Economic

Vlad of Arabia: properties, interests and connections in the Middle East

Foto: AOAM
Author: Mădălin Necșuțu, Ilie Gulca
31/01/2019 11841

● The leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova Vlad Plahotniuc reported for the first time a series of business and interests in the Middle East.

● Moldova has strengthened its relations with the countries of this region in recent years. 

● One of the intermediaries is the Trans-Oil patron, Vaja Jhashi, who advised several government structures in the Middle East.

● The United Arab Emirates has been a destination for money leaks from the "Russian Laundromat" affair, as well as the "grand theft" of the billion US dollars from the Moldovan banking system.

The leader of the Democratic Party, Vlad Plahotniuc, is running for the parliamentary elections on 24 February in the uninominal constituency No. 17, Nisporeni.  According to the statements on his property and personal interests for 2018, the leader of the Democratic Party reported first time that he had income from the Middle East and that he owns companies in the tax haven Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates UEA.

Vlad Plahotniuc reported in his declaration of assets and personal interests that he is the only owner of Vangurad International LTD in the United Arab Emirates and of the Vangurad International Group LTD in the Samoa Islands. 

The information about these two companies  - Vanguard International Ltd and Vangurad International Ltd is different in the same document. These are investment companies which he had bought with   100,000 US dollars. We requested an explanation from the chairman of the PDM, but until the date of this investigation publication, we received no answer.

The Democratic leader said he obtained from Vangurad International LTD dividends worth 4,550,200 euros, 11,597,400 Moldovan lei and 347,500 US dollars.

The United Arab Emirates is one of the countries through which 434 million US dollars in the so-called "Russian Laundromat" circulated in 2011-2014. This was an organized crime financial scheme by which 20 billion dollars were obtained from Russia after making business with the state.

Also, the United Arab Emirates was one of the destinations of money leaks following the theft of the billion, revealed by Kroll's second report.

The president of Trans-Oil group of companies Vaja Jhashi on a visit in January 2018 in Dubai, UAE, together with PM Pavel Filip

Trans-Oil businesses in the Middle East
 
The UAE was not an important economic partner for Moldova since it appeared on the world political map. The two countries established diplomatic relations on December 21, 1995. Since then, and by 2017, except an attempt in 2008, Moldova has failed to increase the value of trades with the UAE.

Moldova's bilateral trades with the UAE rose to 2.47 million US dollars on the exports and 1.89 million US dollars on the imports in 2017. This amount is not even half of the revenues of Vladimir Plahotniuc's companies in the UAE.

Nevertheless, Moldovan authorities showed a sudden interest in this region in that period. This time, one of the binders for economic interests is the Trans-Oil Group, controlled by Vaja Jhashi, a businessman with three citizenships - Russian, American and Moldovan. 

The Trans-Oil Group of companies has now a monopoly over the export of cereals from Moldova. The one who granted the citizenship of Moldova to Jhashi Vaja Enricovich in 2005 was the president Vladimir Voronin.

On January 29-30, 2018, Enricovich accompanied Prime Minister Pavel Filip on a visit to the United Arab Emirates. Being asked why the President of Trans-Oil was in his delegation, Prime Minister Pavel Filip said that Enricovich knows the Middle East very well.

 "I chose him and I asked him to join me in this visit to the United Arab Emirates because he is the only person I know from Moldova who is fluent in Arabic and is a specialist in this field too", said Prime Minister Pavel Filip while explaining his relationship with Jhashi.

On the other side, requested by the Center of Investigative Journalism in Moldova, Jhashi said he does not hold any official office in the Moldovan Government.

"I do not have any official position in Moldova`s Government, neither counseling nor consultancy. This has happened (collaboration with Prime Minister Filip) because of the expertise I have in the Middle East and because I speak Arabic fluently", said the businessman. 

He requested that his statements should not be politically approached.

Also, Jhashi said that he sometimes shared his opinion on certain aspects related to the Middle East economy and some traditional problems specific to this region with several government agencies, but strictly as a particular opinion of an expert. 

Also, about two weeks after the official request, the government confirmed that Vaja Jhashi is not officially a government adviser and that his visit together with Premier Filip was made "privately,  as a private sector official".

Trans-Oil businesses in the Middle East 
 
The president of the Trans-Oil company said in October 2017 for the infomarket.md portal that he signed a 25-million-dollar contract with the Iraqi Defense Ministry for sunflower oil deliveries. In addition, the Trans-Oil Group exported products worth over  34,500,000 US dollars to the Middle East in 2017-2018. 

The largest importer of Trans-Oil products was the Ministry of Commerce of Iraq - $ 31,314,705, followed by Babylon Overseas   (FZE) - $ 2,996,216, and Taj al-Sultan Refilling LLC company - nearly $ 220,000.

Babylon Overseas (FZE) was opened in 2016 in Sharjah, UAE by Ghenadie Ostrovitchi, Stela Ostrovetchi’s husband, director of the "Floarea Soarelui" SA Balti. In March 2017, Ghenadie Ostrovetchi was replaced by a certain Muhammad Imran Abbasi in running Babylon Overseas.

Also, Babylon Overseas is the company that owns part of the business of a former major player in the field of agriculture in Romania, Adrian Porumboiu. By the end of 2015, it was taken over by Vaja Jhashi through a sophisticated scheme. Currently, the transaction is the subject of litigation that is judged by Romanian courts.

