Justice

„Stemma” of justice

Mai mulți dintre membrii Consiliului Superior al Magistraturii au mai multe rude în sistemul judecătoresc. Foto: zdg.md
Author: Victor Moșneag, Anatolie Eșanu, Ziarul de Gardă
28/09/2017 10376

They have been colleagues at the Faculty of Law and now they are acting as judges, lawyers or prosecutors. Some of these are god-parents, god-sons while others - spouses, sons, daughters, brothers or sisters. All of them claim that personal relationships do not prevent them from being objective, in a country where most citizens perceive justice as the most corrupt field.

In 2013, Ziarul de Garda (Zdg) revealed how the lawyer Iurie Guriev, god father of judge Oxana Banari (Mironov) who was serving  at that time at the Donduseni District Court, did not request the magistrate's appeal in a case when after his client admitted his guilt, received the minimum penalty established by the law from the judge. "If we're gonna take it that way, we're all godfathers here, at the Court of Appeal, at the Supreme Court. I cannot be influenced by a god father”, said Banari.  The system has tolerated this case, and the magistrate has not been punished, on contrary, she has been promoted in 2014 till age limit, and in 2016 she was appointed examining judge at the Balti Court by transfer. Moreover, we find that the judge’s husband, Grigore Mironov is a lawyer.

Poalelungi’s wife, niece and godson work in justice. Harunjen’s brother is a lawyer  

Mihai Poalelungi, president of the Supreme Court of Justice. Photo: zdg.md

This is not the only case.  Moldovan justice is made of former colleagues of faculty, god sons, god parents or family members. Mihai Poalelungi, the president of the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ), is married to Elena Poalelungi, employed at the Ministry of Justice. She has been serving as head of the Judicial Authority since 2013. Maria Alexei, former Cozma, the niece of the SCJ president, is a judge at the Chisinau District Court, being appointed in office in 2014. She worked at the Rascani District Court that was headed by Oleg Melniciuc, one of Poalelungi's god sons. Maria Alexei worked there as head of the secretariat. Today, Melniciuc, who is being prosecuted for illicit enrichment, is also a magistrate at the Chisinau District Court. "Poalelungi's wife, Elena Poalelungi, has been working at the Ministry of Justice since 1996. She was not employed in the ministry in 2013," reads a reply from SCJ.

General prosecutor Eduard Harunjen’s brother is a lawyer too.  Artur Harunjen was the defendant's lawyer in a case handled by the Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office, while the current Prosecutor General was Head at Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. Eduard Harunjen informed us that his brother gave up shortly representing that client. Eduard Harunjen’s daughter Adelina, is also a lawyer, graduate of the Faculty of Law of the Free International University of Moldova. “Initially, my brother has been prosecutor for 7 years. He has become a licensed lawyer some years ago. I tell you I never interfere and I never did, but as a problem it can be approached any time. I cannot forbid him, I cannot do anything. He has children, family, and earns his money from his profession. We do not meet to discuss these issues. But you know, the wife of a former prosecutor was a lawyer. And that cannot be avoided. I cannot find a solution in this situation for myself. I have no right to forbid him to practice the job of a lawyer. The only thing I can do is to be integral and that's what I'm trying to do, but I cannot forbid them and I do not know if I have the moral right to do that", said Eduard Harunjen.

Godsons and godparents of deputy prosecutors of the general prosecutor

General prosecutor Eduard Harunjen presents his deputy prosecutors. Photo:procuratura.md

Harunjen's deputy prosecutor Igor Popa is the god son of Nicolae Chitoroaga, head of the Prosecutor's Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Causes (PCCOCS). Popa's wife, Ala, is a lawyer. Also, Igor Popa's god son is Ruslan Toma, a prosecutor for special missions within the General Prosecutor's Office. Mircea Rosioru, the president of the Superior Council of Prosecutors (CSP) and another deputy prosecutor of the Prosecutor General, is the god son of Maxim Gropa, prosecutor in PCCOCS while Victor Garaba, the brother of the third deputy prosecutor of the Prosecutor General  Iurie Garaba, is the god father of the prosecutor of the Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office (PA), Vitalie Galeru.

