Judge targeted in the investigations of the Center for Investigative Journalism stands trial for influence peddling

Cornelia Cozonac
Foto: CIJM

Judge Sergiu Arnaut from the Chisinau Court of Appeal became known to public opinion following an investigation carried out by the Center for Investigative Journalism, that revealed the arresting unreported wealth of the magistrate. The judge will stand trial for corruption and influence peddling. Anticorruption Prosecutors investigated the criminal file based on a lawyer's self-denunciation who said that he appealed to the judge to help him win more civil cases in defending his professional reputation, forcing the defendant to deny widespread information, expressing public excuses and recovering moral damages. The magistrate claimed 150,000 lei for such "services".

The lawyer who denounced Sergiu Arnaut told prosecutors that "he called on this judge to intervene on the admission of the appeal and amending the sentencing of the first court to jail time. In return for the claimed and accepted sum of EUR 20,000, the judge promised to influence the panel of judges examining the criminal case, to admit the appeal to a person, to dismiss the sentence and re-qualify the actions in an article in the Penal Code and rule a non-custodial sentence ".

The Center for Investigative Journalism wrote in 2012 about the luxury house of the magistrate Sergiu Arnaut located in the Posta Veche district of the Rascani sector in Chisinau. The 140-square-meter dwelling has construction accessories, all worth over two million lei. The building was registered to his wife's name, while the magistrate did not report it in his wealth statement. The journalistic investigation started following the notification of some tenants in the neighboring block of the magistrate's house, after having enclosed a 270 square meter plot, the last piece of public space that served as a playground and access road for the residents of this area. Following this journalistic investigation, the CNA and the Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office started a control, that was subsequently ceased. The prosecutors then admitted that they had no legal basis to accuse the magistrate of false statements and concealment of property, as he was divorced since 2004, and all the properties were registered to his former wife. The fact that the magistrate lived, according to the journalistic investigation, in the same house as his former wife, was too weak to bring the case to court, said in 2012 the head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office Viorel Morari: "The fact that they live together shows that he uses these goods, but the provisions of the law until 2012 do not oblige the official to report on the properties he uses. He has to report what he owns. He could do it, but from the point of view of criminal law, we cannot accuse him. "

Judge Arnaut intimidated Viorica Zaharia, reporter of the Center for Investigative Journalism when she went to get a response to unreported wealth and enclosed plot of the dwelling. The magistrate took her out of the courtroom, calling the security guards to take her out of the court building. Moreover, the magistrate's wife, who filed a lawsuit against Chisinau City Hall to legalize the abusively confined area, threatened on phone the author of the investigation.

In 2015, the National Integrity Commission (the current National Integrity Authority) carried out a check and found that one third of a 70-square-meter apartment and a 46-square-meter garage are registered to the magistrate's name. The CNI adopted a finding document that ruled that the judge had violated the legal regime of declaring incomes and property because he did not report the house registered in documents to his former wife's name which he uses. The CNI then asked the Prosecutor General's Office to start a criminal case for false statements in the wealth declaration but the law enforcement rejected the request.

The last wealth statement of magistrate Sergiu Arnaut dates 2016, in which he reported incomes of over 400,000 lei, cumulated from the salary from the Court of Appeal, pension and indemnity, as well as over 41,000 lei as deposit interest. The house in the Posta Veche sector is not included in the last wealth statement, the documents show the apartment and the garage, as well as two cars - a BMW and a GAZ. The latter cost 10,000 lei and was bought in 2014. The magistrate opened four bank deposits worth over half a million lei.

Cornelia Cozonac

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