Vaja Jhashi (L) is attending an economic forum with his employee Stela Ostrovetski (C), the director of Floarea Soarelui, Balti.

The Arabic connection

The connections between Vaja Jhashi and Vladimir Plahotniuc have developed over the last few years. Vaja Jhashi is a member of the Moldovan Business People Association headed by Vlad Plahotniuc. They had common interests at Victoria Bank. Enricovich served as  First Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of this bank in December 2011.

However, the president of the Trans-Oil told the Centre for Investigative Journalism CIJM that he had never had any business or commercial relations with Plahotniuc "either in the past or present." "I have been Vlad Plahotniuc’s friend for a very long time, but, frankly, I did not even know he had interests in companies in the United Arab Emirates. Therefore, obviously, it has nothing to do with me ", he insisted.

As for his interests and the functions at Victoria Bank and the Moldovan Business People Association, Jhashi said: "As part of Victoria Bank's Board of Directors, together with six other members, I am not a business partner/shareholder with Vlad Plahotniuc. As you may know, the Board of Directors has a supervisory role."

"It is true that we are both members of the Council of the Association of Businessmen, but this is a non-profit and non-commercial entity. In my world of commerce this for sure doesn’t fall into joint business or partnership," he said.

However, Trans-Oil International has funded the Atlantic Council, an American think-tank that invited Vlad Plahotniuc (2016) and Andrian Candu (2018) to several events dedicated to international relations. Moreover, Trans-Oil has funded researches of this analytical centre about  Moldova.

Apart from relations with Plahotniuc, Jhashi is equally well connected to the entourage of Igor Dodon. The vice-president of the Trans-Oil Group is Mihail Caraseni, president Dodon's advisor on economic issues. Mihail Caraseni has a brother in the Democratic Party, Demian Caraseni.

2005 - Vaja Jhashi speaks to the ex-president of Moldova, Vladimir Voronin,
and the former Econonics Minister, Igor Dodon, the present head of the state

Formalization of new relations

Immediately after Filip's visit to the UAE, Moldova inaugurated an embassy in a luxury building in Abu Dhabi on May 10, 2018. Moldova`s ambassador to the capital of the UAE was named Victor Haruta, the son of former Chief of the Municipal Enterprise "Green Areas Management Association" in Chisinau, Eliferi Haruta.

Tudor Ulianovschi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration and the Economy and Infrastructure Minister Chiril Gaburici attended the inauguration ceremony of the new diplomatic office. 

Ulianovschi is also close to Middle East affairs. He was Head of America, Asia, Middle East and Africa Directorate of the Foreign Affairs and European Integration Ministry between 2011 and 2013 and he was in charge of Economic Affairs at Moldova`s Embassy of to Qatar in 2013 - 2014.

Tudor Ulianovschi became ambassador to Switzerland (2016-2018) and from 2018 - to present, he is head of Moldovan diplomacy at just 35 years old.

Moldovan citizenship against large money from Emirates

After Moldova`s Embassy inauguration in Abu Dhabi on July 11 2018, the Economy and Infrastructure Ministry led by Chiril Gaburici announced the signing of a public service contract for the development, implementation and international promotion of the Citizenship Acquisition Program with the consortium MIC Holding LLC and Henley & Partners Government Services Ltd.

Just the same day, on July 11, 2018, the journalists of the Maltese portal St. Lucia News wrote that MIC Holding LLC is the acronym for the Moldovan Investment Company (MIC), a company based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The Moldovan Foreign Affair Minister Tudor Ulianovschi is meeting UAE officials

The Moldovan Security and Intelligence Service SIS were not allowed to check the people beforehand. Thus, anyone, regardless of a criminal record, but with money in his pocket, can buy his Moldovan citizenship and then "whiten" the "dirty money" that he holds against a 3 per cent tax to the state.

So, shortly, in the last days of the parliamentary summer session, just before the vacation, the Parliament passed on 26 July 2018 a controversial tax reform containing provisions on tax amnesty.

This package of laws that was supposed to boost the economy, legalized in subsidiary the gain of the Moldovan citizenship in dubious conditions. There have been 5,000 citizenships that can be granted against the sum of EUR 100,000 in the Sustainable Development Fund or at least 250,000 euros in a strategic area of activity.

This double deal was immediately rated by the development partners of the Republic of Moldova. The EU and US Embassies in Chisinau, the IMF and other institutions have had virulent reactions to the decisions taken by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova.

Despite the negative reactions from the Western partners and donors of Moldova, the Government continued to promote the acquisition of Moldovan citizenship in the Middle East, namely in the United Arab Emirates.

Subsequently, on November 5, a Moldovan delegation launched internationally the "Fast-track Moldova Citizenship by Investment Programme" at the Global Residence and Citizenship Conference. The event took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

This article was written in the framework of the project “Promoting an informed and conscious vote in the parliamentary elections through a monitoring and information campaign "For a Clean Parliament 2018", implemented by ADEPT, API, CAPC and CIJM with the financial support of the Soros Foundation Moldova/Good Governance Department. The activities undertaken within the project are the responsibility of the implementers and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Soros-Moldova Foundation. 

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