Prime Minister Jüri Ratas met with Vladimir Plahotniuc, considered to be a corrupt oligarch and Moldova’s gray eminence, during his visit to the country the day before yesterday. The PM and his advisors did not perceive a problem in the meeting.
Coordinator at NGO for human rights, democracy, independent judiciary and transparency CPR Dumitru Alaiba told Postimees that Plahotniuc has hijacked the entire Moldovan justice system, destroyed the opposition and monopolized the mass media.
Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party took 15.8 percent of the vote and fourth place in 2014 elections. Critics say the oligarch nevertheless controls the majority in parliament and the government as chairman of the coalition council to whom both the PM and parliament speaker de facto report, even though the council has no political mandate.
It is suspected that Plahotniuc has facilitated the moving of around €22 billion in Russian money to the EU through Moldova. A billion dollars was allegedly stolen from the Moldovan central bank while Plahotniuc was its head. The oligarch’s ties to human trafficking were confirmed by Interpol in 2012.
“He is also the head of a political party and chairman of the coalition council. The PM met with Mr. Plahotniuc because he plays an important role in domestic politics. There is an election coming and we met with all sides,” said the PM’s Foreign Adviser Mariin Ratnik.
Ratnik added that the topic of the meeting was mutual relations, just as it was for all other meetings. “We first and foremost talked about the need for Moldova to move forward with recent economic reforms, its justice reform and that it is important for Moldova to stay its European course,” Ratnik said.
PM Ratas told Kuku radio that he met with Moldova’s president, prime minister, deputy prime minister, defense minister and other officials but did not mention meeting Plahotniuc yesterday. “Everything has gone according to plan,” Ratas said of the visit.
European premiers and heads of state have avoided meeting Plahotniuc. Those who have met with the oligarch include Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The New York Times has described Plahotniuc as the most feared man in Moldova whose reputation is so toxic that even his political allies are trying to distance themselves from him in public. An opinion poll from a few years ago painted Plahotniuc as the most unpleasant and least trustworthy politician in Moldova.
U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Allen Grenell has been criticized in the U.S. media for defending Plahotniuc after the Observer described him as a human trafficker.
The newspaper reported that when head of Moldova’s anti-corruption efforts Mihail Gofman applied for asylum in the U.S. in 2016, he told the FBI how Plahotniuc had a billion dollars stolen from the Moldovan central bank – one-eighth of Moldova’s GDP – that he allegedly laundered with help from the Kremlin. Grenell said at the time that Gofman is wrong and Plahotniuc is a pro-Western politician under attack by the Kremlin.