Recent Scandals: the Downfall of Some, the Rise of Others
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:
- Early Moldovan Independence
- Voronin and the Communists
- Presidential Crises 2009-2018
- The Rise of Vladimir Plahotniuc
Maia Sandu is an economist who served as minister of education before narrowly losing a bid for president in 2016 to Socialist Igor Dodon. Much of her campaign capitalized on voter disgust over recent scandals and Moldova’s long term political situation. Sandu successfully built an image of herself as an honest politician trying to build a new, independent political movement from scratch.
Born in May 1972, Sandu studied business management at Moldova’s Academy of Economic Studies as well as international relations at the Academy of Public Administration in Chisinau. In 2010, she graduated from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Sandu worked as advisor to the executive director at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. before returning to Moldova in 2012. From 2012 to 2015 she served as minister of education, and was then considered but eventually passed over by the Liberal Democratic Party, of which she was then a member, for nomination as prime minister. Although she was given the option of two other ministerships, she accepted neither, stating that she didn’t feel that she had the support of the ruling government to fulfill either role.
The Liberal Democrats were at the center of a major banking scandal at the time, for which their leader, Vlad Filat (see below) would eventually be expelled from parliament and imprisoned. Although still the largest of the liberal parties in parliament, they’ve also lost their position within the ruling coalition due to ongoing rivalries with the Democratic Party, which now leads the ruling coalition, and of which she has been a vocal critic. For these reasons, it isn’t hard to see why she would have believed that she wouldn’t have the government’s support.
Sandu left the Liberal Democrats and founded her own Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS). She then declared her candidacy for president. She ended in second place. Sandu’s message promoted European integration and a crackdown on endemic corruption. Although it was not made a major plank, she has also voiced her personal support for unifying Moldova with Romania, aligning her with liberal nationalists such as Ghimpu.
Despite losing the election, Sandu is a capable and charismatic politician who is capitalizing on distancing herself from what Moldovans have come to like least about politics. She is one to watch in the future.
Ilan Shor is a wealthy businessman and Mayor of Orhei, a city in central Moldova. He is accused of causing $1.26 billion in financial damage that nearly bankrupted Moldova in 2014. He denies any wrongdoing but can be also be seen as someone using politics specifically for personal gain – and to say out of jail.
The son of Moldovan Jews who immigrated to Israel in the late 1970s, Shor was born in Tel Aviv in 1987. When he was three, his family returned to Chisinau as the USSR crumbled. By the age of 13, Shor had opened three mobile phone shops. He now owns several businesses, including the company his father started, Dufremol, a duty-free retailer found in airports, and the soccer club FC Milsami. In 2014, he became chairman to the Savings Bank of Moldova and a board member at the Chisinau International Airport.
In May 2015, Shor, then-head of the administrative council of Moldova’s Banca de Economii (BEM), was placed under house arrest for 30 days following a report on suspicious transactions resulting in $1 billion being transferred out of Moldova via BEM. He claims the accusations are the result of a conspiracy against him on behalf of NGOs and the Moldovan government.
Also in May 2015, Shor registered in the electoral race for mayor of Orhei, a smaller regional center north of Chisinau. With no prior indication of political ambition, his candidacy surprised many. It did come with a major benefit to Shor, however – he was freed in October because the Moldovan election code states that a candidate cannot be detained or face charges while campaigning. Shor won with 61.97 percent of the vote.
Once mayor, however, on June 20, 2015, Shor was arrested for his role in the Banking Scandal. While standing trial in October 2015, Shor said he was innocent of wrong doing but did testify that from 2010 to 2014 he sent money and expensive cars to Vlad Filat (see below), the Liberal-Democratic Party leader and then one of Moldova’s most influential politicians, who requested the shipments in exchange for “comfortable business” in Moldova. Within two days, Filat was stripped of his parliamentary immunity, arrested and later sentenced to nine years in jail. Shor was subsequently released, pending further investigation, and returned to his duties as Mayor of Orhei.
Charges were served against Ilan Shor in June 2016 – after a two-month detention, he was transferred to house arrest. Also in June, 2016, Shor doubled down on his political activity, becoming Chairman of the Equality Movement, under the banner of which he had campaigned for mayor. Equality is a pro-Russia, socially conservative movement that argues that life was better under the USSR. Although founded in 1998, the movement has never been represented on the federal or regional level. Shor’s mayorship is one of their first major wins.
In June 2017, he was sentenced to seven years and six months’ imprisonment for money laundering and fraud. However, his lawyers have challenged the ruling and, while that processes, Shor has returned home. Despite a year of absence, he’s also returned to the mayor’s office as well.
As Mayor of Orhei, Shor has introduced popular social programs that include monetary grants for newborns – seven thousand lei for the first child and 10 thousand for the next (the average monthly salary in Moldova is around six thousand lei), road reconstruction, low-income housing and new kindergartens. He has also organized basic services for city residents, including consistent trash pickup days and free food for pensioners.
Shor, as Chairman of Equality, is likely to run in the 2018 parliamentary elections. The movement has regularly campaigned, but never come close to gaining enough votes to enter parliament. If he does enter the race, he will be one of the youngest candidates running at just 31. Further, his appeals ruling will likely be delayed until ballots are cast.
