UNDERWORLD LEADERS AND...PHILANTHROPISTS
The cross-border invasion of "Russian kindness"
Balti City, May 15 - Oscar Restaurant: It was at this upscale restaurant that former Minister of the Interior, Pavel Voicu, and activist Maxim Moroșan chose to celebrate Family Day. As usual, Moroșan was accompanied by his team, with whom he carries out what he calls charitable actions. Whether it involves supporting athletes, children, or veterans, there are distinct indications that campaigns under the guise of "universal good" carry a strong ideological undertone. They range from promoting the "Saint George" ribbon to derogatory messages directed at those advocating for closer ties with the European Union. The organization Moroșan represents, "Sunt Balțean," has a convoluted background, with leaders heavily influenced by Russian propaganda. Most of the charitable funds often end up in the IFAVIS Association, led by Grigore Caramalac, also known as "the Bulgarian," a refugee in Moscow and wanted by the authorities in Chisinau. Furthermore, a cross-border scheme of "Russian kindness" is being implemented in the illegally annexed Ukrainian territories by the Russian Federation. Additionally, we find two Russian citizens, both with valid documents and successful businesses in Moscow, posing as philanthropists. However, they show a keen interest in the ongoing processes in their country of origin, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.
Sport, charity...and ideology. How Kremlin agents infiltrate Moldovan politics.
On Family Day, Pavel Voicu, the former Socialist Minister of the Interior, who according to Anticoruptie.md sources, is likely to become the president of the Balti territorial organization of the PSRM, spent time with Maxim Moroșan. They chose to celebrate at the Oscar restaurant, a luxurious establishment in the city of Balti, known for its opulence. The restaurant's cuisine has European influences, and its four banquet halls are usually host to weddings and gatherings. However, on May 15, the destinies of Voicu and Moroșan converged here during an event declared as charity. Moroșan himself posted a video of the feast, pathetically commenting that the true heroes were the children from social centers, for whom a pizza-making masterclass and other forms of entertainment were organized.
From the images, it is evident that the charity event was carried out separately, with the assistance of entertainers and restaurant staff. The connection between Voicu and Moroșan with the children was minimal, as their banquet took place in a different section of the hall. The menus were also different. While the children enjoyed the pizza they had prepared themselves, the "chosen ones" were served the finest dishes, including appetizers, salads, and succulent meat.
The children from the social centers are not even visible in the "family" photos.
Former Socialist Minister of the Interior Pavel Voicu informed Anticoruptie.md that he was actually an outsider at this family celebration and received an invitation to the festive lunch from Maxim Moroșan. Although they have known each other for about a month, Voicu decided to accept the invitation because they share the same values of a "traditional family, love for truth, and patriotism."
"It was indeed a nice gesture. I organized a celebration for the children from the boarding school. What I cannot do is participate in the celebration of the gays. Everyone chooses what they want. I choose the traditional family, sports, and a righteous lifestyle. They choose something else, and that's why anyone who doesn't think like them is labeled as an agent or enemy. I met Maxim Moroșan less than a month ago, and I observed how active he is in providing support and assistance to veterans. I am an honorary member of the Officers' Union and I know many people from the region. He has helped them tremendously and also supports athletes. We share certain ideas and activities that we both engage in. I was invited to this event, and I felt comfortable being with them. I did not participate in any financial or investment projects. Regardless of who he is, Moroșan does good things for people, and I appreciated that. I saw that there are situations where our thinking aligns - we are patriots, we love our country, believe in a healthy lifestyle, and we do not allow criminals to plunder even on a grand scale, as it is happening in Bălți, for example," explained Voicu.
Voicu vehemently denies the information circulating in the public sphere, claiming that he is not an agent of the Russian FSB. "I have never had any connections with the special services, even in the Republic of Moldova, except for collaboration... but to be actively involved in a foreign intelligence agency, no. Only in the interest of the service, during my time as a minister or in another governmental position," Pavel Voicu defended himself against the allegations of being an agent of the Russian FSB.
"Russian roulette" for two PAS MPs
On May 20, the 40th edition of the "Invită Constantin Cobâlean" Cup took place in Călărași. Throughout the history of this prestigious event, renowned athletes and the esteemed coach have been surrounded by controversial figures who have taken advantage of the financial struggles faced by the field. During this year's edition, among the so-called "philanthropists," Dorin Damir, the president of the FEA and son-in-law of Vladimir Plahotniuc, who is being investigated in two criminal cases, was present. Damir has also been accused of involving athletes from clubs associated with the federation in suppressing anti-oligarchic protests conducted in 2015 in the "City of Freedom" established near the residence of the former democratic leader.
PAS deputies Eugeniu Sinkevici and Radu Marian were also invited to the event. Their presence sparked discussions, and the elected representatives clarified to Anticoruptie.md that they were unaware that Dorin Damir would be in attendance.
