If the scandals that are periodically linked to him are any indication, Plahotniuc might need that protection.
- Most famously, he was accused of engineering raids on major Moldovan banks and an insurance company in 2010 and 2011, using secret court decisions to obtain shares held by others and transfer them to companies located in the United Kingdom.
- The charges, which Plahotniuc denies, were reportedly backed by evidence unearthed in connection with a British lawsuit, although his spokeswoman told Business New Europe magazine in October that the supposedly compromising documents were forgeries.
Two stockholders who say there were robbed were Victor and Viorel Tsopa, former business partners of Plahotniuc (whose lawyer disputed repeated media reports that the two men are related). Since going public with the charges, Victor Tsopa has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for blackmailing, kidnapping, and stealing bank shares from a business partner in 2007. Viorel Tsopa was sentenced to eight years for embezzlement from another bank. Both men live in Germany, beyond the reach of Moldovan authorities.
The Tsopas contend their prosecutions were retaliation, brought by a Plahotniuc-controlled prosecutor’s office. Plahotniuc said at the time that the their accusations were part of an effort by former Prime Minister Vlad Filat’s Liberal Democrats – an uneasy partner in the ruling coalition – to smear him.
The Tsopas’ lawyer, Andrei Nastase, said they have filed cases with the European Court of Human Rights concerning the alleged theft of the shares and the criminal convictions in Moldova.
THE PUPPET MASTER AND INTERPOL
In June 2011 Filat said an unnamed “puppet master” was trying to take control of several state-owned companies, including fixed-telephone-line operator Moldtelecom, the Franzeluta bakery, and metals exporter Metalferos. After a month of hints, he identified the mysterious figure as Plahotniuc.
“Plahotniuc became a first deputy speaker of parliament having behind his back off-shore companies, stolen money, and crimes that he will have to answer for in the future,” Filat said at the time.
The Filat-Plahotniuc feud was likely behind the most recent in a long list of political crises in Moldova since the Communists left office in 2009.
- After a man was accidentally shot and killed on a December hunting trip attended by top business people and some members of the judiciary, Filat accused Prosecutor General Valeriu Zubco, who was backed by Plahotniuc’s Democrats, of covering up the episode. The prime minister demanded, and received, Zubco’s resignation.
- That move upended a deal under which the coalition parties had divided up government agencies, and the gloves came off. In February, Filat’s Liberal Democrats and the Communists held a non-binding vote of no confidence in Plahotniuc, who then resigned his leadership position in parliament.
The next month, the Democrats and Communists rounded on Filat, reviving old corruption allegations. His government lost a confidence vote in March, and the West-leaning coalition seemed doomed.
Since then, another pro-European government has been formed that includes the Liberal Democrats, Democrats, and a splinter group from the previous coalition’s third party, the Liberals. Filat and Plahotniuc give the appearance of having patched up their differences, with Filat even saying he regrets calling Plahotniuc a puppet master.
As the political scandal unfolded earlier this year, the Communists claimed Plahotniuc was under surveillance by Interpol, the global police organization, for participation in international organized crime.
Plahotniuc initially denied the Communists’ claim but later said he had inadvertently come under Interpol’s gaze by landing his private jet in an airport in northern Italy, where Russian business people – presumably the police agency’s real target – were buying up large tracts of land. He said being under Interpol scrutiny is commonplace for top officials and business people.
Interior Minister Dorin Rechan, appointed by Filat’s Liberal Democrats, released documents showing that Plahotniuc had been eyed by Interpol in 2007 but is no longer monitored.
Plahotniuc’s lawyers implied that the stories of litigation against him are fabricated, saying their inquiries in London and elsewhere have turned up no court cases involving “our client’s name.”
Alexander Stoianoglo, a member of parliament from the Democratic Party, said Plahotniuc has been unfairly demonized and is even unaware of many of the tales circulated about him.