Rosioru says that the relationship with Maxim Gropa has not caused conflicts of interest. "I started my activity in the prosecutor's office earlier, in 2001, he came in 2002 in the same prosecutor's office of Hincesti district. I was the oldest in the family, which is why following the traditions; in 2007 he became my godfather. We have had a good relationship from the very beginning. I have never been his subordinate and he hasn’t been either.  Yes, we were in the Hancesti Prosecutor's Office and in the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office, but we were both executing prosecutors. Two years ago, when the contest for the position of prosecutor of the district Ialoveni was announced, Mr. Gropa participated in that contest. I made a statement of abstinence and, although everyone thought about relations of nepotism, Mr. Gropa was not selected. There are moral rules that you need to keep in mind. If desired, situations of conflict of interest can be avoided ", says the president of CSP.

Brothers Balan: One accuses Gacikevici, other defends Shor

Anticorruption prosecutor Eugen Balan. Photo: realitatea.md

Other curious case is that of the anti-corruption prosecutor Eugen Balan, Iulian Balan's brother, one of the lawyers of the mayor of Orhei, Ilan Shor. Prosecutor Balan handles important cases on BEM fraud, including the one involving Grigore Gacikevici, the former president of the financial institution, Shor's predecessor. "I handle my cases involving Banca de Economii in the period of Grigore Gacikevici. I am responsible just for the period of Gacikevici. Everyone knows about it and therefore, I cannot handle any materials or cases that will cause conflicts of interest, "says prosecutor Eugen Balan.

Lawyer Iulian Balan. Photo: facebook.com/IulianBalan

"There was once such a situation, but in a case that is not involving Banca de Economii. I automatically reported to the manager. It's a natural situation, they all have brothers. In that case, I quitted being a prosecutor, the case was sent to another colleague. Otherwise, it is inadmissible. You should refrain from the case. It's a normal thing, especially that  we live in a small country, where theoretically speaking, potential conflicts of interest are possible, and then the superiors must be announced to avoid any suspicion of corruption, or, I know ... It is a legal procedure that allows you to distance yourself from such a matter", said prosecutor Balan.

Prosecutor has relatives at the National Anticorruption Center

Otilia Nicolai, head of the Agency for Criminal Assets Recovery

Prosecutor of Chisinau Prosecutor’s office Anatolie Taietu is the husband of Otilia Nicolai, head of the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency within the National Anticorruption Center (NAC). Their god son Roman Morozan  is employed at NAC, just like the couple's god father Mihail Cojocaru, who serves the post of Deputy Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division within the institution. "We confirm that Otilia Nicolai is Anatolie Taietu’s wife. These persons have been employed based on professional criteria within CCECC since the institution set up. At present, they do not have any professional relationship that can influence in any way the job duties, in line with the law", reads a reply from the NAC.

As for the religious relations between Otilia Nicolai, Mihai Cojocaru and Roman Morozan, NAC claims that it cannot confirm it, given that "religious affinity relations have no attribution or impact on professional activity and are not governed by any law, including the Law on conflict of interest.  "Most of the major prosecutors are god sons or have joint god sons”, said a prosecutor, on condition of anonymity, in a discussion about "family" relationships of state accusers.

Family Clevadi and family Sarcu do justice

Iulia Sarcu, judge at SCJ. Photo: inj.md

Valentina Clevadi, judge at SCJ, who recently filed a resignation request, is Natalia Clevadi's mother, magistrate at the Chisinau District Court based in Rascani. The sons of the judge from SCJ activate in justice. Grigore Clevadi is a prosecutor in the Prosecutor's Office in Hincesti District and his brother, Igor, is a lawyer. The prosecutor’s wife works at the Chisinau customs office and the lawyer’s wife serves as a judiciary assistant at the SCJ.

