Tens of thousands protesters in Moldovian capital Chisinau

Mon 7 Sep 2015

Tens of thousands protesters in Moldovian capital Chisinau

Sunday  an estimated 60.000 protesters gathered on the central square in the Moldovan capital Chisinau to call for the resignation of president Nicolae Timofti and for new elections to be held, after a major bank fraud further derogated Moldova’s already struggling economy last year. One billion dollar, equivalent to roughly 1/8th of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), disappeared from three banks in November 2014, leading to steep inflation, the depreciation of the national currency, Leu, and a lowering of the living standards of the population. Protesters, shouting “bring the billion back home” and “down with the mafia”, further demanded the resignation of officials at Moldova’s central bank and the attorney general’s office. Moldovans form all over the country and from different political backgrounds came together at the six hour long protest, while up to 40 tents had been erected early Monday morning as a base for some of the protesters who pledged to stay until their demands are met.


European Union flags
The protests, possibly the biggest in Moldovan history, were organized by the newly founded organization “Demnitate si Adevăr” (DA), which translates to Dignity and Truth while its initials form the word yes in Moldovan. Although they protested against Timofti’s pro-European Union government, many protesters could be seen waving EU flags amongst the Moldovan and Romanian flags, indicating that they were not against his EU aspirations. The pro-Russian left socialists, seeking closer economic relations with Russia, also condemned Timofti’s government, with party leader Igor Dodon stating that the government would “end up where they belong, in court”. While the protests went mostly peacefully, some members of the far-left “Our home Moldova” (Red bloc) party clashed with police after they marched to the prosecutor-general’s headquarters, resulting in the  arrests of eight members. Prime minister Valeriu Strelets, who after his appointment in July vowed to fight the widespread corruption in the country, arranged a meeting with finance and social sector ministers and promised that they would “consider the claims” and “look for solutions for the problems pointed out by the society”.


Demands
While the three banks involved in the November fraud, Banca de Economii, Banca Sociala and Unibank, have since been ordered to be liquidated by prime minister Strelets after foreign pressure, the missing billion USD still has not been found. Strelets said that he counted on the cooperation of foreign governments to track the money, but the protesters demand more. Besides the resignation of Timofti – who is not affiliated to any political party - and new elections before March 2016, they demand the election of a new president by direct voting and the resignation of all persons in charge of the involved banks as well as the Prosecutor General and  the head of the National Anti-Corruption Centre. DA member Igor Botan said that it is the time to “take the country out of the captivity of the corrupt oligarchy” by using protests as a mechanism of exerting pressure.  Another DA member, Valentin Dolganiuc, stated that the fraud had happened “with the connivance of governors and a complete paralysis of power”.


Oligarchy
Many Moldovans have lost trust in the politics in a politically divided country where the current government, coming into office just after the fraud in November was publicized, only won the elections by a slight margin. Since 2009 Moldova has been ruled by a three-party alliance of Liberals, Democrats and Liberal Democrats (in varying combinations) and many suspect that the fraud that was discovered in November had been going on for years and it “reflects deep-seated corruption” and “some degree of complicity from many of those at the top of power since 2009”. Kroll consultancy, which conducted an investigation into the fraud, places part of the responsibility on billionaire Ilan Shor, who was placed under temporary house arrest but participated in local elections afterwards. The protesters also blamed two of the country’s wealthiest oligarchs; former Democratic Party Politician Vladimir Plahotniuc and former prime-minister Vlad Filat (Liberal Democratic Party). They are not the only oligarchs to have held high political positions. Moldova country manager of the World Bank Alex Kremer said that the authorities “knowingly allowed activities to proceed” when the consequences “could only be big losses to depositors and taxpayers”. This was evident when the government lost its controlling share in one of the banks involved in the fraud, the Banca di Economii in 2013, and despite warnings from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) did not intervene.


Investigation
The investigation that was conducted by the independent American consultancy Kroll was done on request from the Moldovan Central Bank, and was revealed to the public by the speaker of parliament Andrian Candu. Another investigation was done by a parliamentary commission, which concluded that  the management of the banks have “manifested evident lapses in professionalism and integrity”. Meanwhile a criminal investigation has been launched by Moldovan prosecutors and 30 people have been put under criminal indictment so far, including Ilan Shor.