#Moldova: The case of Vyacheslav Kobalev

Scandal arrest

The recent sensational arrest and high-profile extradition process of the Ukrainian citizen Vyacheslav Kobalev (Platon) is already being called the new form of political assassination against undesirable international competitors. The foregoing businessman is the key witness for the international case concerning the theft of billion dollars derived from the Moldovan budget, which acquired international publicity including an authoritative edition of The New York Times. 

Injured Vyacheslav Kobalev after his high-profile misconducted arrest by Ukrainian authorities

Injured Vyacheslav Kobalev after his high-profile misconducted arrest by Ukrainian authorities

According to Moldovan experts, the arrest of Kobalev is closely linked to the on-going informational warfare between two Moldovan special interest groups. The country is actively going on the stage of the next power-struggle between two Moldovan pressure groups. This information was reported in the publication of Centre for Eastern Studies NUMBER 208 | 07.04.2016. During those struggles, Vladimir Filat was convicted for corruption and was removed from  the position  of  Prime Minister  of  Moldova.

Now the Moldovan oligarch and First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Vlad Plahotniuc and the leaders of the Communist Party compete for political power and according to the Moldovan Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman, their campaign is funded by the Russian authorities.

Will Vyacheslav Kobalev be alive to testify in Moldova?

For a long time, the EU has been concerned about the elimination of Moldovan witnesses in high profile cases. As stated by the wife of Mr. Kobalev, Eugenia: “I have every reason to fear for his life, because his testifying evidence could

undermine the credibility of many Moldovan politicians, including Plahotniuc”. A number of mysterious deaths of direct participants and witnesses of “The Billion dollars theft” case forces the European community to closely monitor the development of Vyacheslav Kobalev prosecution. According to the publication on 06/28/2016 by Jurnal.md head of IT department of the National Bank of Moldova Mikhail Bologan, a member of a secret group to investigate the situation at

those three banks involved in the scam including BEM, BancaSocială and Unibank died in a car accident. A Member of

Parliament, a member of the Commission on Security Ion Butmalai, who had access to the information of the billion dollars case – has committed suicide. The collector of the related minibus allegedly committed suicide as well and burned a minivan with all document archives of VEM banks, BancaSocială and Unibank. In July, one of the most important witnesses, former head of the Anti-Money Laundering Monitoring and transaction at BancaSociala bank Sergey Sagaidak told to the public via Jurnal.md and the Western media about the pressure on him from the criminal circles of Moldova and of Plahotniuc himself.

Sagaidak, in his open letter to Europol, asked the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and NPPM investigators, with the support of prosecutors from the EU Member States and experts OLAF (European Anti-Fraud Office) to provide a full and objective investigation of bank frauds in Moldova. The scale of laundered funds and the attraction of an international network of accomplices increased the attention of US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Despite the willingness of Kobalev (Platon) to co-operate with the FBI and testify against accomplices of the money-laundering case his application was rejected.

Vyacheslav Kobalev (right) is talking to his wife Eugenia Tulchevska (left)

Vyacheslav Kobalev (right) is talking to his wife Eugenia Tulchevska (left)

Even the recent letter in the press from the investigating authorities of the United States of America about the request not to extradite a citizen of Ukraine to Moldova and allow them to take an active part in the investigation of this odious theft of the century case did not affect Kobalev’s prosecution. The resonance of the case and the growing issues of Moldovans on the participation of Plahotniuc in stealing a billion motivated the vice-speaker of the Moldovan parliament to shift all the “responsibility” to Vyacheslav Kobalev (Plato). Publications of the Western media about the involvement of Moldovan oligarchs in the billion dollars theft case only increased Plahotniuc’s desire to address the situation to rid of charges at any methods.

Due to the resignation of Filat, the positions of the Communist Party and the Kremlin’s influence on Moldova have increased significantly. In order to strengthen his personal position, a representative of the local oligarchy Vlad Plahotniuc that is associated with Moldovan criminality, has stepped up a campaign to eliminate all potential risks for his own image. According to Moldovan journalists, a few days before the public arrest, Vyacheslav Kobalev (Platon) wanted to tell them about Mr. Plahotniuc’s personal participation in the international law enforcement agencies under investigation ‘The Billion Dollars Theft’ case. Right after inviting representatives of the media to Ukraine, businessman Vyacheslav Kobalev was immediately detained and isolated from any contact.

