EXCLUSIVE // Vlad Plahotniuc, the First Interview in the Year of Elections
Vlad Plahotniuc gave Deschide.MD the first interview in this year, which is decisive for the political future and path of the Republic of Moldova. The President of DPM talks about the criminal case brought against him in Moscow, as well as about the people behind it. Our interlocutor reveals, for the first time, the number of requests that the Russians have made to Interpol on his name and talks about what FSB was doing in Bucharest. In this interview the leader of democrats explains the situation in Balti, presents the main element of DPM strategy for this electoral year, as well as the deadline set to the new ministers to confirm their capacities. Vlad Plahotniuc will also tell what will happen to Igor Dodon's being suspended. He will speak about "Kroll-2" and will give a personal score to the fight against corruption.
- There is a criminal case brought up against you in Russian Federation, and you have qualified this as political pressure and a blackmailing tool of Moscow. What is this blackmailing? How did it materialize? What do the Russians want from you?
- I think that anyone who saw the information brought into the public space understands very well what is behind this criminal case. It is a continuation of pressure applied for over a year not just on me, but also on colleagues from the Government, Parliament and Coalition. I handle my situation myself, but when other colleagues, some officials were blackmailed, a public position was taken and Ministry of Foreign Affairs took actions. You must be aware of them. Why is blackmailing used? Many would expect to hear that it is all about geopolitics, but it is not that, or certainly not only that. Great pressures started when the authorities began to speak up about the Laundromat, about the laundering of the 22 billion through a Moldovan bank, money having come from Russia. When specific action was taken with regard to the individuals involved in this case and when this topic became notorious internationally, the pressure started. Some individuals from Russian Federation, directly interested in this case, tried to determine Moldovan government to intervene and block the investigation. There was also direct pressure on some members of the Parliament when the laws on securing banking system were voted, which meant, among other, that the activities of some groups from Russian Federation that were making use of our banking system for illegal purposes would be blocked. The pressure also intensified after the anti-propaganda law was brought into discussion, as well as other initiatives.
- How many requests have the Russians made to INTERPOL on your name?
- Many, I no longer know the exact number. However, I believe that there were about 20 in a year. This is just to help you better understand the abusive nature of this harassment. You see, they needed quite a bit of imagination to invent so many different deeds. A charge would not go through; they would look for another one, and another one, until they saw that Interpol rejected all of them because they were acts of political harassment. Then they got the court rulings, hoping that these would be more convincing for Interpol, but they too were rejected, as they represent political pressure. There are other colleagues, from the Government and the Parliament, who were also targets of such political harassment. For some of them there were also numerous requests sent to Interpol, which were also rejected.
- Some people believe that all this is nothing but your personal issues with Russian Federation, and this undermines bilateral relations between Chisinau and Moscow. What would you say?
- The case was initiated based on Renato Usatii's denouncement. Was he a danger for you back in 2014? What do you think about the fact that he is hesitant to speak about his denouncement? Did Rogozin have a role to play in the initiation of this criminal case?
- The press plays a very good role: it is an extraordinary archive of events. If you read the press from that time, you will see how many articles contained accusations against me: Usatii would be my political project; I would be behind everything he had been doing and other things. I do not know exactly what sort of denouncement he made, but I have not officially received anything from that case politically framed in Moscow, and I do not care for it. Of course, they are hiding it, as they understand how evident the framing is.
- Veacelav Platon filed a denouncement in Bucharest. What can you tell us about the destiny of that criminal procedure? Is there a criminal case?
- The authorities in Bucharest have said very clearly that there is no criminal case against me. I have received this answer officially. If Platon filed that denouncement against you, the same thing would happen as in my case, the information from the denouncement would be checked, because it is a legal obligation. If it turns out that, the notification is about real facts that are under the jurisdiction of Romanian authorities, they proceed. If not, the issue is closed. Let alone that the denunciation in question is based on lies, it certainly has nothing to do with Romania and the denouncer’s lawyers are well aware that this case will have no outcome. However, the goal was strictly the media show, being able to say that there is a criminal case brought against me in Romania, forcing an investigation there. Weak things those individuals have been doing for days, hoping to make me nervous. They do not make me nervous. They mobilize me. Remember the complaint against me that an individual from JurnalTv filed in Romania, who did it only to be able to lie to people that I am under investigation in Romania. What was the outcome of that story? Nothing. They make denouncements just to be able to write negative news about me, as they have exhausted other stories in all those years. However, I can provide you with some new interesting information in this sense. A while ago, several representatives of FSB have mimed a business trip to Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania on a particular topic. In fact, when they got to Bucharest they spent there 3 days, instead of the one planned, participated in a number of meetings arranged by Usatii through his relatives and acquaintances, hoping to penetrate Romanian legal system and force a case against me. I think, though, that Romania is at such a level that does not allow Russian secret services to succeed with such attempts of political harassment, such farce.