Vlad Filat is a former Prime Minister and former President of Moldova’s center-right Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM). Filat was arrested in 2015 in a massive scandal involving bribery and fraud.
Filat was born on in 1969 in Lăpușna, northeastern Moldova. Following compulsory military service in the Soviet army, Filat earned a law degree from the University of Iași in Romania in 1994.
He entered politics in 1998, after spending four years as an executive of a large Moldovan conglomerate. As part of the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), he served in several departmental and ministerial roles, including director of the Privatization and State Property Administration Department. His critics accuse him of having profited considerably from corrupt privatization practices even during these early years.
He was first elected to parliament in 2005 as part of the Electoral Bloc for Democratic Moldova, lead, in part, by the PDM. Elections that year were marked by significant gains for democratic and reform parties at the expense of Moldova’s ruling Communists.
Filat proved an ambitious and energetic politician and, after feuding with its PDM leader Dumitru Diacov, Filat broke with the party in 2007 to establish the center-right Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM). Ideologically, this produced a new party with more pro-business and, in fact, conservative values than the more socialist PDM.
The new party was soon bolstered by in inflow of members from similarly-oriented Christian Democratic Popular Party. Those members left that party in protest with the leader’s long-standing cooperation with the Communists, thus representing an early crack in that once-powerful party.
When the constitutional crisis began in 2009, Filat helped form the Alliance for European Integration (AEI), comprised of Filat’s PLDM (the predominant faction), the Liberal Party, the Democratic Party, and the Our Moldova Alliance party. AEI garnered just over 50 percent of the vote, and 53 of the 101 seats in parliament—enough to control parliament, but short of the 60 votes needed to elect a president directly. Filat served as prime minister throughout the crisis and, in December 2010, also briefly served as one of the many interim presidents that Moldova saw from 2009 to 2012.
The AEI proved to be a divided and chaotic alliance, and departmental and ministerial control was divided to appease AEI’s feuding member parties. This, with the constitutional crisis, meant that instituting any coherent policy was simply not possible. Moldova’s economy and government continued to stagnate.
In 2012, a major scandal occurred. Several government ministers and businessmen took part in an illegal hunting party. One person was shot and killed. The participants conspired, unsuccessfully, to conceal the incident and whether it was an accident is still not known. The controversy around “Huntgate,” as it came to be known, swelled into a general indictment of the government, lead at that time by Filat.
Several of Filat’s liberal rivals, including the powerful Vladimir Plahotniuc, called for his resignation. By 2013, the now-opposition Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) was able to call for a vote of no-confidence in Filat. It was passed and the AEI collapsed. Since then, similar alliances have continually resurfaced, under different names and generally with two or more of the same parties involved – and with the same challenges in holding it together.
In early 2015, the Banking Scandal broke after it was discovered that over $1 billion was transferred illegally out of Moldova. Filat, the most prominent member of those accused of profiting from the transfers, was stripped of his immunity, expelled from parliament, and convicted on separate charges of taking more than $200 million in bribes. He received a nine-year prison sentence based on testimony given by businessman Ilor Shor (see above) in the course of the trial investigating the Banking Scandal.
Filat maintains his innocence, claiming that he was framed by Democratic Party Leader and political rival Vladimir Plahotniuc. He continues to be supported by many, including the influential head of the Moldovan Orthodox Church.
Filat’s PLDM party, in his absence, has elected a new party president and retains control of about 22% of the Moldovan parliament, but is outside the ruling coalition and is likely to not perform as well in the 2018 elections. Further, the PLDM is also starting to face a number of defections to Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party.
Dorin Chirtoacă, the now-suspended Mayor of Chisinau, was arrested by anti-corruption prosecutors on July 28, 2017 and placed under house. He remains officially the mayor and is contesting the charges.
Born in 1978, Chirtoacă is the nephew of Liberal Party leader Mihail Ghimpu. Chirtoacă was educated in Romania – receiving a baccalaureate degree from Costache Negruzzi College in Iasi and a law degree from the University of Bucharest in 2001. From 2001 to 2003 he worked as a producer at TVR1, a Romanian television company, and in 2003 joined the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights as Project Coordinator for Moldova.
Chirtoacă joined his uncle’s Liberal Party in 2005 and was nominated to run for mayor of Chisinau. After two rounds of voting were invalidated due to low voter turnout, Chirtoacă came in second. In June 2007, he ran again and won, garnering over 60 percent of the vote. Chirtoacă was only 29 when he became mayor, making him the youngest in Chisinau’s history. He was reelected in 2011 with just over 50 percent of the vote.
As mayor, Chirtoacă has advocated movement towards EU integration and urged membership in other Western associations, including NATO. Like his uncle, Chirtoacă supports reintegration with Romania, but has not aggressively pursued the matter.
On the evening of May 25, 2017, Chirtoacă and six other city officials were detained by anticorruption prosecutors in connection to a contract with Austrian firm EME Parkleitsystem to build paid parking lots in Chisinau. The charges state that a Moldovan official set up an offshore holding in Cyprus and purchased a 26 percent stake in the firm, split between himself and the mayor.
Chirtoacă’s supporters maintain that his arrest is politically motivated rather than an effort to constrain endemic graft, as Moldova’s liberal leaders have come under fire following the $1 billion Banking Scandal.