Ala Cobaneanu, magistrate at SCJ. Photo: magistrat.md

Iulia Sarcu, judge at SCJ, is the wife of former prosecutor Isai Sarcu. Their daughter, Diana Sarcu-Scobioala, is the head of the National Institute of Justice, and her daughter in law is Tatiana Molcianova, magistrate appointed in 2011 at the Basarabeasca Court. In 2014, she was transferred to Anenii Noi, and in 2016, also by transfer, she was appointed at Chisinau Court. The magistrate’s husband, Iulia and Isai Sarcu’s son is the prosecutor Artur Sarcu, who works at PCCOCS.

Another SCJ magistrate Ala Cobaneanu is a relative of the judge Nicolai Sova from Botanica District Court and on her brother’s side, she is relative with Nelea Budai, deputy chairperson of Chisinau Court of Appeal (CA). Several cases are examined at Chisinau CA by Nelea Budai and at SCJ - by Ala Cobaneanu. In a reply from the SCJ, we are informed that Nicolae Sova is  the “ niece’s husband on brother’s line” of the  judge Cobaneanu and that the judge "always abstains from the judgments handed down by Mr. Sova in SCJ and are assigned to trial. Judge Nelea Buda is not his relative. The latter is a relative of the brother of the judge Cobaneanu”, reads the SCJ note.

God fathers from SCJ

Oleg Sternioala, judge at SCJ. Photo: zdg.md

Another judge from SCJ, Oleg Sternioala is married to Elena Tudoran, a former officer of the court. Lawyer Iurie Tabarcea is their god father. According to the information provided by ZdG, Iurie Tabarcea  is Marcel Tabarcea’s cousin, the head of the Integrity Management Division at the NAC. "Marcel Tabarcea is a relative of Iurie Tabarcea. Their professional activity does not interfere in any way", confirmed the NAC. Sternioala is god father of judge Victor Burduh, deputy-chairman of the Chisinau Court. Burduh was among the guests at Sternioala's wedding in 2014. “His god father (of Sternioala) is Iurie Tabarcea, but he does not know whether the latter had or has pending cases at SCJ, as lawyer. Victor Burduh was invited to his wedding and Mr. Sternioala is the god father of Mr. Burduh’s daughter. However, these circumstances do not influence on the quality of his justice act ", wrote SCJ.

Judge Ion Guzun from SCJ , besides being a colleague of faculty with Mihai Poalelungi, is also a god father of the head from SCJ. This information was confirmed by the two judges. His wife, Maria Guzun is magistrate at CA Chisinau.

Ion Druta, judge at SCJ. Photo:zdg.md

In 2016, in a case  from SCJ, former judge Domnica Manole called for the recusal of judge Ion Druta from the examination of a case on the grounds that he was god father of Mariana Pitic, magistrate from the SCJ. Her request was rejected. Druta and Pitic are colleagues of panel in the Supreme Court.  Druta is the god son of Alexandru Ciugureanu, son of former magistrate Mihail Ciugureanu. Nina, Alexandru's mother, currently investigated in a criminal case  on land, is a lawyer. «Mr. judge Ion Druta is not god father of Mrs. Judge Mariana Pitic. He has not baptized Mrs. Pitic's children, nor vice versa", points SCJ with reference to the information concerning Ion Druta, without confirming or negating the relations between Druta and Ciugureanu.