All these have happened after Interpol has repeatedly rejected Moscow's abusive requests against me. New harassment options are being attempted, so it is a desperate action of Russian special services.
- Since we have mentioned Usatii, what is in fact going on in Balti? The mayor accuses you of having brought criminal cases against his councillors to take the Town Hall away from him. Are you involved in the events there?
- There issues with management there and some people are trying to divert attention from them. They needed to find someone to draw the attention of inhabitants to so that incompetence of some managers there would not be visible. I understand that the whole things started from the fact that the Government intervened to assist in cleaning the garbage during holidays, upon written request of Balti authorities. I believe that the Government did the right thing. The same thing was done in Chisinau during a similar crisis, and the same thing should be done in other communities should problems appear. It is very good that they have not left people to celebrate in a city infested with garbage. It is rather the business of Balti authorities to take care of the city. The Government has intervened strictly on this crisis and does not intend to take care of city management, and it is none of its business.
As for the accusations you have mentioned, DPM is categorically not part of these and of the whole situation in Balti. We do not want to get attracted into a local political and administrative crisis. We believe that people there must clear their situation on their own and no other central authority should intervene there. Particularly there should not be any abuse against anyone there. I saw that there was a decision made to have a referendum. It is the decision of the councillors that must be respected. It is their political right and an action that is strictly about the collaboration between the local authorities and the inhabitants. Ultimately, it is important to make sure that after all the actions the crisis ends and the city is managed well.
- Coming back to Russia, there appeared information that the State Duma intends to vote a resolution to condemn the antipropaganda law, initiated by DPM in Moldova. What do you think will be the effect of this resolution?
- We would be glad if Duma first brought up in discussion aggressive manipulation campaigns of a number of Russian TV channels, where Moldova is presented in a humiliating way, Moldovans are called all the names under the sun, and things that happen in our country are presented in long stories full of lies. We also wish Duma would discuss the abusive actions of FSB and other state institutions against the Republic of Moldova and our officials. What sort of strategic relations development can we talk about when our officials are harassed, when dozens of requests are sent to Interpol so that our officials or politicians are politically harassed? Our innumerable official complaints addressed to Russian Federation, with very specific cases, related to the abuse, should also be brought into discussion. However, we are dealing in fact with a more and more evident interference of some entities from Russian Federation into political activity in our country, even by the initiative that you have mentioned.
- Do you also mean here a possible political involvement of Russia into electoral activities this year, in Moldova?
- When there are left-wing parties that do not even conceal the support from Moscow, logistic, media and other kind of support, when there is a right-wing opposition party with very clear connections to people who act for Russian secret services and despite a rather low score has a clear mission to divide the right wing and not to allow for a new pro-European coalition after the elections, when more and more individuals from Russian Federation known for their propagandistic and harmful activities, previously abusively involved in electoral campaigns in other democratic countries, come to our country, I do not think more examples or comments are needed. We have more and more evident attempts of some entities from Russian Federation to get involved in the electoral campaign that will take place in the Republic of Moldova. We document all these cases. We pay careful attention to what is happening. We have notified state institutions, as well as international institutions, about these dangerous signals and will continue to do so. We do not intend to watch idly and start asking questions after the elections are over. We shall intervene in due time and will not allow someone from abroad to get involved in the electoral campaign, neither directly, nor indirectly, by blackmailing or applying pressure against the state and politicians. The elections must be free, democratic and they must happen in Moldova. They must reflect the opinion of our citizens, including those who are abroad, not the opinion of some stake groups or of another state.
- Let us get back to topical issues in Chisinau. New ministers - have you given them guarantees that they will stay until the end of this Government's mandate or do they have a term to prove their competence?
- DPM does not give anyone such guarantees. It is the results achieved that guarantee the position. The ministers are very well aware of this. In spring we shall assess the activity of each ministry again and a new reshuffle is not excluded, though I hope that will not be necessary. I think two or three months are enough to see of the path of the ministry is correct or if the minister, say, is in for politics and personal image and does not care much to deliver specific results for people. No one will keep office just because three months were not long enough to show what one is capable to accomplish. I believe it is sufficiently long of a term to prove that you are in for tangible results. We are human, we can err, but it is better to acknowledge that something is wrong in due time, than to persist in error. We run periodically opinion polls, we have daily meetings with citizens and we will see which activities of the Government reach out to them and which do not. I believe that the new government team formula is quite appropriate for the country's priorities. It is the strongest formula we have had in recent years in terms of professional expertise.
