Moldovan Politics: The Rise of Vladimir Plahotniuc

Vladimir Plahotniuc has long been active in Moldovan politics but has only been publicly active for about the last decade.

Plahotniuc: For Stability or Authoritarianism?

The following is part of a series of resources that seeks to explain Moldova’s current political situation through the biographies of the Moldovan politicians who helped shape it.

Also in this series:

 

Vladimir Plahotniuc

Vladimir Plahotniuc is one of the most influential men in Moldova. As Chairman of the Democratic Party (which leads the current ruling parliamentary coalition) and a wealthy businessman, he maintains extensive connections within Moldova’s government institutions, as well as its media, business, financial industries.

Born in central Moldova on New Years’ Day 1966, Plahotniuc has lead a highly secretive life which has played both to his political advantage and helped fuel resentment towards him and conspiracy theories revolving around him.

He holds several degrees, including an MBA from the Technical University of Moldova (2002) and a bachelor of law degree from the University of European Studies of Moldova (2006).

Plahotniuc has run companies in the oil, financial, banking, hotel, media, and real estate sectors. He held an executive position with Petrom Moldova (a Romanian-owned oil and gas producer) from 2001 to 2011 and was Chairman of Victoriabank (the country’s leading commercial bank) from 2006 to 2011. Additionally, Plahotniuc owns Moldova’s two largest television broadcasters, Prime and TV 2 Plus. He left several of his business positions when he decided to devote himself more fully to politics.

Originally a member of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM), Plahotniuc defected to the Democratic Party in 2009 as the PCRM’s political capital crumbled under the constitutional crisis.

Moldova’s Democratic Party is a democratic socialist party. It is an associate member of the Party of European Socialists and a full member of the Socialist International. Thus, Plahotniuc’s switch is not as ideologically abrupt as it may initially seem. The main difference between the Democracts and PCRM is that the Democrats are EU-oriented while the PCRM attempted to bridge the EU and Russia. Many other former Communists have now defected to the Democrats as well.

Plahotniuc was elected as deputy president of the Socialist International in 2017.

Vladimir Plahotniuc speaks in front of the banner of the Democractic Party of Moldova. The logo features red roses, a common symbol for socialist parties.

Plahotniuc had been widely known to the Communist’s chief financial benefactor. Once with the Democracts, however, he contributed not only financially but also began to be directly involved in the politics of the party. He was elected to parliament for the first time in 2010 and was then appointed first deputy speaker. In addition, the relatively small Democrats began to punch well above their weight behind the scenes. They secured nominations for the both the powerful general prosecutor and head of the anti-corruption office and began to aggressively use their minority “kingmaker” position to influence legislation.

Tensions mounted and rumors circulated that Plahotniuc was using his new role in politics to “buy the country” in the words of then-Prime Minister Filat, a political rival within the ruling coalition. Then, a scandal that came to be known as “Huntgate” erupted. Several high-ranking members of the Moldovan government, including members of the Democratic Party, were involved in an illegal hunting party in which a young businessman was shot and killed. What actually happened was never fully uncovered, but the scandal was enough to fully break the liberal coalition as accusations of crimes and cover-ups flared.

In a surprise move, Filat approached the Communists to secure enough votes to remove Plahotniuc from the office of deputy prime minister in February 2013. Shortly after, the general prosecutor and anti-corruption office launched investigations of ministers from Filat’s Liberal Democratic Party. Filat insists that investigations were politically motivated. Plahotniuc also began publically calling for Filat to resign as prime minister for his alleged roles in scandals. When this didn’t happen, Filat was dismissed in a no-confidence vote – called for by the same communists that help Filat bring down Plahotiuc. With votes supporting it from the Democrats, Filat was dismissed on suspicions of corruption and abuse of office in March of 2013.

After this, Filat retained his seat in parliament. Plahotniuc, however, surprised many by resigning from parliament in October, 2013, saying that he would concentrate on building the Democratic Party.

With the 2014 parliamentary elections, Plahotnuic took back his seat and his place in public politics in Moldova. His feud with Filat continued.

