In the judicial system, impunity for abuses should be brought to an end, said the expert of WatchDog.md Community Valeriu Pașa. According to him, the assessment of candidates for the Superior Council of Prosecutors and the Superior Council of Magistracy is a first step towards the clearing of the system of corrupt elements. In an interview with IPN News Agency, Valeriu Pașa said the current government pleaded for a process of assessing and reeducating judges and prosecutors, which will not produce results immediately, but which is indispensable in an authentic justice sector reform.
What does pre-vetting mean? How long the process of assessing the integrity and professionalism of judges and prosecutors can last? Who will take the place of corrupt judges who will be removed from the system as a result of the assessment? Responses to these and other questions can be found in an interview conducted by Octavian Bratosin with the expert of WatchDog.md Community Valeriu Pașa.
IPN: The subjects we will treat are related to the justice system of the Republic of Moldova, the long-awaited reforms that would clear the system of unwanted elements, the steps that need to be taken to advance these reforms, the way in which these are implemented and the discrepancy between how justice looks in theory and what is the result in practice, how it is perceived by the population. To begin with, how would you describe the current state of affairs in the justice system of the Republic of Moldova?
Valeriu Pașa: I think the current justice system does not different much from what we had a year ago, before the government was replaced. At the same time, we already see particular signs that the prosecutors, judges start to realize the necessity of changing the behavior. But they only start. It is yet too far until we see a real change of behavior, when they will responsibly treat each handled case, when they will no longer consider resorting to acts of corruption for falsifying the results.
IPN: The people have heard about reforms in different areas for years. The justice sector reform is uttered in the public sphere by political players and by civil society probably most often. What does this reform consist of? Where should it start and what are its objectives?
Valeriu Pașa: I don’t think I will exaggerate if I say that in 2019, the justice system in the Republic of Moldova reached its lowest level. How do I see this reform? I see it first of all in the physical replacement of people, which would be a swift and intense process of removing most of the employees of the prosecution service and of judges. The PAS government decided to follow another path: of more careful assessment, of reeducation. Personally, I believe in something like this with difficulty. I don’t say that it is not possible to reeducate many of the people who are there, but in essence this means a kind of act of mass pardoning because these people or most of them took bribe, abused in the past and they do not want to answer for this. But the hope is that they will act differently from now on, not today but gradually, together with the political class’ signal that this is what we want. It is relatively similar to the way in which the justice sector reform was done in Romania, which anyway wasn’t brought to an end and, regrettably, is not so sustainable as they wanted. But it is at least possible to this way eliminate absolute immunity for grand corruption so that a functionary, en employee of the justice system knows that they can get a jail term for theft, for appropriation of public funds, for many other things. So, we do not yet have any politician convicted for acts of corruption in the Republic of Moldova. No one.
IPN: The people often hear about this pre-vetting. It is an English term borrowed into Romanian. Let’s explain in short this pre-vetting for choosing those who will form part of the Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM) and the Superior Council of Prosecutors (SCP)?
Valeriu Pașa: Initially, it was proposed the vetting concept. An independent commission was to be set up to establish the integrity of all the judges and prosecutors. But this lasts long. There is the experience of Albania, Ukraine. Therefore, it was decided to start with the pillars of the judicial system – the SCM and SCP – which are the bodies whose task will be to clean the system from inside. Effectively, there are those who decide if a judge or a prosecutor should or should not be promoted, should or should not be punished or should a criminal case against the same person be started. The pre-vetting procedure is similar to the vetting one, but one needs to start with what is the most important one – the key members. Therefore, this pre-vetting commission was constituted and a law was adopted. So, pre-vetting is a kind of term find to show that this is not that extensive vetting, but is quick pre-verification before naming the members of the SCM and SCP. It seems logical and correct to me. It is a concept proposed by our former civil society mate who was later named secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice and now serves as director of the National Anticorruption Center (NAC), Mister Iulian Rusu. I consider this is an absolutely healthy concept even if its implementation lasts indeed as it also depends on our administrative capacity as a state, on the way in which our foreign partners that help to ensure the functioning of this mechanism acted, including to delegate people to work on this commission. Time was lost, but things move this way, slowly. This is a reality as things do not change overnight. This pre-vetting commission worked and took over the files of the candidates for SCM member. They are analyzing already. By the way, you should know that they are looking for information about the candidates, while the investigative journalists, including our organization, carried out an assessment, at least systematized data from public sources about the candidates and transmitted these to the commission. But any citizen can contribute. And we should realize that they do not judge. If they determine that a candidate is not upright, they do not jail this, regrettably. These persons will be at least prevented from applying for such posts.
IPN: In principle, there will be some people who will be examined and will pass a filter. What about the rest of the system? How will the justice sector reform continue?
Valeriu Pașa: So, there will be that reference point inside the system and the abuses will be at least investigated honestly, not as it often happens now when complaints submitted about evident abuses committed by judges and the SCM are simply rejected, instead of punishing, suspending from posts those to blame. Or there are situations when people who lack integrity and professionalism are promoted to administrative posts. It will be an internal film already and judges will be removed, but not swiftly, not overnight. But the coming of persons who fully lack integrity to important administrative posts in the judiciary and the system of prosecutors will be at least prevented. I’m not so optimistic about the coming of a “Commissar Cattani” in each of the posts. Something like this will not happen. So many such people cannot be found in the current system. Later, there will be started a vetting process that will initially cover the judges of the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) that will also be assessed. I’m sure that many of the current members of the SCJ will leave. A contest will be held to choose the new members of the SCJ. The SCM will bear huge responsibility and the quality of the people who will form part of the SCJ will depend on its new composition that is already upright. The administration of the Appeals Courts, many of which are now headed by acting presidents, of the district courts will also be covered. It will be a long process that necessitates political stability or not political stability, as this is an exaggeration, but rather constant political will for continuing this process.
