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An outline of the ‘Open Dialog’ scandal. PAS and DTPP in the gunsight of the Moldovan Parliament

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Yesterday, November 12th the second meeting of the parliamentary commission on the investigation concerning the Open Dialog Foundation took place. Initially, the representative of PAS (Party of Action and Solidarity) declared in a press release that Maia Sandu will go in the Parliament hearing in order to “make things clear and to end the lies spread in the so-called enquiry regarding the PAS funding sources.”

Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase, the leaders of the electoral bloc “ACUM”, were waiting at the parliament entrance ready to enter along with the journalists, when they were announced that the commission would meet in a closed session and they are invited to the hearing one by one. Sandu and Nastase refused to participate, declaring it a farce. “There are no reasons for having the meeting in a closed session. We are not government workers. We don’t have any obligations to keep state secrets and they can’t discuss them with us”, mentioned Sandu. They organised a press conference right at the entrance of the Parliament. “There are two main goals of these closed meetings: first, discrediting PAS and DTPP (Dignity and Truth Platform Party), and the second, trying to remove our parties from the electoral campaign”, mentions Sandu during the press conference.

As official sources state, the main objective of the enquiry commission was to collect and analyse information, as well as to formulate recommendations, without any legal competences. Still, the president of the parliamentary commission – Igor Vremea, declared after the second hearing, that the leaders of PAS and DTPP were “obliged” by law to come at the second session, as the main scope was to hear their opinion on the information provided for the commission.

Background information

On October 4th, the Moldovan Parliament formed, at the initiative of DPM, an enquiry commission for elucidating the allegations of the Open Dialog Foundation and its founder’s – Ludmila Kozlowska, interference in the domestic affairs of the Republic of Moldova, as well as funding PAS and DTPP political parties.

The first official hearing was organised on November 2nd. It also was a meeting in closed session. From the very beginning, Maia Sandu asked to be summoned to a public hearing and refused to make statements to the committee in a closed session. According to the PAS leader, the closed sessions are “neither for revealing the truth by the Parliament, nor to inform people about what happened”. In response to that, Andrian Candu, the speaker of the Moldovan Parliament, declared that the Sandu’s request is an attempt to block the hearings, as she is aware that the analysed information is confidential.

Regarding the allegations that were made, Maia Sandu claimed that the only thing that was funded by the Open Dialog Foundation was a visit for an event in Brussels, having the European Parliament and the Open Dialog Foundation as the event’s organizers. Other than that, PAS never received any financial support from the Open Dialog Foundation.

Moreover, Ludmila Kozlovska denied in an interview for Jurnal TV that the Open Dialog Foundation has ever financed the opposition parties of Republic of Moldova. “It is a complete fabrication” she declared, “and it’s absurd that they consider me and my organisation a threat for Republic of Moldova”. She sees the act of organising a parliamentary commission as a desperate measure taken by DPM (Democratic Party of Moldova).

Open Dialog Foundation

The Open Dialog Foundation is involved at the moment in dealing with several cases of political prisoners from Russia, Republic of Moldova and Kazakhstan. After an analysis of the situation in Republic of Moldova, reports were sent to European Union institutions, and efforts were made on behalf of this institution for freezing the financial support from EU to Moldova. “In turn, Vladimir Plahotniuc started to denigrate the Open Dialog Foundation, this is how people had the opportunity to hear more often about it”, states Kozlovska.

What’s also important to be mentioned is that, according to the Newsmaker fact-check, the press release of the Parliament of Republic of Moldova contains several fake or misinterpreted information about Ludmila Kozlovska. For example, the press release text states that she was expatriated from Poland for being suspected of cooperation with Russian special forces. In reality, her entering in Belgium was banned on August 13, 2018 because Poland included her in the SIS (Schengen Information System) blacklist without stating any reason for that. About the so-called cooperation with the Russian special forces, wrote Marcin Rey, a polish blogger, and his article was mentioned as an “expert” source in the Moldovan Parliament press release.  Another fake information that was included in the press release and in the media, is that the Ukrainian Security Service blamed Ludmila Kozlovska in “betrayal of her homeland”, while she only appears as a witness in a court case.

