Justice

THE ESCAPE OF THE OLIGARCH 

Oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc planned his escape from Moldova immediately after the parliamentary elections of February 24, 2019

Balkan Insight
Author: Mădălin Necșuțu, Ilie Gulca
14/01/2020 18084

An exclusive document obtained by the Center for Investigative Journalism in Moldova (CIJM) reveals that the former leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) readied his early leave from Moldova and the exit with his family to the West. Plahotniuc and his family are declared undesirable persons in the US.

The former leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova is in the list of ineligible persons for receiving visas published by the US State Department because of “significant corruption actions” in Moldova. Also, pleading the same cause, the US authorities declared the entire Plahotniuc family "ineligible" for visas to the US.  

„In his official capacity, Plahotniuc was involved in corrupt acts that undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Moldova”, reads the press release of the US State Department, issued on January 13.

„In addition to Plahotniuc, I am designating his wife, Oxana Childescu; his son, Timofei Plahotniuc; and his minor child”, reports American diplomacy.

„Today’s action (January 13 current year) sends a strong signal the United States does not tolerate corruption and stands with the people of Moldova in their fight against it. The Department will continue to use these authorities to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally”, concluded the US Department of State.

Chronicle of the exit

Vladimir Plahotniuc fled Moldova on the afternoon of Friday, June 14, after the fall of the Democratic Party administration and after a week of confrontations with the newly established majority, PSRM-ACUM. The Democrats' decision was made following Plahotniuc’s meeting with the US Ambassador to Moldova Dereck J. Hogan.

The US official made public the details of this meeting in the show "In Profunzime", broadcast in June 2019 by Pro TV Chisinau. The US diplomat said that "no agreement was made between the US and Plahotniuc". He added that the discussion with Vladimir Plahotniuc lasted over 15 minutes and focused on the democratic transmission of power.

The ambassador said the discussion was also influenced by the possibility of protests organized by ACUM and PSRM: "We wanted to make sure that everyone knows what our position is and what our level of readiness is to work with the new government."

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Regarding the fact that Plahotniuc would have taken refuge in Miami, the ambassador said the former Democratic leader would not enjoy any privilege there.

"It is entirely possible to be extradited. If the US Government receives such a request, it will consider it. If the merits of the case lead to the conclusion that he should be extradited, this will happen”, said the diplomat.

Following the meeting with Ambassador Hogan, Vladimir Plahotniuc left the Republic of Moldova. Although he had prepared a plane to leave the country, he left through the Transnistrian region, territory uncontrolled by the constitutional authorities of Chisinau.

MP Mihai Popșoi, former chairman of the commission of inquiry into the anti-constitutional putsch attempted by the Democratic Party, told us he owned documents showing that the oligarch would have used the car of his colleague and accomplice Vladimir Andronachi. 

It is said Plahotniuc was in Ukraine for a while, yet, the authorities of this state did not reply to the reporters' request.

Citizenships and residences

The Center for Investigative Journalism has been in possession of visa applications for the USA submitted by Vlad Plahotniuc, his wife and his sons. 

In the visa application, Plahotniuc wrote he holds the citizenship of the Republic of Moldova, Romania and the Russian Federation. Like a job, he wrote he is MP in the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova and a monthly salary of 30,000 lei. 

The former president of the PDM also wrote during April-November 2018, he visited the US five times and stayed there five to six days. In turn, his wife, Oxana Childescu, wrote in the application she holds the citizenship of Moldova, Romania and the Russian Federation. She showed a residence visa on Chemin des Mareches 17, Geneva, Switzerland, a location described in detail in an investigation by Rise Moldova.

His son, Timofei, indicated the same citizenships that he has a residence visa at the address in Geneva and he is studying at the Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Welcome to Miami

The destination chosen by the Plahotniuc family was the city of Miami, Florida, a favorite place of the Eastern European tycoons. Plahotniuc benefited from the services of Candela Eig Jurgens LLC in Miami to facilitate getting the US E-2 visa. This type of visa refers to "substantial investments" that the candidate is required to make in the US.

Preparations for leaving Moldova started in March 2019, almost three months before the fall of the Democratic government. The visa documents for the US were sent to the office of the mentioned consulting company. Under the document, Plahotniuc announced his entry into the US with his wife and two sons, on May 15, 2019. The same source reveals the former PDM leader intended to live in the US for five years.

Requested to provide information on the US visa application submitted by Plahotniuc, the consulting firm Candela Eig Jurgens LLC did not want to give us details despite repeated insistence.