IPN: You mean a consensus at political level for this process to go on....
Valeriu Pașa: Yes, support for this process to continue unrestrictedly, as slow as it goes. Otherwise, these processes are reversible. A law can be proposed and pre-vetting will be annulled as devilish. Bogdan Țârdea will go to the Parliament’s rostrum and will say that “these brought us and are colonizing us. Some experts come to manage our justice system and U.S. and Romanian agents are appointed”. This will be the approximate speech as it is already present in the public sphere. The PSRM’s narrative is that this justice and this fight against corruption are devilish.
IPN: What will happen to the judges who will be considered unsuitable or inappropriate to remain in the system as a result of the vetting? Will they be simply removed?
Valeriu Pașa: They will be dismissed. This will happen. I don’t know the procedures. I hope a lot that we will not need to give them by 1-2 million lei on leaving for what they had done during many years, destroying this country. Some of them do not wait for the vetting. They leave the system voluntarily. There are judges and prosecutors who left. Regrettably, as regards prosecutors, we saw earlier that many left and wait for better times to come back. I saw how many left during the tenure of prosecutor general Stoianoglo. Many, but they were mostly absolute toxic characters and we must admit this. But they left not because they were the most corrupt ones, but because they formed part of another clan, not the one that took over the prosecution service. Immediately after Stoianoglo was suspended from post, many of them returned. I’m afraid that these are their exactions now too. That’s why we see a large number of former prosecutors serving such kleptocratic parties as Șor Party and others, consulting or even running in elections on party lists. So, they clearly become involved in the removal of the current government. They also ran in the elections of 2021, some of them with the purpose of preventing this government from coming to power. The people pursue clear goals. I do not tend to idealize the current government as I’m far from believing that all those from PAS are upright and well-intentioned. But things move on, slowly, but they move. The people expect results. I think that the first convictions in ordinary courts in properly handled cases will come next year, while definitive convictions with all the stages covered, together with the SCJ, possibly in 2024. The system of prosecutors received the first blow somehow by these reform intentions. Many put up resistance, mimicked and pretended that they support the government and supposedly deliver results. They started some irrelevant cases, like the cases against Stoianoglo, or these cases would have been in court long ago and things would have moved on. The cases started recently against Igor Dodon, or at least a part of them, are inconsistent.
IPN: If the system is cleaned, new people will be needed to replace those who will be removed. Those who come from school, from the National Institute of Justice will have to enter this system. What guarantees will we have that only upright persons will later enter the system?
Valeriu Pașa: We do not have full guarantees, but the general message matters. And the situation is no so bad. There are over 100 persons or even about 200 who graduated from the National Institute of Justice in the specialty of prosecutor and they weren’t admitted into the prosecution service at a time when they have free positions. Most of these people were not accepted namely because they are upright and cannot be blackmailed at once. You understand what I mean.
IPN: This is a flaw of the system in general...
Valeriu Pașa: It was the anti-selection. If you were related to someone, you assured you will do what you ought to and someone who would promote you could be found immediately. There are legendary characters who are somehow related to half of the members of the legal system of the Republic of Moldova. According to these “principles” or informal affiliations, promotions occurred as well. The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office is a kind of big family. There are people. There are reserves of people. Yes, they are needed. If someone asked me where I would start the reform from, I would say that the reform of the education system should be the first step so that we educate the next judges as we realize that we would need a lot of people, judges, prosecutors, investigation officers too. We need to clear the system of bailiffs as a large part of these are swindles who plan and take part in schemes to appropriate public property and things like this. The advocacy system should also be warned not to accept all those corrupt persons from the prosecution service and courts of law so that they become lawyers overnight. They should clean up. We have many very good lawyers who are upright and correct, who know the procedures. So, this is extraordinary cleaning in this infected system. One should know to do justice, to really defend the client in court, knowing that abuses are committed by the other side. But there are also lawyers whose duty is to carry bribe and pass it on. This is not a novelty. The lawyers are usually the key figures who pass on bribe in the justice system.
PN: So, we need to understand that this justice sector reform is a long-lasting and very difficult process...
Valeriu Pașa: The legal education reform as well. It is a big problem. There are such characters as the ex-dean of the Faculty of Law from the USM, mister Avornic. A prosecutor or a judge was mandatorily related to him. During many years, most of those who graduated from faculties of law in this country were admitted to the faculty based on bribery and took exams and defended theses based on bribery and found work also based on bribery. So, things start from there too. Control and an anticorruption effort should be ensured over legal professions in the education system. The start should be from there. That’s why we should attract more graduates of faculties of law from the West. Half of the graduates of the schools of the Republic of Moldova go to study in the West where bribeis not given and this is a big plus. There, the people are not spoiled starting with the university admission stage as it has happened for many years in Moldova: they gibe bribe to be admitted to the faculty.
The interview was conducted in the framework of IPN Agency’s project “Support for the justice sector reform by covering high-profile cases of alleged injustice in multimedia format”.