Featured image source: zdg.md

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Moldova is in the top 10 countries with the highest cardiovascular mortality rate caused by poor nutrition

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The Republic of Moldova is one of the top 10 countries in Europe with the highest rate of mortality caused by cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) that are attributable to inappropriate diets, according to a study performed by a group of researchers from several reputable German, Austrian and American universities.

According to the study, the top 10 countries with the highest cardiovascular mortality rate attributable to the dietary risk factors are post-soviet countries, namely Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Russian Federation.

Diet-related deaths per 100,000 people (age-standardized) from CVDs due to risk factors (left) and disease groups (right) in 2016 | Source; Meier et al. research (2019)

The research was performed to highlight the relationship between single dietary risk factors and cardiovascular diseases registered in the 51 countries that are included in the World Health Organisation (WHO) European Region from 1990 to 2016.

In the Republic of Moldova, the number of people that died of cardiovascular diseases caused by inappropriate diets reached 14 746 in 2016 only. Being reported as number of deaths per 100 000 population, it results in 328 deaths per 100 000 people. The highest number of deaths was registered in Uzbekistan – 394 deaths per 100 000 people and the lowest number is attributable to Spain – 43 deaths per 100 000 people.

Additionally, the study states that, in terms of single dietary risks, a diet low in whole grains is the leading risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, followed by low consumption of nuts and seeds, excessive consumption of sodium, a diet low in fruits and a diet low in seafood omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers claim that an optimised died can prevent every fifth premature death. According to the cited source, the Eastern Europe and Central Asia regions are the areas where the highest number of deaths related to cardiovascular diseases attributable to dietary risks were registered from 1990 to 2016.

Number of deaths (left) and death rate per 100,000 people (right) related to CVDs attributed to dietary risks from 1990 to 2016 | Source; Meier et al. research (2019)

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“The parliamentary elections will be a crucial test for Moldova” – Interview with Maja Kocijancic, the EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

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We spoke with Mrs. Maja Kocijancic, the EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy about the situation created in the Republic of Moldova, in the context of the future parliamentary elections.

The Parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova will be organised soon, on February 24th. The political situation is already strained, even though the campaigning period starts only on January 25th. How exactly is the approaching elections seen by European Commission?

Credible, inclusive, and transparent elections at all levels, be it national or local, are pillars of any democracy and respecting the will of voters is one of the fundamental democratic principles. Hence, the upcoming parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova are of critical importance for the credibility of Chisinau’s commitment towards political association to the EU and for its democratic credentials, first and foremost, vis-à-vis the Moldovan citizens.

The EU is strongly committed to helping deliver real changes to the lives of the Moldovan people and so we would like to believe in the same level of commitment on the side of the Moldovan authorities. Unfortunately, recent developments, in particular the invalidation of the results of the mayoral elections in Chisinau, put into serious question the respect for democratic values and the rule of law in the country. These values are at the heart of the EU’s relations with the Republic of Moldova, as enshrined in our Association Agreement. The upcoming parliamentary elections will be yet another very crucial test for the respect for those core values and principles we agreed upon when signing the Agreement.

We therefore expect the authorities of the Republic of Moldova to ensure that the parliamentary elections are conducted in line with international standards.

The pending recommendations of the Council of Europe Venice Commission opinion of March 2018 and OSCE/ODIHR final reports should be implemented, including in particular by ensuring that all candidates receive equal opportunity to stand for the elections and have access to media, as well as ensuring appropriate international and national monitoring throughout the entire electoral process. The Moldovan authorities should also implement recommendations related to the transparency rules of party and campaign financing.

Is the situation during the electoral period supervised by the EU officials? What is the attitude towards the abuses committed by the Moldovan political parties during the pre-election period, investigated by the Promo-LEX Association, and what is the attitude regarding the invalidation of the last municipal elections for the mayor of Chisinau?