In 2015, the Banking Scandal broke. Within this scheme, some $1 billion dollars, about a twelfth of Moldova’s GDP, disappeared from Moldovan banks, was routed through multiple shell companies, and eventually landed in bank accounts in the EU purportedly held by several of Moldova’s leading liberal politicians, among them Vlad Filat. Filat maintains that the entire scheme was masterminded and executed by Plahotnuic to remove him from office. He is currently serving a nine-year jail sentence.

Many analysts agree that, with Filat gone, Plahotnuic is the single most powerful decision maker in Moldova – even though his party remains one of the smaller in parliament.

Vladimir Plahotniuc at a televised event giving a donation on behalf of the Edelweiss Foundation, a major charity is started and funds.

Plahotniuc was nominated by a parliamentary majority for the post of prime minister in January 2016. However, then-President Nicolae Timofti sent the decision back to parliament for “integrity reasons” for reconsideration. Two rallies, each involving approximately 20,000 people, appeared in the capital’s square, with one supporting and one opposing Plahotniuc’s candidacy.

Pavel Filip (of Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party) was eventually confirmed as prime minister. However, over a thousand people, including socialist leader Igor Dodon, now Moldova’s president, violently protested the new government, destroying property in the parliament building during the course of conflict.

On April 7, 2017, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine announced that Kiev and Chisinau police forces had countered an assassination attempt on Plahotniuc. Alleging that an unknown entity paid $200,000 for his assassination, a criminal group consisting of 17 individuals, eight in Moldova and nine in Ukraine, have been arrested in connection to the plot. Critics say that he likely staged the incident, however, to illicit public sympathy.

Plahotniuc consistently rates highest on polls gauging how corrupt Moldovans view certain politicians as being. Critics accuse him of using his connections with Voronin and PCRM to enrich himself in the 2000s. They also say that he now employs his tremendous resources to blackmail those who oppose him.

Plahotnuic’s supporters, however, point the fact that no substantial evidence has ever been presented against him. They also point out the substantial charitable work that charities connected to and funded by Plahotnuic have accomplished, including aiding local flood victims and raising millions to rebuild maternity clinics. Supporters assert that he is the country’s best hope for prosperity and stability.

Plahotniuc actively supports continuing Moldova’s EU integration and vehemently opposes the prospect of any further integration with Russia. In January 2017, Plahotniuc addressed a message to president-elect Donald Trump asserting that “Moldova is willing to become a bridge between East and West, not a battleground for the world powers.”

Above: the first of a series of films about Vladimir Plahotniuc, mostly on his personal life. They are in Moldovan with English subtitles.

Marion Lupu is a longtime ally of Vladimir Plahotniuc.

Marian Lupu

A former speaker of parliament and, briefly, former acting president, Marian Lupu leads the parliamentary faction of Vladimir Plahotnuic’s Democratic Party of Moldova, which leads the current ruling parliamentary coalition.

Born in 1966, Lupu studied economics at Moldova (Chisinau) State University and received a doctoral degree in economics at the prestigious Plekhanov Russian University of Economics in Moscow.

Following the disintegration of the USSR, Lupu took additional economics courses sponsored by the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, meant to help young leaders transition their counties away from Communism. Further, throughout the 1990s, Lupu climbed the ranks in the Ministry of Economy, notably serving as director of Moldova’s TACIS program, an EU initiative aimed at transitioning former Soviet states to market economic systems.

Lupu was appointed Minister of Economy in mid-2003, where he remained until the March 2005 parliamentary elections. Lupu, then a member of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM), became speaker of parliament.

As Moldova’s four-year constitutional crisis began in 2009, Lupu left the PCRM for the Democratic Party and quickly became its chairman. His defection helped drain significant support from the PCRM, which eventually saw a growing exodus of members and officials, with many going to the Democratic Party.

Alongside opposition leaders from the Liberal Party, the Our Moldova Alliance party and Liberal Democratic Party, Lupu helped form the ruling Alliance for European Integration (AIE) coalition.

Although the AEI put Lupu forward as its presidential candidate, the PCRM boycotted his election, sparking what would become a constitutional crisis. Lupu remained a factional leader until Acting President Mihai Ghimpu dissolved parliament and called for new elections late in 2010. The AEI coalition gained six seats, bringing their total seats to 59 — just two short of the number necessary to elect a president. Lupu was chosen as speaker of parliament and thereby assumed the interim presidency. He retained the position until communist defections allowed for the election of compromise candidate Nicolae Timofti fifteen months later.

