VIDEO // Story of a bribe for prosecutors
A "remuneration" of 235 thousand euros would have determined the Anticorruption prosecutors to stop the criminal prosecution and to release a businessman suspected of money laundering in particularly large proportions. The intermediary who filmed with the hidden camera the moment when the money was transmitted to a prosecutor, reported the case to the Anti-corruption Prosecutor's Office. The case was covered up and the complaint was removed from the record.
From trafficker to creative man and patron
The businessman who was investigated by the CNA (National Anticorruption Center) for money laundering is Gheorghe Vîrtosu and lives in the village of Mălăești, Orhei district. In the early 1990s, he managed to emigrate to the UK and after a few years he got British citizenship. In 2004, Gheorghe Vîrtosu is imprisoned in France and was sentenced to eight years in prison for human trafficking. Also, the court ruled seizure of the real estate and the luxury car, owned by Vîrtosu, as well as over 300 thousand pounds, owned by Vîrtosu in the bank. The press wrote at the time that Vîrtosu would be the head of the largest network of trafficking in humans for brothels in Europe.
While he was serving his sentence, Gheorghe Vârtosu began to write prose, his books "O inima de broscuta" and "Destin incarcerat" being appreciated by critics in Europe. Being in prison, the Bessarabian from Mălăești discovers another vocation, painting. Later, his works reach exhibitions of several art galleries outside the country.
After he was released, Gheorghe Vîrtosu returns to his native village, Mălăești, and begins to build houses for himself and for his family members, restores the parental house which he transforms into a museum, arranges a park and begins the construction of a library. Also, Vîrtosu starts the construction of a refrigerated warehouse, where at present most of the agricultural producers keep the fruits.
Villagers praise Vîrtosu: he sponsored the kindergarten and the school, created jobs and he did only good deeds for the village.
Gheorghe Vîrtosu did not reply to our request to discuss. We met his sister, Iulia in the park in Mălăești. The woman informed us that her brother did not want to appear in public and that he "took up painting".
Gheorghe Vîrtosu's sister said that her brother suffered due to the fabricated file that was handled by Adriana Bețișor and that raids were carried out in a case targeting him. "Betisor sent masked people. They searched everywhere, they looked for documents on double-entry system bookkeeping, but they did not find anything”, said the woman.
How Vîrtosu came to CNA’s attention
The criminal prosecution against Vîrtosu started in the fall of 2014, after he, assisted by several people, brought in the country a million 546 thousand euros in cash. Subsequently, the money is offered as a loan to newly created companies that invest in the constructions started by Vîrtosu. Another 936 thousand euros are brought to the Republic of Moldova through an offshore company that transfers the money to the accounts of the companies controlled by Vîrtosu, as a loan.
The transactions are noticed by the employees of the CNA’ s Office for Prevention and Fight against Money Laundering. Criminal prosecution is underway. Vîrtosu and the manager of his companies Constantin Gamarț are detained, and the assets and bank accounts of the companies are seized.
How the "redemption" was transmitted
In order to "solve the problem", Vîrtosu was supposed to offer a bribe of 250 thousand euros. The one who transferred the money is Andrei Cociorvă, a young businessman from the village of Brăviceni, a locality close to Mălăești, who inherited the cheese business and the brand "Mozzarela de Brăviceni", created by his father, the late Vladimir Cociorvă.
The money, in the amount of 235 thousand euros, would have been transmitted in two installments, in October 2015, through Victoria Pascalov, then prosecutor in the Rascani sector of Chisinau. Andrei Cociorva filmed with a hidden camera the moment of transmitting over one hundred thousand euros to Victor Pascalov and tells him that the problem will be settled by Friday, and the prosecutor gives assurances that everything will be "OK".
On October 16, 2015, the Anticorruption Prosecutor Adriana Bețișor issues an order accepting the proposal of the criminal investigation officer from the CNA, Vasile Șeremet, regarding the removal of the criminal prosecution and the closing the criminal case regarding Vîrtosu and his associates. By the same ordinance, the release of seizure of goods and financial means is also ordered.