- There were analytics or journalists who commented that the new government team is not that technocratic, some of the ministers used to have political connections.
- Without making a comparison, just as an example to the point, I would recommend to have a look at Ciolos Government from Romania, which everyone called technocratic. Among members of that technocratic government, there were several people who previously were in parties, even deputy prime ministers and some ministers, who were in governments before, but had professional skills appreciated by the society. I saw that some people in Moldova believe that a minister is not technocratic because some time ago he or she liked a post by someone from DPM or shared a prim-minister's post. This is hypocrisy. Beyond those appreciations, however, which cover frustration, I believe that a minister proves his or her independence and qualities by work and results achieved for the citizens. Moreover, these results are measured in specific votes from people, not in likes on social networks.
I would like to make it clear, though, that DPM is responsible for the act of government, not just the minister that our coalition colleagues or we propose. That is why we will permanently talk to colleagues representing us in the Government and Parliament, both on DPM or PPE and Coalition platforms. The fact that a minister is not a party member does not mean that he or she is not supposed to listen to the requests of people passed through members of the party, who interact with people in the territory daily. The citizens will evaluate coalition parties based on the results of each ministry or member of the Parliament, irrespective of the political affiliation. As it is an electoral year, we decided to act so as to allow the Government to concentrate as much as possible on its activities and stay away from political fights and debates that will take place, to take care of its mission to accomplish tangible results for all Moldovans, regardless of their political choice or location, in country or abroad.
- The electoral year began. Usually, political fights heat up in such times. What should we expect? Who is the main political enemy of DPM?
- DPM will have a new electoral approach, which is not anyhow in for political wars, fights with other parties. It is rather in for competition with ourselves, with the capacity to get even closer to the citizens and help them. It is a pragmatic approach, with a very clearly set objective. The main enemy of DPM is represented by the problems in the country, accumulated in years and years of political instability, complicated coalitions, vanity, fight for power, problems also accumulated by representatives of parties that are in opposition nowadays, but were in power not so long ago. We should fight this as a party, we should solve the existing problems, stimulate our colleagues from the Government and the Parliament to be active in this sense. Soon we will resume the weekly party meetings and I will propose to my colleagues a plan that targets exactly these directions concerning the electoral year. Thus, expect from DPM a strong involvement in solving problems the country is facing, less political polemics, avoidance of political wars. We will have pinpoint reactions only in cases we would deem necessary to underscore publicly some false accusations against us, we shall protect our colleagues under unjust attack. Our party is built from a consolidated and strong team.
- The leaders of DP have said that the party is disposed to enter into post-electoral alliances with right-wing parties only. If they do not want you, how are you going to make them want you? Do you count on external partners who could bring PAS closer to DPM?
- We have specified our position quite clearly and voted for it in the National Political Council. DPM will continue following the European path of development after the elections as well, together with the right-wing parties that would be willing. We do not want to comment on purely electoral declarations of some oppositional right-wing parties or enter into polemics with them. They only have messages about things they are not going to do, and do not tell people what they are going to do for them. We believe that we must get back to these discussions after the elections. Our strategic position stays firm on the line voted by the Political Council.
- You have previously said in an interview that if Igor Dodon commits severe violations, he might be suspended from office. He did violate the Constitution at least three times. Is this a reason to get him suspended from office once and forever, either by impeachment or by making him criminally liable, thing that the CCM also demanded?
- If there was political dialog between the right-wing parties, oppositional or governing, I believe we could come up with quite an interesting approach to this matter. However, there are wars and there is no trust on the right wing. It is divided. Our party lawyers have analysed both CC recommendations and the actions of the president. We are also talking to the lawyers outside the party. The issue receives a very meticulous treatment. This is as much as I can tell you now. The most recent sociological analysis shows that trying to suspend the president from office now, particularly without sufficient legal and political preparation, would make him even more legitimate and not suspended from office. Guess who will be blamed should this thing happen? Of course Plahotniuc. The opponents would say that I wanted this referendum to help Igor Dodon to grow. The suspension from office remains an open issue, particularly when the president persists in the attitude of not following the provisions of the Constitution.
- These negotiations were based on the interest of citizens from both banks of Nistru, and our political task, as well as the task of the Government, was to get a positive result, to finally take specific steps to soling some problems that are being discussed for many years without an outcome.