The dispute between Plahotniuc and Kobalev was settled by the Dutch court

Vyacheslav Kobalev (Platon)

Vyacheslav Kobalev (Platon)

Kobalev (Platon) got into trouble since the 2011, when he along with his business partner bought shares of Moldovan insurance company Asito and Moldovan banks including Victoriabank and Banca de Economii from Mr. Plahotniuc (more detailed in the attached article №1). Short time later after the transaction in 2011, Vlad Plahotniuc together with raiders under his control, decided to bring some of those assets back. In 2014, the Amsterdam court ruled in favor of Mr. Kobalev (Platon). However, the pressure and persecution of Mr. Kobalev increased significantly.

Vlad Plahotniuc

Vlad Plahotniuc

That is why fearing for the lives of his family, Kobalev (Platon) was forced to move from Moldova to Ukraine. Now, realizing that extradition of a businessman who is a citizen of Ukraine would be a difficult task, Plahotniuc is spending millions of dollars to lead an active propaganda in Ukrainian and Western media, as well as using personal resources and connections in the highest levels of decision-making to influence the General Prosecutor’s Office and the court.

Legal nihilism in Ukraine and Moldova

The General Prosecutor of Ukraine became actively involved in the process.  However, such a fast reaction is not common for this law enforcement structure. The General’s Office in Ukraine repeatedly reacted on political orders in a matter of a few days, but always delay to capture scandalous corrupted perpetrators. Despite the fact that the very current head of the Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko, was a victim of a political persecution, the working methods of this body have not changed. As detainee’s lawyer reported to Obozrevatel national media resource: “Even before the official publication of the Interpol document tracing Mr. Kobalev (Platon), General Prosecutor and the Security Service of Ukraine has managed to carry out a full-scale of arrest campaign for public and violent detention of Mr. Kobalev.” The sources affiliated with the Prosecutor’s Office report that such persistence has to do with the special interest in the consideration of this process by the highest-ranking Ukrainian authorities that may be related to the general business of Plahotniuc.

During the arrest of Kobalev, a native of Moldova, Ukrainian General Prosecutor of Ukraine was dismayed by the fact that Kobalev has the Ukrainian passport and citizenship.  As it turned out, the citizenship was obtained automatically after the collapse of the USSR. Meanwhile, under the influence of Plahotniuc, the news about the loud detention and urgent extradition of Vyacheslav Kobalev has been widespread. Ukrainian law enforcement system is in the complex situation.

After all, according to Ukrainian law, it is prohibited to extradite the citizens of Ukraine to foreign states. In order to avoid this uncomfortable situation, Prosecutor General’s Office has declared the fraudulent issue of Kobalev’s passport. The formal reason to state that the passport is forged and not valid is the absence of the Form №1 application of Kobalev to issue the document. Such applications and related documents of every citizen of Ukraine are stored under the responsibility of the state bodies State Migration Service of Ukraine. The number and order of these documents is not is not specified in any direct or indirect way. Citizens of Ukraine do not have direct access to them so this situation creates a dangerous legal precedent. After all, if the petition of the Prosecutor General is satisfied it will provide an opportunity for the influential circles to appeal against the citizenship of any Ukrainian.

That would definitely concern temporarily displaced inhabitants from the Donbass area, who have lost the connection with the local authorities of State Migration Service of Ukraine. An interesting fact is that two of the three judges of the Court of Appeal, where the case of Mr. Kobalev is now being examined, are temporarily displaced residents from Lugansk and will not be able to submit their №1 application forms. Based on the logic of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the citizenship, as well as the license of these judges can be challenged under law as well.

The legal eect of the Vyacheslav Kobalev case for Ukrainians

Role of Ukraine 2The Ukrainian society, politicians, public opinion leaders and businessmen are deeply concerned about the current methods of influence on the citizens of Ukraine. They resent the active participation and assistance of the General Prosecutor’s Office in the political assassination campaign of Vyacheslav Kobalev led by foreign Moldovan oligarchs. In case the motion is not dismissed, none of the investors or Ukrainian citizens can be sure of their rights protection. Legally obtained Ukrainian citizenship may be appealed, if there is a special interest of the oligarchs and politicians, such as Plahotniuc.