Lupu is a somewhat enigmatic figure. Before quitting the PCRM, he seemed a simple, albeit talented, technocrat with some oratorical flair. His reputation as a reforming progressive politician, both during his time in the PCRM and afterwards, is based more on his publicized stance rather than implemented policies, of which he has little record. Lupu continues to push for greater EU integration as the current leader of the Democratic Party and co-chairman of the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly, and inter-parliamentary forum in which members of the European Parliament and the national parliaments of Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia participate and forge closer political and economic ties with the European Union.

Andrian Candu is second-in command of the Democratic Party and a strong ally of Plohotniuc. He is currently Speaker of the Parliament and likely to become Prime Minister.

Andrian Candu

Pro-EU Speaker of Parliament Andrian Candu has been Acting President of Moldova between during the temporary suspensions of Igor Dodon.

Born in November 1975, Candu received his bachelor’s degree from the School of Infomatics in Romania. He then studied undergraduate law at Romania’s University Babeș-Bolyai and later received his master’s degree from the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. Throughout his academic tenure, Candu participated in human rights educational programs in the UK, Italy, and South Africa.

Candu returned to Moldova in 1998, serving as principal consultant for the parliamentary Commission on Foreign Policy and as a lecturer of international law at the Academy of Public Administration until 2004. He was a senior manager of the Moldovan branch of PricewaterhouseCoopers from 2004 until elected into parliament in 2010.

Ahead of the 2010 parliamentary elections, Candu briefly served as the CEO of Prime Management LLC, which is comprised of Vlad Plahotniuc’s assets in banking, real estate, media, hotel business and other ventures. Candu held a 5 percent stake in Prime Management, with 90 percent belonging to Plahotniuc. Both men were elected to Parliament in the 2010 election, with Candu on the Committee on Legal Affairs, Appointments and Immunities. Candu sold his 5 percent stake in Prime Management 2014.

In May 2013, Candu was elected deputy speaker of the parliament, a position which he held for one year before President Nicolae Timofti appointed him minister of economy. On January 23, 2015, he was elected speaker of the Moldovan Parliament and, in 2012, the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM) elected Candu as vice-president of the party, a position he still holds.

As Acting President of Moldova, Candu signed a decree appointing Eugen Sturza of the European Popular Party of Moldova (PPEM), who vows to modernize Moldova’s armed forces and strengthen ties with foreign partners as defense minister. Candu has also signed a controversial law outlawing Russian news broadcasts in Moldova, and approved several other liberal ministers in the multiple times that the Moldovan Constitutional Court has suspended President Dodon.

Though holding an impressive resume, his career is viewed mostly as a direct result of his close ties to DPM Senior Vice President Vlad Plahotniuc, and is not considered a formidable political figure in his own right. Nonetheless, he’s poised to become Moldova’s next Prime Minister – with Plahotniuc’s blessing.

 

This resource is based on one published by SRAS in 2013. Michael Zeller contributed to that resource.

Michael Zeller received a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Louisville in 2013, with minors in history and Russian studies. He participated in SRAS’s Russian Studies Abroad program over the 2011-2012 school year and an SRAS-arranged internship at Memorial, a human rights NGO in Moscow. He went on to study at the University of Glasgow on an Erasmus Mundus Scholarship, working on two master’s degrees: one in political science, the other in Russian, Central and Eastern European Studies.

About the Author

Josh Wilson
Josh Wilson is the Assistant Director for The School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS) and Communications Director for Alinga Consulting Group. In those capacities, he has been managing publications and informative websites covering geopolitics, history, business, economy, and politics in Eurasia since 2003. He is based in Moscow, Russia. For SRAS, he also assists in program development and leads the Home and Abroad Programs.
Katheryn Weaver
Katheryn Weaver is a student of rhetoric and history at the University of Texas, Austin. Her primary areas of investigation include revolution and the rhetorical justification of violence against individuals, state, and society. She is currently studying Russian as a Second Language with SRAS's Home and Abroad Scholarship.
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