “Why was bank theft brought back into focus?”, which was staged by IPN News Agency, considered if the reappearance of this issue six years after the fraud offers more chances now for the epopee of the theft to have a normal ending by returning the stolen funds and punishing those to blame.

Igor Boțan, standing expert of IPN’s project, said the notion of “billion theft” appeared in the public sphere in December 2014, about a week after the parliamentary elections. Also then, a vehicle with financial documents of Banca de Economii burned in a suspicious way. Later, the then Premier informed that the expert company Kroll was contracted to investigate the whole mechanism of this fraud. The First Kroll Report was published at the start of May 2015 by the then Speaker of Parliament Andrian Candu. Shortly afterward, a special sitting of the legislature was convened and this involved the governor of the National Bank, the prosecutor general, the head of the Security and Intelligence Service and the chief of the National Anticorruption Center.

According to him, society learned “very interesting” things then, namely that the law enforcement agencies knew the whole information about the bank fraud. Then, the chief of the National Anticorruption Center said the Kroll report was belles letters as the investigators of Kroll received in Chisinau all the documents needed for compiling that report. “The question is thus, why didn’t the competent bodies intervene to stop the process if it consisted of the collection of information only? The answer was that the President, Parliament Speaker and Premier were informed about the bank theft. A general feeling that there was a conjuration between the political class and those who managed that bank theft appeared then,” noted Igor Boțan.

He also said that Kroll was to elucidate the mechanism by which the crime was committed and the second stage was to reveal the involved persons. A stage related to the recovery of the stolen funds was to follow. This subject reappeared now because parties that, among their objectives, announced the investigation of the bank theft came to power last June. A parliamentary commission of inquiry was then created to produce a general picture of the theft. In November, there was chosen a new prosecutor general who also intended to investigate resonant crimes, including the bank theft. In half a year of his appointment, the prospector general raised again this subject of interest.

Ex-minister of finance Veaceslav Negruța, expert of Transparency International Moldova, said the bank fraud will remain in the political, social, economic and financial agenda with an impact, including a budgetary one, as long as the given burden is borne by the taxpayers. “Under the law assumed in 2016, this burden will persist until 2041, if no miracles are worked to recover at least a part of the money or if no formula is found to stop this “ticking clock” that daily reminds of the payments made from the state budget to fill this gap. That’s why things are evident as long as there is the situation when the investigation into the fraud goes on and we are somehow glad that at least this stage was initiated. As long as we didn’t manage to recover the stolen funds, including from sequestrated property or from property blocked following the actions taken by prosecutors, the issue will remain of public interest,” he stated.

Veaceslav Negruța noted there are two theses that characterize what happened at the post-fraud stage, during the past five years. “The first sentence was uttered by ex-Premier Filip in Brussels in March 2016 – that the bank fraud was to continue. Even if there was a kind of expression mistake, such things actually followed, like the conversion of the guarantee into state debt by assuming responsibility in practically half a year. In a way, those frauds continued in another form,” stated the expert. He added that in 2017, former Premier Filip said 90% of those featured in the Kroll report were honest persons. These two messages can be treated somehow with sarcasm and irony, but namely these sentences characterize the inaction of the bodies that were to focus on the investigation and contrary actions,” he stated.

The TI-Moldova expert said the prosecutors have a rather difficult mission as they must ensure certainty and credibility to show that their actions perfectly match the investigation of the bank fraud. Also, earlier this week, the prosecutor general made reference to information that had been hidden until now. “The Kroll reports and the financial documents provided by the National Bank reveal the group of Plahotniuc. On the other hand, last week, after the meeting of the Supreme Security Council, President Igor Dodon said the Kroll report and the work of this company distorted and diverted the investigation of the fraud. According to him, there is a conflict with the statements made by the prosecutor general,” stated Veacesla Negruța.

Political commentator Cornel Ciurea said the exact sum that was stolen from banks remains a subject for discussion. “Some say this is equal to the state debt. Others speak about nonperforming loans. It is thus hard to determine an exact amount,” he stated, noting that the bank theft consisted of several stages and the first stage was the provision of nonperforming loans that was rather long, lasting since 2011 until 2014. The sum was permanently on the rise. Later, there was the guarantee of the National Bank that was turned into state debt, 13.3 billion lei, and this is another sum. The third stage was the post-fraud phase and the attempt to hide the fraud. They every time speak about the technical side of the problem, but the political side should also be taken into account. “Surely, the case of the bank fraud was very powerfully instrumentalized in our political sphere. Initially, this theme was addressed by the opposition only. The power also treated this subject, but when struggling against the opposition and trying to punish the political opponents. I speak about particular instrumentalization as it is presumed that the Prosecutor General’s Orifice and those who are in power work hand in hand,” stated Cornel Ciurea.

According to him, it’s clear that the current power, especially the Party of Socialists, is interested in focusing on this case as, from political viewpoint, they are engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the oligarchs, namely Plahotniuc and Shor. This political struggle definitely influences the investigation and directs the attention of the state institutions. “The appearance of Plahotniuc’s name in the list of final beneficiaries is definitely something new. The group of Plahotniuc replaces the group of Platon that is absent in the last assessment. The appearance of Plahotniuc’s name in this conventional list and the possible definitive conviction of Mister Shor represented particular crossing of the red lines between the government and these oligarchs and generated that political struggle between the power and the position that we are witnessing today,” stated Cornel Ciurea. According to him, this strategic initiative belongs to the oligarchic camp, especially the Pro Moldova group led by Andrian Candu and the Shor Party that initiated a series of political actions aimed at removing the government.

“There is also another viewpoint - that the current political struggle was caused by the upcoming presidential elections. In my opinion, the political struggle, political destabilization and even the danger of the Chicu Government being removed were generated namely by the powerful threat witnessed by the two oligarchs I mentioned, as regards their conviction here, in Chisinau or elsewhere and the definitive end of their political presence on the Moldovan arena. Therefore, we cannot ignore the bank theft and what is going on today as I see that many political forces, parties, journalists, commentators that earlier very actively debated this theme, being preoccupied with the bank theft now are tempted to forget this issue or to treat it in a derisive way,” stated Cornel Ciurea.

The debate “Why was bank theft brought back into focus?” was the 136th edition of the series of debates “Developing political culture through public debates” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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