"I received an invitation to a school that has produced many international Olympic champions. As a deputy in the Education, Youth, and Sports committee, I believed it was important to participate. As you can see, the invitation did not mention Damir's presence. I was surprised when he appeared. I attended this event for the children, those who bring fame to our country in international championships. I don't think these children should be punished because of obscure individuals," commented Sinkevici to Anticoruptie.md.
On his part, deputy Radu Marian mentioned that the school has produced European and world champions whom we praise and boast about, and he was unaware of Dorin Damir's presence at the event.
Who is Maxim Moroșan?
Maxim Moroșan came into the public eye following several controversial actions he carried out in the city of Balti. While originally from the Republic of Moldova, he resided in the Russian Federation for a significant period and held valid Russian citizenship. For several years, he worked as an entertainer in Moscow under the stage name Максим Бельский (Maxim Belsky). His profile can still be found on the website www.acmodasi.ru. As a result, he participated in various events organized by Russian state institutions, and the diplomas and medals he obtained served as evidence of his close connections with them. With influential contacts within high-ranking power structures, Moroșan transitioned from his entertainment career to establish his own car servicing business.
In 2013, the "Я бельчанин" ("I am Bălți resident") Association was found. Although Maxim Moroșan is the public face and leader of the association, he has never been an administrator of the organization. Different individuals have been mentioned in official documents over the years, and currently, the association is led by boxer Dmitri Galagoț. He assumed the presidency in June 2022 after Mihail Ahremtsev, a politician with radical pro-Russian views from the northern capital and president of the "Наши" ("Ours") party, resigned. In 2020, Ahremtsev infamously set fire to a map of Greater Romania just before the visit of Romanian President Klaus Iohannis to Chisinau.
The comments on his social media page are on the verge of decency, containing evident elements of Russian propaganda and defamation. The EPC Summit, which took place in the Republic of Moldova on June 1st, a significant European event that brought together 49 high-ranking officials, was referred to by Ahremțev as a "sabantui" (translated from Russian as a cheerful celebration). In this context, following President Volodymyr Zelensky's statements on the Transnistrian issue at the summit, Ahremțev commented in his characteristic style "Mixing Moldovan wine with Colombian dust is a bad idea. Why didn't anyone tell Zelensky this before the briefing?"
NordNews journalists have extensively investigated Maxim Moroșan, Ahremtsev's ideological ally, and found close ties between him and the Socialist Party and its youth organization, the Young Guard. Moroșan has been frequently present during the so-called working visits of the socialists to the Russian Federation, where he allegedly lobbied for the interests of pro-Kremlin political forces in the Republic of Moldova.
Moroșan dismissed the article as a "ordered falsehood", suggesting that its purpose is to discriminate against the association. He also portrayed himself as a victim of pressure from law enforcement agencies, claiming that business people who support his organization are called to police stations and asked to cease their involvement. He further alleged that municipal civil servants, managers of municipal enterprises, and sports coaches are prohibited from interacting with the "Я бельчанин" organization, with threats of dismissals and criminal cases looming over them.
In 2020, Moroșan assumed the role of president of the Union of Moldovan and Russian Entrepreneurs, headquartered in Moscow's historical center. Since then, his visits to Moldova have become more frequent. The initial actions carried out in Moldova under the auspices of the Union were targeted at the sports field. Moroșan provided free equipment to sports schools in Bălți, Drochia, and Călărași. However, the images suggest that the donations have a different source, namely the IFAVIS Foundation led by the "thief in law," Grigorii Caramalac, with whom Moroșan has appropriate relations.
Republic of Moldova and Ukraine - projects cut from the same cloth
The controversial businessman Grigorii Caramalac, also known as "Bulgarul," is considered an underworld leader in Moldova and is wanted by the authorities for criminal responsibility. He vehemently criticizes the pro-Western position of the Chisinau government and supports the war initiated by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. Additionally, Caramalac's IFAVIS Sports Veterans Aid Foundation organizes "sports-patriotic actions" in Ukrainian cities occupied by Russians, where pro-Kremlin propaganda is disseminated.
A speech by Grigore Caramalac was published on the Facebook page of the IFAVIS Foundation, presenting him as a "businessman and philanthropist, the founder and president of the International Assistance Fund for Sports Veterans 'IFAVIS,' vice-president of the Russian Wrestling Federation, and assistant to Senator Alexandr Brîksin from the Kursk region."
Caramalac asserts that the events taking place in Moldova are inspired by russophobic American and European political circles and aim to turn the republic into another conflict zone, similar to the situation in Ukraine.
