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The Troika Laundromat: The traces left in Moldova by the huge money laundering machine

Laundromats are mind-boggling frameworks for moving cash. They allow corrupt government officials, organized crime figures, and oligarchs to secretly invest their dirty money or perform other intentions.

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Troika Laundromat is one of the biggest leaks of bank documents. It comprises over 1.3 million transactions from 233,000 companies and individuals, totaling more than €300.000.000.000. The data is a compilation of documents coming from several sources and obtained by the OCCRP and the Lithuanian portal 15min.lt.

Documents have been provided to 23 media partners worldwide, including RISE Moldova journalists.

The cross-border investigation shows how billions of dollars have been washed by opaque companies and banks that were later closed. Among the major beneficiaries are Russian oligarchs and politicians. They secretly purchased shares in state-owned companies, bought luxury homes, paid their children’s studies to British or Swiss schools, and settled medical bills.

The name of the leak #TroikaLaundromat – comes from the Russian investment company “Troika Dialog”, connected to the Russian Armenian banker – Ruben Vardanyan. Billion dollars flowed from Russia into UKIO Bankas (Lithuania), under the aegis of Troika Dialog. Part of the money came to Russian laundry companies.

Caption: Sergiu Brega / OCCRP

Troika Laundromat did leave traces in the Republic of Moldova.

In the first case, we show how three companies registered in Chisinau were used in financial engineering that washed over $100.000.000. Under fictitious contracts signed in Moscow and Kiev, the money was leaked from the accounts of the three savings bank companies to those of some offshore companies from a Lithuanian bank. Transactions were made at the same time as the famous tax fraud in Russia known as the Magnitski case, but there is also a close connection with fuel fraud at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow.

The Magnitski case

The Magnitski case became globally known after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitski discovered (in 2007) the $230.000.000 theft from the Russian treasury, and two years later he died in a prison in Moscow because of torture and lack of assistance medical.

Money in Russia then disappeared in offshore firms. On their way to tax havens, where real beneficiaries hide, the millions of dollars have gone through a number of foreign companies, including Moldovan companies. Among them are Bunicon Impex SRL – headquartered in a deserted house in the center of Chisinau and owned by the Transnistrian region.

Local businesses held accounts with Banca de Economii. Hence, the money transferred to their accounts has been redirected to several outside banks, including UKIO Bankas in Lithuania.

In 2013, the Lithuanian authorities closed UKIO Bankas, and Banca de Economii closed its doors over two years, amid the disappearance of $1.000.000.000 from the banking system in the Republic of Moldova.

Caption: A client at the door of the UKIO Bankas, closed by the authorities in 2013. PHOTO: Erikas Ovkarenko / 15min.lt

The Magnitski connection

Among the Troika Laundromat bank records, we found nine fictitious contracts worth more than $100.000.000, concluded by three Moldovan companies with several offshore companies. Transactions were made using the same pattern used in the Magnitski case.

In most contracts, it is indicated that they were signed in Moscow in 2006-2009 and only two of them have been signed in Kiev.

The first was concluded on December 28, 2006. According to the contract, Whitmore Limited, a British phantom company, undertakes to provide equipment worth $25.000.000 to Avertas-Prim SRL in Moldova. The last one had the accounts opened at Banca de Economii.

For more details on the Troika Laundromat, read here or here.

Justice

Members of the ‘ACUM’ opposition bloc have sent an address to the National Bank of Moldova on the theft of the bill

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Four deputies from the ‘ACUM’ opposition bloc sent an address to the NBM on the theft of the bill. Lawmakers asked how much money they paid for the two Kroll reports, but they also asked for copies of documents. Furthermore, they asked for details about the case of Ilan Shor vs Kroll, given that the former mayor of Orhei previously declared that he would sue the company.

Photo: Ilan Shor

In addition, MEPs have called for the amounts of remuneration derived from the two contracts for Kroll to be announced and the exact dates at which the Kroll payments and the amounts paid were made. The copy certified by the leadership of the National Bank of Moldova of the Kroll 1 report as well as the Kroll 2 report.

“Taking into account that Ilan Shor sued Kroll in court in the UK, we ask you to inform us if the British authorities and/or institutions have requested information from the NBM about the Ilan Shor vs the Kroll case,” the address says.

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Justice

Another break in the Ilan Shor’s file. But what is the reason for postponing the court hearing at the Cahul Court of Appeal?

For half a year in Ilan Shor’s criminal file had no productive session at the Court of Appeal Cahul. All of the meetings were postponed because the expertise required by lawyers was not completed. However, this didn’t seem to be in his way of becoming a deputy, writes ZdG.

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Detained in May 2015, Ilan Shor was sentenced to seven years and six months imprisonment for scam and money laundering (in 2017), but the court ordered the punishment to be validated only after it became final.

Although the Shor file has been for a year on the magistrates’ bench at the Cahul Court of Appeal, most court hearings in this file were postponed after lawyers of the mayor of Orhei asked for financial-accounting expertise. Neither lawyers nor prosecutors provide much detail about the essence of this expertise.

The last session of the Shor’s file was postponed on February 20th, and a new hearing would be held today. But this was postponed, this time because judges are not available. Thus, Ilan Shor will appear before the judges only on May 20, when the new meeting was scheduled.

