Former Moldovan PM detained in bank fraud investigation

Written by on October 16, 2015 in Europe - Comments Off on Former Moldovan PM detained in bank fraud investigation

Moldovan prosecutors detained Vlad Filat, leader of the Liberal-Democrat party and former prime minister, on October 16 as part of an investigation into the disappearance of about $1 billion from three local banks, a case that has weakened the pro-EU coalition in government.

Already facing calls for early elections from protesters who have camped outside parliament in recent weeks, Filat’s detaining risks to further test the strained relations between the parties in the ruling coalition.

Addressing MPs shortly before the vote to strip him of his immunity from prosecution – which passed with 79 votes in favour from the 101-seat legislature – Filat accused Vlad Plahotniuc, deputy leader of the Democrat party, of orchestrating the proceedings. As part of the power-sharing agreement, the Democrats have control over political appointments in the justice ministry and several key institutions in the judiciary, including the prosecutor-general.

Filat denied the charges against him, namely that he was directly involved in the withdrawal of hundreds of millions of US dollars from the banks, and said he would fight the charges in court. After an initial period of 72 hours, he can be detained further only if a court orders so. Later in the day, prosecutors raided Filat’s house and Liberal-Democrat offices.

The Liberal-Democrats are one of the three parties in the coalition backing the government of prime minister Valeriu Strelet, alongside the Democrats and the Liberals. In a statement, the party said that the alacrity with which parliament granted the prosecution’s request was a “cynical set-up” and an attempt by “the real guilty parties to find a scapegoat and distract public attention from their crimes” – but unlike Filat, the statement did not outright name any names.

Plahotniuc, for his part, said that he was temporarily suspending his membership in the Democrat party for the duration of the investigation. He said that even though the accusations against him were unfounded, his decision would help prevent any attempts to tarnish the party’s image, as well as contribute to the stability of the governing coalition.

The bank fraud put Moldova’s three largest banks on the verge of insolvency, with the central bank stepping in to put the lenders under special administration, while the losses were covered with public funds. Media reports earlier this year claimed that a US consultancy firm hired by the government found that the money disappeared in Russian banks.

Moldova’s main opposition parties, which are backing the rallies demanding snap polls, are in favour of tearing up the country’s association agreement with the EU, signed last year, and accession to the Customs Union championed by the Kremlin.

(Vlad Filat, left, who was Moldova’s prime minister at the time, shakes hands with then-European Council president Herman van Rompuy before the European Council meeting in Brussels in December 2011. Photo: President of the European Council/flickr.com)

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