We provided political support for negotiations, assisted the team of negotiators, but any success is ultimately the success of the Republic of Moldova and, particularly, of the citizens who will benefit from those agreements.
- Speaking about the foreign vector, we have committed to the European path in 2009, and now, in 2018, we still do not have a clear perspective of European integration. Could it be that Unification with Romania is the shorter path to integration in the EU?
- The fact that we still do not have a clear perspective of European integration, to my mind, does not have to do with the aspects you mentioned. It is something else. Firstly, it is the political class that has do with it. We could have advanced faster, had we not been in endless political wars and periods of instability, periods for which I personally apologized to the citizens and will apologize again for the fact that they had to witness all these political wars and had been affected by them. If we pay the required attention to the stability in the country now, that is also because we learned our lessons from the mistakes in the past, based on the justified reproaches from the people. I believe that the last two years have shown an evident change in the way we act in this sense, without political scandals and false stakes. The whole political class must commit to be liable for that long political instability in the past, and in the future it should no longer be used by partied to settle their misunderstandings. Besides, the reason why we still do not have a clear perspective of integration in the EU also has to do with the EU Enlargement Strategy in general. This does not mean, however, that Moldova does not have integration perspectives. In fact, before the effective European integration, we must make sure that the Republic of Moldova meets at least the minimum standards of an EU member state. Then we can actively ask for initiation of integration process and I am sure we will be heard. Therefore, we have quite a lot of work to do at home first.
- How well do you think the institutions responsible for fighting corruption (AP and NAC) are doing their job? How about justice system?
- I would rather say that they act as institutions undergoing transition, just like other state institutions. I believe, though, that we need to be much more incisive in our actions, in particular against criminal groups that are at the basis of the most corrupt areas. It is not enough to arrest just the head of an institution who committed acts of corruption, because the criminal group may recover. The whole scheme must be eliminated. People expect these corrupt areas to be destructured at the basis too, where corruption sometimes builds up, where everyday money is taken out of people's pockets for services that should be provided free of charge. I said once that shock therapy is necessary. Well, in terms of corruption, we do need it; the responsible institutions must storm into this subject and no longer be shy. We all know that nobody dared to touch high-level officials in Moldova 3-4 years ago. Now we have dozens of such cases in the last two years only, including convictions. So we can take action, we just need to be more decisive and prompt.
DPM will take necessary political actions to drive fight against corruption, and citizens will feel this directly as the abuse committed by some officials against them will no longer happen. Both we as a party and our representatives in institutions have sent numerous notifications to the anticorruption institutions on facts signalled by people or the ones we have discovered. We shall follow up on the way they are settled.
- Have you read the Kroll-2 report? It is clear from its summary that Shor is still the main figure. Everyone complains that his case is delayed on purpose. Do you think that he should do time in prison?
I have partly read things that appeared in press, but it does not matter whether I have read this report or not. It is important that the factors that must act on it have read it. Those who are guilty or will be found guilty must be held liable and we, as government, using political and legal leverages we have, will insist that this does happen.
- If DP stays in government after the elections in 2018, do you intend to become the prime-minister then?
- I do not have such plans, neither with regard to the position of the prime-minister, nor other office. My concern is that from my position I should provide as much support as possible to the good governance and development of the country. I would also like to contribute to a change in the way one deals in politics, to a change of politicians' attitude towards the citizens and to bringing them closer to the citizens to solve problems they face. This is what politicians should do, not touring TV channels or counting likes on Facebook.
- What is the story behind DPM moving to new headquarters? There were various speculations. Isn't it too big and costly for a party?
- We have been looking for headquarters to move in for quite a while. There were a number of options and we have finally chosen this one. The party grew larger in recent years. We have many more mayors, new departments, new people. We needed functional meeting rooms to hold our activities, to no longer be spread in different places, to no longer rent rooms in different places when we have meeting with colleagues from the territory. DPM will function in several spaces in this building and other parts of it are or will be rented by third parties.
- And are you now parting from the GBC brand?
- I have not thought about that until now actually. I sometimes miss the activity in business. The presence in the GBC building gave me the feeling that I have not left this sphere. Here, however, I will feel more involved in politics than ever, as all major activities of the party will happen here. I think that it is a new step, which is also necessary for the colleagues from DPM. We should all finally be in the same place, closer to each other. We have also created working conditions for those who come to work here temporarily, including the media, a more functional place, so that the unpleasant situations we had in the previous place where we worked do not happen again. There are also conditions for citizens who have appointments, for guests and so on.