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Behind the European dream, corruption in Moldova reaches new heights

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Follow Me on Twitter     Message Mark Lansvin

As Moldova's President Maia Sandu tried to keep her country on a pro-EU trajectory, corruption has been running rampant.

Shortly after her government fell, Moldovan President Maia Sandu nominated last week Dorin Recean as her new prime minister. Recean, a noted pro-EU figure and former national security adviser, replaced Natalia Gavrili?a, as the new head of government. Sandu clearly aims at keeping her country close to the European Union.

Moldova was granted candidate status to the European Union last June, together with Ukraine, but the government has faced intense pressure from Moscow, which has sought to undermine its authority. The Moldovan government has long accused Russia, which bases soldiers in the breakaway region of Transnistria in the east, of stirring unrest in the country, including protests in the capital, Chi?in?u.

The war in Ukraine is also a chance for Moldova. In February, the European Union and the Republic of Moldova have agreed to further strengthen cooperation in a number of key areas in line with Moldova's commitments under the EU-Moldova Association Agreement. "We welcome the strong commitment of the Moldovan government to reforms that aim at bringing Moldova closer to the EU, in particular a comprehensive justice system reform, fighting corruption and ensuring the de-politicisation of state institutions. These reforms are vital for meeting the expectations of the Moldovan people and are equally important for strengthening Moldova's overall resilience and for Moldova's progress on the EU path," said Josep Borrell.

Is the EU High representative aware of the reality in this country? Corruption in Moldova is a still serious issue that has had a detrimental impact on the country's economy and society. Despite the changes in government, with the election of Maia Sandu and her party, the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), the situation has not improved. On the contrary, corruption has become much worse under Sandu's regime, despite its Western façade.

Facts are indisputable. The country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita was estimated to be $5,230 in 2021, making it one of the poorest countries in Europe. Corruption and a lack of investment have been identified as major factors hindering the country's economic growth and development. Despite great promise in the past, and for very obvious reasons. Although the service sector accounts for the largest share of Moldova's economy, an indicator of modernity and globalization, and despite being rich in natural resources, the country has struggled to attract investment due to corruption and an utter lack of transparency in government procurement processes.

Nuestra Familia

According to the World Bank's Doing Business Report 2021, Moldova ranks 48th out of 190 economies in terms of ease of doing business. This ranking indicates that there are significant challenges faced by companies looking to do business in the country, including corruption, red tape, and lack of transparency.

Above all else, two issues plague Moldova's stature: its judicial system and its family-like boys' and girls' club, where the elected leadership, the senior public servants and many middlemen come from the same social club. Despite PAS promises for transparency and open democracy, the government and party still function as a "family", merely replacing the previous social clique with one of their own, giving political and financial favors to allies and backers, while suppressing and excluding opponents.

Take for example Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development, Andrei Spînu. Could you imagine that the young minister is very well connected to political operators such as Adrian Stipanov, which might make sense if not considering that he is also the proud owner of no less than 12 companies worldwide? What would the minister need with co-ownership of companies with political operators or owning offshores, and how would it coincide with Moldova's widespread corruption?

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Let's focus on the new prime minister, another shining example of the highly influential actors within PAS. Dorin Recean, former head of the Supreme Security Council and one of the closest adviser to President Sandu, has turned out to be C?t?lin Giosan's business partner. As a reminder, Giosan is the founder and owner of PRO TV, one of the most important mass media channels, and one continuously (and purely randomly) associated with PAS and other business and political interests. This is in addition to various other corporations being held by Recean. For what reason exactly?

This lack of transparency and the continued conflict between business, media and political interests, has resulted in a lack of accountability and has made it more difficult for citizens to have confidence in their elected officials.

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When a suffering party, wronged by the Nuestra Familia of PAS, appeals to the judiciary, it finds out that the Moldovan judicial system and its judges are found to be corrupt and any foreign investment requires a strategy to address this issue. For example, consider the new Prosecutor General Ion Munteanu. In recent months it was published that even though his salary amounts to a reasonable 500 EUR per month, he actually negotiated the purchase of a 650,000 EUR property and refused to buy it only when he discovered it had its ground floor owned by other owners, unwilling to sell. This was not the only business Munteanu wanted to buy. During 2018, Munteanu was exploring the possibility of buying a real estate property and developing it into a car service, notwithstanding the fact that he was a public official at the time. The deal did not come to pass due to zoning problems, but the overall picture is very clear. One of the assets he did purchase, was registered under his family member's name, to avoid scrutiny:

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Mr. Lansvin is a strategic advisor on a range of issues for various NGOs and governments around the globe.

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