According to a post on the IFAVIS page, Caramalac is organizing a "Russian sports and patriotic action" in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol, scheduled for February 25. The initiative is said to be supported by the pro-Kremlin administration of the Russian-occupied Zaporozhye region. The comments accompanying the posts, including some from Moldovans, justify the war in Ukraine.
IFAVIS is presented as a sponsor of various sports clubs and charity events not only in Moldova but also in Ukraine. In Ukraine, the contact person is Irina Andruh, who leads the "Мир Лугансчине" association with over 100,000 members. The association was founded in 2014, following the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.
Furthermore, most of the so-called charitable or sports-patriotic actions are organized in Ukraine by Caramalac and Moroșan. Russian media reports extensively on these events, which involve generous donations. However, the underlying motive behind these "investments" appears to be promoting the idea of the "goodness of the Russian world" despite the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Grigore Caramalac is internationally wanted by the Chisinau authorities and is linked to two criminal cases involving blackmail and attempted murder between 2016 and 2017. Several other cases were opened against him in the past, including accusations of leading a criminal group responsible for murders, robberies, kidnappings, blackmail, extortion, and banditry during the 1990s. In 2004, a criminal case was reportedly opened against Caramalac in Russia on similar charges, but it was eventually closed in 2008 due to a lack of sufficient evidence.
During the "European Moldova" National Assembly held on May 21, Caramalac warned of the risk of mass disorder and civil clashes. He stated that opposition forces planned to organize a protest action alongside supporters of the Assembly led by President Sandu, potentially leading to clashes between supporters and opponents of the current government gathering in the Square on May 21.
Later, Grigore Caramalac denied reports of his involvement in destabilization activities, stating that the media in the Republic of Moldova misinterpreted his opinions and that he "never confuses sports with politics".
"I want to explain to people, so they are not misled, that I have been involved in charity work for over 20 years. Supporting sports and a healthy lifestyle holds a special place in my philanthropic activities. Throughout the history of the Ifavis Foundation, I have supported over 100 sports federations, and I have never intended to connect sports with politics. Despite this, as a person who cares about what is happening in my homeland, I provide comments in various media outlets where I express my civic position. I want to inform the journalists - the provocateurs serving PAS [political party] - that if I decide to enter politics or organize events, I will certainly make it public. Keep following my interviews and publications," responded Grigore Caramalac.
Grigore Caramalac sanctioned by the EU
On May 30, the EU Council imposed restrictive measures on seven individuals under two separate sanctions regimes. One regime targets individuals responsible for actions intended to destabilize, undermine, or threaten the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Moldova, while the other regime focuses on actions that undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine. The official decision was published in the Official Journal of the European Union. Among the individuals targeted for actions related to destabilizing the Republic of Moldova are Ilan Șor, Vladimir Plahotniuc, Marina Tauber, Gheorghe Cavcaliuc, Igor Ceaika, and Grigore Caramalac. Alexandr Kalinin, the president of the Party of Regions in Moldova, is also included on the EU blacklist. The approved document, with the official translation, can be found on the Council of Europe's official website.
According to the EU document, Alexandr Kalinin is accused of supporting actions and policies that undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine. Concerning Grigore Caramalac, the EU authorities state that he exercises control over the IFAVIS Foundation in the Russian Federation, which has been involved in organizing patriotic and sports events in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine. The events have received support from the occupation authorities, and Caramalac is also identified as an assistant to an official from the Kursk region.
The package of measures aims to address, on one hand, the sensitive internal situation in Moldova and attempts to destabilize the country, and on the other hand, the involvement of Moldovan citizens in efforts to undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine by supporting Russia's aggressive war," stated the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell.
"Moldova is one of the countries most affected by the consequences of Russia's illegal invasion in Ukraine. There are serious, increased, and ongoing attempts to destabilize the country. Today's decision sends an important political signal of EU support for Moldova in the current challenging context. The EU's position remains firm: we will continue to take action against those who destabilize our direct neighborhood," commented Josep Borrell.
"Today, the European Union announced the sanctioning of five individuals who threaten the stability and security of our country. Four of them are citizens of the Republic of Moldova. These lawless individuals have betrayed and continue to betray the national interest, endangering the development of the Republic of Moldova and working in the Kremlin's favor. Today's decision means that these individuals will not be allowed free movement in countries aligning with the sanctions; their funds will be blocked, and their assets seized. The European Union is helping us stop those who want to destabilize the country and block our future," wrote Maia Sandu on her social media page.
All individuals on the list will have their assets frozen, and EU citizens and companies are prohibited from providing them with financial assistance. Furthermore, they will face a travel ban, preventing them from entering or transiting through EU territories.
The investigation leading to these measures was conducted as part of the "Investigative Journalists against Propaganda and Disinformation" project by the Center for Journalistic Investigations, with support from International Media Support in Denmark.
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