Plesca refrained from Cazacu’s case, dismissed by the Court of Appeal

Ion Plesca, president of the Court of Appeal Chisinau. Photo: zdg.md

Chairman of CA Chisinau Ion Plesca refrained from the case of Ion Cazacu, the former president of the Glodeni District Court, suspended from office and investigated for passive corruption, after he bribed ten thousand lei. Cazacu was acquitted by the first two courts, including by Chisinau CA, but recently the SCJ handed over the case to the court, headed by Plesca. On August 1, 2017, the SCJ examined a motion by Victor Muntean, a prosecutor in the  Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office (PA), requesting Cazacu's case not to be examined at CA Chisinau, "in order to remove any doubts of partiality, by virtue of the function previously served by the son of the accused Ion Cazacu - Ion Cazacu (son with the same name), who acted as officer at CA Chisinau, exercised his duties under the direct control of the president of this court". SCJ rejected the request, stating that Cazacu's son was no longer active in the court since September 18, 2015. Previously, in June 2016, Ion Plesca filed a statement on abstaining from prosecuting the criminal case involving Ion Cazacu after the case was assigned to him, invoking the same reason.

Ghenadie Lisii and Ion Plesca, members of the same panel of judges 

Now, Cazacu's case is being investigated by judge Ghenadie Lissii, a former faculty colleague of Ion Plesca. Also, Lisii is the godfather of his colleague of faculty and court Anatolie Pahopol, information that was confirmed by the representatives of CA Chisinau, who informed us that these relations are considered when the panel of judges is formed. Judge Pahopol's wife, Natalia, is a lawyer. "I refrained from Cazacu's case. His son went to the US 3 years ago”, said Ion Plesca. The wife of the chairman of CA Chisinau, Tatiana Plesca, is a lawyer. In a previous interview for ZdG, she said that, in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, she did not participate in court cases handled by her husband. Diana Plesca, the daughter of the two, is a criminal prosecution officer at the NAC, being appointed in office in April, 2016.

Other magistrates from CA Chisinau have relatives in justice field. Judge Serghei Furdui, whose son Alexandru has graduated from the Faculty of Law, is the god father of his colleague, Vladislav Clima, also, he is the son of Chief of Judicial Inspection at the Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM), Nicolae Clima. The relations between Clima and Furdui were confirmed by CA Chisinau. Also, there are relations promoted in the same court. Judge Maria Moraru is Ion Moraru’s  former wife, the lawyer who was involved in corruption scandals, has lost, and later recovered the license several times  in  the courts. Viorel Moraru, one of their sons, wants to become a bailiff, and Eduard Moraru, the other son is a lawyer but wishes to become a judge. Also, Iurie Melinteanu works at CA Chisinau. His son, lawyer Dorin Melinteanu and Ion Moraru were involved in criminal cases.

Judges in-laws

Igor Manascurta, judge at CA Chisinau, former magistrate at the Ciocana Court in Chisinau, is married to Carolina Manascurta-Pascari, a lawyer at the "Fenix" office, which, coincidentally or not, is located just outside the Ciocana Court. Her father, Ghenadie Pascari, is a lawyer in the same office.

The same applies for Igor Barbacaru, judge at the Chisinau Court of Appeal. Constanta Barbacaru, his wife, is a lawyer-trainee, she was activating in 2015 in the office founded by the current SCM member, Gheorghe Avornic. The judge's mother, Zinaida Barbacaru, is also a lawyer, she works in the Rascani sector, where her son acts as a judge. Father in law of magistrate Igor Barbacaru is Ghenadie Morozan, a former judge at Rascani District Court, promoted in 2015 at CA Chisinau. Morozan has connections with Vladimir Plahotniuc, the leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova. Morozan's brother, Eduard, is married to the politician's sister, Vera.

A SCJ decision requesting the recusal of the Supreme Court Judge Maria Ghervas from examining a case reads that Garri Bivol, magistrate of the Chisinau District Court based in Centru, investigated in the $ 20 billion laundry case, is the husband of judge Valentina Garabagiu, employed at the Chisinau Court, Botanica. From the same document we find that the suspended magistrate is a relative of Maria Ghervas, who, in turn, is the wife of the prosecutor Iurie Ghervas.