Source: ZdG

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Justice

Why the citizens of the Republic of Moldova are not protected by the rule of law or the moment when the equal justice crushed

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The rule of law offers protection for citizens. It prevents the authority to use their power arbitrarily and provides protection for the citizens. We are all equal before the law. This is what all law books usually teach us. But are citizens really protected by the rule of law when the justice is in the hands of a very small group of people?

People of Moldova don’t trust the Moldovan justice. An opinion poll conducted by USAID in 2018 showed that only 16% of population trust the justice of the Republic of Moldova, whereas 19% of people trust the Moldovan judges, 20% trust prosecutors, 33% trust lawyers and 28% of the population consider that they can count on policemen.

The authors of the study showed that the perception of corruption is even greater in the case of those who have had to deal with the judiciary system. More than half of the respondents think that an average citizen gets behind bars faster than the one who has money.

Moldovan lawyers who work in the judicial system and have an inside information consider it relatively corrupt and unfair as well. More than 60% of Moldovan lawyers believe that the justice sector is still corrupt, and 19% believe corruption is widespread even at the level of the leadership of the institutions, according to a survey conducted in 2019 at the request of the Centre for Legal Resources in Moldova cited by Ziarul de Gardă.

“When people see resonant cases where the violation of the basic human rights happened, such as the right of examining cases in a public trial, obviously they think: they do this in the case of people who held positions, but what would happen in my case if I get to court?” declared the expert of the Centre for Legal Resources in Moldova,  Nadejda Hriptievschi, for RFE/RL.

Well, it seems that today, being a state official in the Republic of Moldova and making some inconvenient statements about the government puts you in great danger. Some experts call it a beginning of dictatorship, others an oligarchy in its most pervert form. No matter what it is called. Its consequences are important.

Recently, the former employee of the National Post Service, Sergiu Cebotari, made an in-court testimony regarding the schemes from 2016 of trafficking anabolic steroids through the postal service of the country. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in a semi-open regime penitentiary and had to pay damages of 299 thousand lei, in a criminal case for embezzling foreign property and using forced labour. Sergiu Cebotari left the country before being sentenced, being declared politically persecuted, according to the statements of the leader of the Dignity and Truth Platform Party (DTPP), Andrei Năstase. The accused didn’t confess and claimed that the file was politically charged.

A similar recent case was registered for a former border policeman, the DTPP activist and a former parliamentary candidate, Gheorghe Petic, who was sentenced to three years and six months in a semi-opened regime prison and had to pay a fine of 30,000 lei in a criminal case for rape and domestic violence. The hearings were held behind the close doors and the victim filed testimony in court in the absence of Petic. The accused had no opportunity to ask questions, as his lawyer, Angela Istrate, declared.

Gheorghe Petic believes that the criminal prosecution on his name is caused by his statements on cigarette smuggling schemes, involving the leadership of the Border Police of Moldova and of Romania. “After I disclosed the smuggling schemes, my family and I started to be intimidated. I was called an FSB agent, a smuggler, I was attacked at a parking lot in Ungheni, accused of harassing my so-called students whom I didn’t even know,” declared Petic cited by Newsmaker.

He also announced that his e-mail and his Facebook page had been broken and that a post was published from his name stating that he supported the DTPP only for financial rewards.

In the meantime, a new hearing will be held in another file addressing Gheorghe Petic, as Ziarul de Gardă reported. This time, Petic is being investigated for hooliganism. According to Petic’s lawyer, the case was recently opened on the basis of an event that occurred in 2003.

“They have found dubious people who do not even remember how the events happened. They made false statements. It’s an absurd accusation without any evidence, based only on statements of some dubious people who are not sure in what year the incident took place and how it happened. In the absence of conclusive evidence, I am guilty of committing an act of hooliganism in 2004, when it was actually in 2003. But because the limitation period was over, they decided to change and open the file in 2004,” Gheorghe Petic previously declared.

In February 2019, Ziarul de Gardă wrote about differentiated approaches in the cases of Gheorghe Petic and Ilan Șor, both of them being election candidates and both of them being investigated in criminal cases. The difference is that in case of Gheorghe Petic the court decided not to release Gheorghe Petic from arrest, even though he was a registered candidate on the lists of the political bloc ACUM at the parliamentary elections in 2019.

In the case of Ilan Șor, four years ago, the court decided to release him from home arrest, so as not to hinder his right to candidate for mayor of Orhei. Ilan Şor was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, but because the sentence is not final, the politician is still free.

“During the electoral period, the candidates can’t be dismissed or transferred to another job or position without their consent and can’t be found criminally liable, arrested, detained and can’t be a subject to administrative sanctions without the consent of the electoral body that registered them, with except for flagrant offenses,” says the Electoral Code of the Republic of Moldova.

There are a lot of questions raised regarding the reasons why the Kroll 2 report was not published yet and why the list of people involved in the Great Moldovan Bank Robbery ended when Veaceslav Palton and Vladimir Filat were imprisoned.

“The Kroll 2 report is kept secret and nobody has access to it, as if it were the atom bombs launch codes. Only few names are kept so well and so much in our country. Usually, all secrets are revealed much faster. It’s the name of Vlad Plahotniuc that could be so fiercely protected. The government has only one method to prove the opposite – to publish the Kroll 2 report,” Dumitru Alaiba, the member of the political bloc ACUM, wrote in a Facebook post.

According to the World Justice Project (WJP) Report for 2019, the Republic of Moldova is comparable to China and Vietnam when it comes to the Rule of Law Index, calculated based on 8 factors: constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice.

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