Bribery was unsuccessfully reported to the Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office
Though the seizures of the goods were lifted, Gheorghe Vîrtosu was not given back all the means of transport. In January 2016, Cociorva informed him about the bribe and showed him the video recording to the colonel Ruslan Ghenciu, head of section within the Internal Protection and Anticorruption Service of the Interior Ministry (SPIA). "I realized that it was something serious and I officially registered the complaint with SPIA, then personally I sent the complaint and the video recording to the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office. The case was handled by the prosecutor Andrei Băeșu. It had no finality. I personally asked Băeșu about the investigations, but he told me that Gheorghe Vîrtosu has no claims. Instead, I started to be harassed by Anticorruption prosecutors", said Ruslan Ghenciu, indicted in a corruption case.
In a private discussion, Andrei Cociorva acknowledged that he had transmitted bribes on behalf of Vărtosu through Victoria Pascalov, but he refused to make statements in front of the camera on the grounds that he is afraid and is running for mayor in Brăviceni (when the article was published, Cociorva was elected mayor in Brăviceni, on the PDM lists).
Cociorvă was disappointed that his complaint was ignored, after giving details to prosecutor Băeșu. "I fulfilled my duty of citizen, but no action has been taken, I did not receive any reply since then," Andrei Cociorva told us later.
Interior Ministry „yea”, Anticorruption Prosecution „nay”
In an official reply to the request for information, Vasile Harea, acting head of SPIA, confirmed that Andrei Cociorva filed in January 2016 a complaint regarding the bribing, and that this complaint was sent to the Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office.
The Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office, in person of the prosecutor Mirandolina Sușițcaia, informed us that it is impossible to meet the request for access to information. "In the Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office, the documents are recorded based on the electronic document management system" e-Management.Documents ". The system allows information to be processed and searched by certain criteria, such as: type of documents (inbound, outbound, internal), output / inbound numbers and date of documents, correspondent, category of documents, manner of receipt, keywords in short content and other criteria. As a result of the verifications by current criteria, in relation to the information available from the request for access to information, the information system did not generate any results aimed at investigating such a criminal case to which the information seeker would refer”, explained Sușițcaia.
What the targeted prosecutors say
Prosecutor Andrei Băeșu confirmed that he had to investigate Cociorva's complaint and blamed him for not having completed the file. "I invited him several times to come and to make statements, but he didn't come. I do not remember all the details, it was a long time ago, but from what I remember, it seems that his relatives did not want", said Băeșu.
Former prosecutor Adriana Bețișor acknowledges that she handled a criminal case against Vîrtosu, but said she knew nothing about the alleged bribe. "I remember, it was such a case. I checked the materials further and found that there are no elements for starting a criminal case. As for the video recording with the transmission of the bribe, I do not think so. You know there is much manipulation in the public space”, said Bețișor.
Victoria Pascalov filed a resignation request shortly after recording the video with the money transmission.
After her resignation was accepted, Pascalov applied for a lawyer's license, but her application was rejected. The former prosecutor was granted a lawyer's license late in 2018, after she won the civil lawsuit against the Bar Association.
In April 2016, the Superior Council of Magistracy gave the green light to Victoria Pascalov to apply for the position of judge.
Lawyer Pascalov's phone is not public, and in the Chancellery of the Lawyers’ Association was found the address of the Bar Association, Dosoftei 65 str. Contacted by phone, Stepan Pascalov told us that Victoria is his daughter and that she is on maternity leave. The defender did not want to tell us his daughter's phone, but promised he would send her our request for comments. Subsequently, he did not answer calls anymore.
We tried to contact Pascalov on social networks. He replied, and when he found that we were journalists, he refused to speak and blocked access to his page.
The investigation was carried out within the project "Mobilizing Civil Society to Support Judicial Integrity in the Republic of Moldova", conducted by the Center for investigative Journalism and Freedom House, with the financial support of the US State Department.
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