Avornic „Clan” in Justice

Couple Avornic, god father of about 28 couples. Photo: facebook.com

Lawyer Gheorghe Avornic, member of the SCM has dozens of relationships in the system. In an interview for the “Nunta” magazine, in 2015, when he had at least 25 god sons, Avornic said that most of them were former students at the faculty of law. "We have two cousins ​​of mine, a cousin of my wife and her brother. The rest of them are not relatives. Mostly, they are my former students. Why did they choose a teacher to be a godfather? I think I was an example for them ", said Gheorghe Avornic, who have about 28 god sons. Among them is Violeta Cojocaru, university professor and Avornic’s colleague in the SCM. Also, Avornic is the godfather of Veaceslav Stejar, manager of insolvency procedures, lawyer Corneliu Turcanu, and magistrate Veronica Negru, promoted in 2015 at CA Chisinau. The latter is the sister in law of Alexandru Negru, judge at the Chisinau District Court based in Buiucani. She was appointed in office in 2014.

Tatiana Craiu, Gheorghe Avornic’s sister, who received the lawyer's license in 2002, is married to Nicolae Craiu judge at SCJ, appointed in 2016 by Parliament, based on a competition organized by the SCJ. Their son, Sergiu Craiu, is a lawyer. Maria Negru, Avornic's other sister, is a judge at CA Chisinau, being promoted to office in 2014, while his brother already worked at the SCM. "I think that, in fact, nepotism is not a vice, this is a tradition for us, and if one employs a godfather, it means that he/she trusts you. This is called a recommendation all over the world, we call it "cumatrism," (nepotism), added his wife Ana in the same interview for “Nunta” magazine, when she was asked whether the Avornic family had ever been accused of nepotism".

"First of all, we all were in different systems, and each one had own work. The systems did not interfere. Only at the SCM, but I've always abstained. There were two cases with my sister and one with my brother-in-law. Three times and I have never participated. I have never had other cases ", says Gheorghe Avornic, asked if his kinship relations could create conflicts of interest. Neither as a lawyer, says Avornic, he did not have such a situation.

Relations of SCM members

Dorel Musteata, another member of the SCM, is the god son of the couple Veronica Cupcea, the president of the Orhei Court, and Evghenii Sanduta, a former magistrate at CA Chisinau. Musteata's wife, Rodica Bevziuc, is a lawyer, licensed since 2002, specialized in civil and criminal litigation. "I do not participate in solving cases that are being examined at SCM with the participation of Mrs. Cupcea. I abstain. When we chose godson, none was court president, "Musteata explains. "While I was chairman of the court and as long as I worked in Anenii Noi court, my wife did not handle any case in the Anenii Noi court. What else should my wife do? We learned together, we got married", concludes Dorel Musteata.

Nina Cernat, member of the SCM on behalf of judges from the Courts of Appeal, has relatives in the judiciary. Her husband, Stefan Rusu, has his office on Teilor Street, in the immediate vicinity of CA Chisinau, where his wife will return after the mandate at SCM expires. Cernat is a former colleague at SCJ of Ion Muruianu, former chairman at SCJ, current  judge at CA Chisinau. Muruianu’s daughter in law, Maria, is a judge at the Chisinau District Court based in Buiucani and his wife, Ludmila is a public notary.

Turcan: "Maybe they deserve, but they are not promoted because of me"

Anatolie Turcan, member of SCM. Photo: zdg.md

Another SCM member, Anatolie Turcan, is the godfather of Iurie Potanga, magistrate at the Chisinau District Court, based in Buiucani. Turcan says that his god son has never been favored. "Once, when I was running as candidate at CA Chisinau, I abstained, and he did not pass the contest and since then he has not participated in order to prevent conflicts of interest.  We have not spoken so often lately, I  saw him this spring last. The god father-god son relations are not the same for everyone. Some of them are closer, especially when you have a god son among relatives. I did not know him. By the way, I have another god son, he is a judge,, Martinenco (Veaceslav, judge at Chisinau Court, n.r.). The same case, his father asked me to be his god father. He's a judge at Ciocana now, he was an officer of the court. He is a boy who worked by himself to become a judge", says the SCM member, who considers family relationships could have disadvantaged his godsons. "Maybe they deserve it, but because of me they are not promoted. Maybe even SCM colleagues, when  Potanga ran for the post, they felt somehow intimidated not to leave the impression that they voted him because he was on behalf of  Turcan", says Anatolie Turcan.

