From left to right: Balan Iulian – Solicitor, Moldova, Marina Tauber - Vice-Chairman of the SOR political party of Moldova, Lorenzo Fontana - MEP, Lega Nord, Denis Ulanov – Solicitor, Moldova
Delegates from Moldova’s Șor Party have been visiting the European Parliament in Strasbourg to appeal to MEPs for help in getting the head of their party, Ilan Shor, released from almost one year of house arrest in his home country. At a press conference on 14 June in Strasbourg, the delegation gave an insight into the poor state of democracy and civil rights in this former Soviet republic, as well as details on the circumstances surrounding the detention of their party leader. Mr Ilan Șor, a well-known business man in Moldova, and currently the Mayor of the city of Orhei, has been under house arrest now for almost 1 year.
Several MEPs participated at the conference including Mr Lorenzo Fontana from Italy’s League of the North, Ms Elisabeta Gardini – a vice-chairman of both the European People’s Party group and the Forza Italia, Mr Alberto Chirio, Member of the European Parliament Committee for EU’s Association with the Republic of Moldova, and Mr Jean-Luc Schaffhauser.
The keynote speakers were Ilan Șor’s lawyers and Marina Tauber, vice-chairman of the Șor party. The picture of the risks surrounding business and politics in a corrupt and impoverished country were highlighted and exemplified by the panel with the consequences now facing Mr Șor.
In 2013, Ilan Șor, reportedly found himself under pressure from the then Prime Minister Vlad Filat to acquire a controlling stake in the government-owned “Banca de economii” which, by that time, after widespread and endemic embezzlement, was hiding a “hole” in the range of several hundred million euros.
Feeling betrayed by government officials, Mr. Șor was outspoken in his testimony during the subsequent investigations. Ilan Shor testified that for years he paid what amounted to “protection” money to the former Prime Minister, while as a banker he was blackmailed into authorizing a $250 million loan that was clearly never meant to be repaid. Soon after that, the Banca de Economii, once the largest in Moldova, was declared bankrupt. Following this, for the first time in the entire 25-year history of Moldova, it became possible to identify and prove corruption, and former Prime Minister Filat was sentenced last year to 9 years in prison.
Despite his transparent cooperation in the investigations and lack of evidence of any wrong doings by his own part, Mr Șor later became defendant in another criminal case and faced onslaught of criticism by the media.
This did however not prevent him from winning the first round of mayoral elections in the major city of Orhei. Today Orhei, thanks to Mr. Șor and his team, has achieved significant improvements in cleanliness, infrastructure and other public services such as utilities, pensions and social stores with affordable goods for pensioners and low-income households.
In the two years since Ilan Șor’s arrival to Orhei, his approval ratings have increased significantly, despite his current house arrest. The same goes for the party which he has led since 2016. Its widely-approved social projects are being carried out not only in the city Orhei, but across the whole country.
The young party has become a popular voice of the poor and a defender of high social standards and direct democracy, which has reportedly irritated the elitist political “establishment” in Moldova. The country has subsequently become divided between the supporters of European integration and the defenders of rapprochement with Russia, with the former accused of earning Moldova its unflattering ranking as the poorest country in Europe.
Of the two years that Mr. Șor has now run the city and the party, exactly one year has been spent under house arrest. After producing important evidence in several government corruption cases, the mayor and business man, whose companies employ over three thousand people, now finds his civil rights and scope for action severely curbed.
In their presentation during the press conference, lawyers Denis Ulanov and Julian Balan as well as Ilan’s associates argued that the outcome for Mr Șor would be determined rather by political expediency and not according to the letter of the law.
June 22 this year marks exactly one year since Mr. Șor has been placed under house arrest. If he is not charged, he must be released according to Moldovan law. However, the prosecutors on the case have already stated their intention to ask the court either to deliver the verdict before June 22 or extend the house arrest. The first option would be undue pressure on the court, while the second – a direct breach of the law.
The European Union (EU) has in recent years secured more than a billion euros worth of financial assistance for Moldova. A significant part of these funds were allocated for precisely the reform of the justice system. With the current treatment of cases like Ilan Shor, the EU may be interested in demanding both a report on how these funds were spent and a direct evidence of changes in the way justice is delivered.
The outcome of the Șor’s case might become a litmus test establishing the true character of reform and the irreversibility of Moldova’s accession to European standards. The sense of urgency expressed by the members of the European Parliament during their meetings with the Șor Party is indeed a starting point in this determination to extract such inquiries from the Moldovan authorities.