Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Moldova backs away from EU-Russia money laundering probe

  • Chisinau. 'This is about setting out an objective - the rule of law - and implementing it,' Filat said (Photo: BBM Explorer)

The head of Moldova's National Anti-Corruption Centre (NAC) has poured cold water on the prospects of an EU-linked money laundering probe.

Speaking to media in Chisinau on Monday (25 March), Viorel Chetraru, confirmed that "stolen" Russian money went through Moldova's top lender, the Banca de Economii.

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"Over 30 banking structures in various countries transferred via Moldova about 4 percent of all the money coming from Russia. All these funds were transferred to offshores, mainly Cyprus," he noted.

He said "all the other countries" involved in the case have decided not to pursue criminal charges, however.

He added that he cannot proceed without co-operation from Russia.

"You have to prove the origin of the money … In the case of Moldova, the criminal charges were brought on the basis of money-theft from Russia, but unfortunately Russia did not respond to our repeated requests [for information]," he said.

He also said the whole affair is linked to US-Russian machinations on energy security.

"From our point of view, this is the US and Russia settling accounts. It's about a lot of money aimed at influencing the energy sector in Russia, including [Russian natural gas supplier] Gazprom. The operation was not successful and so this money was stolen with the help of fake identities and tricks and wired to offshores and other countries," he explained.

The case concerns what happened to $231 million of Russian tax money embezzled by Russian officials, who are also accused of murdering Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblower accountant.

Chetraru's remarks are inaccurate on several points.

Austria and Finland have closed money laundering investigations.

But Lithuania and Switzerland have frozen suspect bank accounts while they pursue enquiries. Cyprus, Estonia and Latvia also say they are working on the case. And even Austria and Finland have decided to exchange information in an EU-run financial investigators' body.

For its part, Russia has refuted allegations of high level corruption.

But its own courts convicted a petty criminal of conspiring to steal the $231 million, creating what is called a "predicate offence" in legal terms - the basis for money laundering prosecutions elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Chetraru's point on Gazprom mimics Russian claims.

In recent weeks, Russian TV aired a series of programmes saying that Magnitsky's former employer, a British-based investment fund chief called Bill Browder, is a foreign spy whose past purchases of Gazprom shares were part of a plot to influence the firm.

For his part, Moldova's Prime Minister, Vlad Filat, recently launched a purge on high level corruption in the country.

The move caused the collapse of his coalition government because it implicated top people in his erstwhile partner, the Democratic Party.

But he told EUobserver in an interview earlier this month that if Moldova is to move ahead on EU integration, it must do so on the basis of genuine reform.

"This is about setting out an objective - the rule of law - and implementing it. We need functional institutions, we need EU values to be applied, else we only have processes with no content," he said.

In revelations which harmed Chetraru's credibility, Moldovan media recently reported that he owns a luxury property well beyond his means built on land which the NAC seized a few years ago.

He is also said to be a close associate of Gregory Gachkevich, the head of the Banca de Economii at the time of the Magnitsky wire transfers.

Chetraru added in his remarks on Monday: "I do not think Gachkevich played a role in this case. There are no implications of this. He simply worked at the bank at the time."

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