The SCM member also says none of his children studied law, in order to avoid conflicts of interest. "I have four children. My daughter studies architecture, my son studied physics in Iasi, now in the army, in America. Father is a judge and the son is a soldier.  Of four children, none studied Law, to prevent the so called conflicts of interest", says the magistrate.

SCM: „No notifications on conflicts of interests”

Neither the SCM nor the major courts in the country registered conflicts of interest. I asked the SCM how many sanctions were applied in the past three years for not declaring conflicts of interest by judges in the cases examination, who they are and what violations have been established. In a written reply sent to us, SCM informed us that "there is not notification on a possible conflict of interest involving a judge in the Chancellery of the Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM). No such cases were referred to the bodies subordinated to the SCM. This violation is not subject to the Law on Disciplinary Liability of Judges and SCM or its subordinate bodies are not responsible to verify these issues. The National Integrity Authority (ANI) is the competent body for verifying the requested information", reads the reply.

Neither SCJ  registers requests for abstentions from the examination of cases, because of incompatibility, nor is there a register  about family relationship of judges. "However, we mention that personal data of the employees are reflected in the personal case. They are checked by the HR Department. Thus, the circumstances are thoroughly analyzed at the time of employment or promotion, in order to observe the legal restrictions in the public service hierarchy ", informs the SCJ.

Also, the Supreme Court informs us that "at the moment of the registration of each case, by the person in charge within the Section of procedures control, they check  a possible incompatibility of the court judges according to the restrictions provided by the Civil Procedure Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. Thus, at the rubric  "incompatible judges" clause in the Integrated Case Management Program (ICMP), the collaborator is obliged to enter the name of the judge who previously participated in the trial as a judge in the hierarchically inferior court, whether he participated in the prosecution and has ruled on the case. The officer of the court is responsible for identifying the judge's incompatibility in the two situations described above. Thus, judges are identified from the start in the ICMP as incompatible magistrates, without a separate request to the judge to do so. In other circumstances provided by the legal framework, the obligation to communicate this fact lies with the magistrates. "

SCJ: „Love must not condemned if it exists”

The fact that families have been founded in which both spouses are lawyers must not be condemned. If it exists, love must not be condemned. It is one of the innumerable ways of life. What is to be condemned is the lack of independence and impartiality of judges and the failure to comply with their obligation to refrain from trial when the law requires in concrete cases. The mere fact that a judge has relatives in the judiciary or that they are members of other legal professions does not mean lack of independence and impartiality in general. It would be a logical error", reads a reply of SCJ.

Asked about  possible conflicts of interest prevention at the Court of Appeal, the court president, Ion Plesca said that "it is about the  Code of Ethics. But, I did not have that kind of information. I do not even have the right to punish. I can only suggest that he does not do that anymore, but I did not have such information. The judge must be right in every situation, "says Plesca.

Radu Turcanu, the chairman of the Chisinau District Court, announced that there is no evidence in the court over the number of judges who refrain from examining a case because of conflicts of interest. "We also inform you that, under the Law on the declaration of assets and personal interests, the appropriate registers are kept in the Chisinau Court in line with the annexes to this Law",  Turcanu writes in a reply on the matter.

 (To be continued)

The investigation was accomplished under the project "Mobilizing Civil Society to Support Integrity in the Justice Sector in Moldova", carried out by the Center for Investigative Journalism and Freedom House, with the financial support of the US State Department.

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