After the CIJM reporters came into possession of the document, they asked Vladimir Plahotniuc's opinion on the visa application through his legal representatives, the "Efrim, Rosca and Associates" Bar Association. Only the representatives of this law company said they have no power to answer the reporters' questions.

Also, they said that they shall keep the professional secret and, therefore, in the absence of the express agreement of the client, they do not have "the right to communicate information obtained in pursuit of the profession".

The Center's reporters also called the US Embassy in Bucharest, because Vladimir Plahotniuc is also a citizen of the Romanian state and they received the following reply: "The embassy does not comment on visa cases".

Luxury and opulence

The US residence mentioned by the oligarch in the visa application is an apartment of a ten-story luxury building in the coastal area on 300 South Pointe Drive, apart. 2103, Miami Beach, FL 33139.

A US lawyer registered with the Florida Bar by the name of Mara Beth Sommers is registered as a voter at this address. The price of a 3-room apartment in this residential complex is $ 2.9 million, according to specialized web sites. The monthly rent of such an apartment is over 15,000 US dollars.

Criminal cases

Vladimir Plahotniuc is criminally investigated in the Russian Federation and in Romania. In Moldova, the first cases against him were opened only after the change of Government. 

In September 2019, the General Prosecutor's Office announced Vlad Plahotniuc is criminally investigated in a case of money laundering in, particularly large proportions.

In October 2019, anti-corruption prosecutor Viorel Morari announced that Plahotniuc is being investigated in two criminal cases. "In the first case, he is charged that in 2013-2015 he organized a money-laundering scheme through the companies which he controlled."

According to Morari, by this scheme, $ 18 million and 3.5 million euros from the three devalued banks, the Social Bank, the Savings Bank, and Unibank were laundered through off-shore companies.

The second case relates to the payments made between 2013 and 2014 from Tukumaan Limited: for "loan granting" to Finpar Invest worth $ 7,204,439, for "air transport services for passengers” to Nobil Air worth 381,344 euros, to Abd Asiana Development Limited that transferred1,550,000 euros and 1,140,000 dollars to Plahotniuc's wife on the account opened at ABLV Bank.

The head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecution added the information received from the Swiss authorities also served as the basis for starting the criminal prosecution. The two cases merged in one.

Late in October, the Anti-Corruption Prosecution seized 55 million lei in assets of the former leader of the Democratic Party, in the cases for money laundering in very large proportions.

Prosecutors announced "during the criminal prosecution, the bank accounts held by Plahotniuc in Victoriabank with 15,275,000 lei and 278,090 euros held in the bank account on behalf of a natural person in Victoriabank; 100% of the share capital of Bb-Dializă SRL, with 31,826,322 lei; the 100% share capital of Bass-Systems SRL, amounted at 2,950,000 lei and SRL Gmg Production - 10,800,000 lei” were seized.

On October 11, the magistrates of the Chisinau District Court based in Ciocana, issued an arrest warrant against Plahotniuc. This decision was taken after the former PDM leader did not appear at the criminal prosecution body when he was summoned. Late in October, Plahotniuc was put on the international and inter-state list.

Three criminal cases in the Russian Federation

Vladimir Plahotniuc is also being investigated in the Russian Federation, in three criminal cases. In the first case, Plahotniuc was suspected of attempted murder and the creation of an organized criminal group. 

In the second case, the former PDM leader is accused of organizing a criminal group and carrying out illegal currency operations, by illegally withdrawing over 37 billion rubles from Russia in 2013-2014 (with the current rate of about 560 million dollars).

The third case was opened against Plahotniuc and Constantin Ţuțu, for drug trafficking, in particularly large proportions. The investigative section of the Interior Ministry of Russia requested, on June 29 the Court in Tver, Moscow region, to issue an arrest warrant against the former PDM leader, accused of organizing a criminal group and involvement in its criminal activities.

His stay in Romania

Vladimir Plahotniuc would have been in Romania in recent months. The proof is a document of the National Anticorruption Center, by which the Moldovan authorities request the General Anticorruption Directorate of the Interior Ministry of Romania to identify Vlad Plahotniuc on the territory of Romania. 

The CNA confirmed that the former leader of the Democrats would be in Iasi, between October 25 and 28, 2019, in the area of Parhon Hospital in Copou.

The investigation was carried out within the media campaign "Investigative Reporting for Transparency and Good Governance", carried out by the Center for Investigative Journalism with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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