The changes to the electoral code adopted in 2017 were against the recommendations of the Council of Europe Venice Commission and OSCE/ODHIR. We said that at the time, publicly and to our Moldovan counterparts at various meetings. Since then, we have been very clear that the EU will continue to closely monitor the consequences of the new electoral system during the electoral process, including during the campaign, on Election Day and the period thereafter, with respect to their impact on democracy in general and on the multi-party system in particular.

Following the non-transparent invalidation of mayoral elections in Chisinau in July 2018, High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini and Commissioner Hahn issued a joint statement expressing the importance for the government to respect the will of the voters. And in September 2018, Commissioner Hahn clearly communicated to Prime Minister Filip that we expect the Moldovan authorities to take further urgent actions to address our concerns, including the growing pressure on opposition, independent media and civil society.

The EU and other international partners are also regularly raising issues pertaining to human rights, including cases related to widespread use of preventive arrest, non-transparent judicial processes, as well as detention conditions and treatment of detainees, including several recent allegations of ill-treatment.

Now, in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, the EU will continue to follow with the closest attention all aspects relevant to the preparation and conduct of the elections.

As already mentioned, parliamentary elections in line with international standards, respecting democratic principles, are of crucial importance for us and so is the rule of law and human rights in Moldova, including the situation of the civil society and media. Guaranteeing an enabling environment for opposition and civil society is a key component of democracy.

We are also fully aware of, amongst others, the Promo-Lex report, as well as of the reactions it received. The findings of this national NGO with a long and reputable tradition in election monitoring should be considered by the relevant authorities and serve as the basis for taking appropriate steps to address identified shortcomings.

The Republic of Moldova was to receive a macro financial assistance of 100 million Euro from the EU, but the financial assistance was blocked, mainly due to the modification of the electoral system despite the recommendations of the European institutions and also due to the invalidation of elections for the mayor of Chisinau. Could you please evaluate the implementation by the Moldovan government of the reforms as part of the Eastern Partnership?

The EU supports political and economic reforms in Moldova in line with the Association Agreement. We also support Moldova through the cooperation in the Eastern Partnership format and provide assistance to improve the lives of citizens. However, it is the responsibility of the Moldovan authorities to effectively implement reforms and make good use of our support. In the Council Conclusions of February 2018, the EU reaffirmed these commitments, but also expressed concern at the lack of implementation of key reforms in Moldova. The new electoral law did not address some of the key recommendations of the Council of Europe Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR, and immediate changes were also needed elsewhere, namely, the need to ensure media freedom and pluralism; to decisively fight against corruption; and to pursue a thorough reform of the judiciary.

At its meetings with the Moldovan counterparts, including at the Association Council in May 2018 and Association Committee in November 2018, the EU acknowledged that Moldova has made some progress in economic reforms, fiscal consolidation and bank restructuring, as well as in implementing the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, but clearly stated the areas where it feels there are shortcomings and where more decisive actions are needed.

While the EU acknowledges progress in Moldova in terms of economic development, it has witnessed a backsliding in the areas of the rule of law and, in particular, citizens’ rights. The European Commission, Parliament and the Member States have all expressed their concerns over the situation in Moldova.

In light of this deterioration, and in line with the principle of strict conditionality, payments under the Macro-Financial Assistance and EU budget support programmes have been put on hold, pending tangible progress in the areas already specified in the Council Conclusions of February 2018 and in those where we have been repeatedly voicing our concerns. Furthermore, the European Commission has taken the decision to substantially recalibrate its financial assistance and redirect support to projects that have a direct, positive impact on Moldovan citizens.

Taking into consideration the political context and the pre-election environment, is the Republic of Moldova on its way of approaching the EU and how willing is the EU to continue this process? Is the Association Agreement endangered by the direction of the events that take place in Chișinău?

The EU’s policy and assistance towards the Republic of Moldova remains focused on bringing tangible improvements in the lives of citizens. The EU has no intention of disengaging from the country. On the contrary, we will continue to engage by, i.a., stepping up our support for citizens’ empowerment, independent media and strategic communications. We also intend to support socio-economic development at regional level, focussing on Ungheni and Cahul. We will also continue supporting the peaceful settlement of the Transnistrian conflict and strengthening the rule of law and anti-corruption mechanisms.

The EU will remain committed to the Association Agreement as we believe the Moldovan citizens deserve better, and more specifically, they deserve the upcoming elections to be free and fair, a government committed to fight against corruption and a truly independent judiciary. The EU will continue to assist Moldova to this end, as one of our closest neighbours who made a clear European choice as testified by our Association Agreement.  But we expect the current and future Moldovan authorities to stay committed to this most ambitious agreement signed with the EU.

Our stability, security and prosperity are interdependent: a strong EU will help Moldova, and a strong Moldova will help the EU.  For such a partnership to work effectively and bear fruit, we need to rely on the establishment and proper functioning of democratic institutions, a strong and active civil society, and economic structures that facilitate and support development, inward investment, jobs and growth.

What should the priorities in the EU-Moldova relationship be and what measures should be taken considering the current situation?

The priorities in the EU-Moldova relationship are clearly stated by the Association Agreement. With signing it, Moldova decided to come closer to the EU and to adhere to our values. Moldova also committed to the swift and thorough implementation of key reforms aimed at bringing positive changes to the lives of the Moldovan people. The revised Association Agenda, setting out 13 key priorities for action, and the 20 deliverables for 2020 under the Eastern Partnership framework, also serve as practical guidance to this end.

Structural reforms are needed to create jobs and reduce poverty. But most of all, what remains absolutely crucial is building the State’s resilience, which can only be done with a genuine and decisive fight against vested interests and corruption, in order to build stronger institutions and contribute to the country’s growth. The EU stands ready to assist the Republic of Moldova to this end, but it is vital that the Moldovan authorities demonstrate their deep commitment to such values as the rule of law and democratic principles.

The EU expects the Moldovan authorities to take some urgent actions in order to redress the current situation. Our expectations concern elections, which should be credible, inclusive and transparent, but also other critical areas related to the respect of the rule of law. These include in particular:

  • a comprehensive and impartial prosecution of the banking fraud case, including in particular progress on Mr Shor’s case. The recurrent delays in judicial proceedings related to this case raise serious doubts about the credibility of efforts to prosecute this massive fraudulent scheme in a comprehensive and transparent manner. A thorough, impartial and comprehensive investigation and prosecution of the cases of the banking fraud with the aim of recovering the misappropriated funds and bringing all those responsible to justice, irrespective of any political affiliations without further delay and in full respect of the rule of law, is critical. This is what the EU has been repeatedly calling for during the past four years;
  • a substantive justice reform which is long overdue. The EU expects the Moldovan authorities to guarantee judicial accountability, transparency, impartiality and independence in line with the country’s international commitments as one of the key principles of the rule of law, a crucial element of democracy and the protection of human rights, and a long-standing expectation of the Moldovan citizens;
  • a decisive fight against high level corruption and vested interests.

Photo source: tiranatimes.com

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A cooperation agreement on preventing and combating corruption was signed between the Moldovan and Romanian Governments

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A Cooperation Agreement on Prevention and Combating Corruption was concluded today in Chisinau between the Government of Moldova and Romania.

The document was signed by the director of the National Anticorruption Center, Bogdan Zumbreanu, and the Secretary of State of the Romanian Ministry of Internal Affairs, Gheorghe Nucu Marin.

The agreement provides for the strengthening of the cooperation relations between the two governments and the creation of an interaction mechanism in the field of preventing and combating corruption.

The document also sets out the possibility of exchanging experts to identify best practices in the fight against corruption, intensifying the exchange of data and operative information, and increasing the number of joint investigation.

According to the CNA Director Bogdan Zumbreanu, the signing of the Agreement will be an important step in strengthening the cooperation relations in the field of security at the EU border, as well as the development of EU initiatives such as the Eastern Partnership and the European Neighborhood Policy.

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