Vlad Plahotniuc (left) and Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine (right)

Vlad Plahotniuc (left) and Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine (right)

Ukrainian society requires the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko to act as a guarantor of human rights and freedom and to influence the situation for the purpose of preventing the shameful precedent that can be used against any citizen of Ukraine. Such actions of the Ukrainian authorities provoked a feeling of possible violations of citizen and human rights   as well as the basic foundations of the constitution.

Opinion of Denis Shkiptan, lawyer of Kobalev, representative of Pravovest law-firm:

Vyacheslav Kobalyev a citizen of Ukraine, and as any other citizen of our country cannot be extradited, so a preventive measure of extradition arrest technically cannot be used by Ukrainian authorities.

“It was said during a press conference dedicated to protect the rights of Vyacheslav Kobalev” said the lawyer, a representative of the law firm “Pravovest” Denis Shkiptan.

According to him, the Pechersky District Court, which accepted the decision for provisional arrest of Mr. Kobalev (Platon) on 28 July 2016, “could not provide any proper interpretation of the mandatory rules of law”.

Also, the lawyer said, many violations had been implemented during the arrest of his client. “We believe the actions of law enforcement and judicial authorities of Ukraine are unacceptable and unlawful. We will appeal them” – said Denis Shkiptan.

The lawyer of Vyacheslav Kobalev is sure that the temporary arrest of his client has hidden political motives and implies special interests. “Kobalyev a citizen of Ukraine since 2002. This is a clear fact duly confirmed. A state Ukraine has no right to refuse the protection and observance of civil rights, including protection from harassment of him by a foreign state,” said Shkiptan.

The lawyers state that the Pechersky District Court of Kyiv was obliged to reject the prosecutor request for provisional arrest of Kobalev after establishing the fact of his Ukrainian citizenship. The protection of Kobalev has filed an appeal against the decision of the Pechersk District Court and hopes for impartiality of the Court of Appeal.

Opinion of Kateryna Odarchenko, member of the International Association of Political Consultants (IAPC), president of PolitA Institute for Democracy and Development:

Kateryna Odarchenko, political consultant

Kateryna Odarchenko, political consultant

The scandal related to Vyacheslav Kobalev case is not just an isolated incident, it is the precondition for further application of the same standards to any citizen of Ukraine. This precedent is very dangerous for the Ukrainian legal system and may harm the rights and freedoms of every Ukrainian citizen in the future

 

The current political situation in Moldova

Moldova’s political system took shape due to the six-year rule of the Alliance for European Integration coalition but it has undergone a major transformation over the past six months. Resorting to skillful political maneuvering and capitalizing on his control over the Moldovan judiciary system, Vlad Plahotniuc, one of the leaders of the nominally pro-European Democratic Party and the richest person in the country, was able to bring about the arrest of his main political competitor, the former prime minister Vlad Filat, in October 2015.

Then he pushed through the nomination of his trusted aide, Pavel Filip, for prime minister. In effect, Plahotniuc has concentrated political and business influence in his own hands on a scale unseen so far in Moldova’s history since 1991.

All this indicates that he already not only controls the judiciary, the anti-corruption institutions, the Constitutional Court and the economic structures, but has also subordinated the greater part of parliament and is rapidly tightening his grip on the section of the state apparatus which until recently was influenced by Filat.

Plahotniuc, whose power and position depends directly on his control of the state apparatus and financial flows in Moldova, is not interested in a structural transformation of the country or in implementing any thorough reforms; this includes the Association Agreement with the EU. This means that as his significance grows, the symbolic actions so far taken with the aim of a structural transformation of the country will become even more superficial.  Furthermore, the Moldovan government system, which has become monopolized by a single political center, is very unstable.

This is so because Plahotniuc’s position is strengthening, while 95% of the public declare a dislike of him. Given the arrogant manner in which Plahotniuc’s camp took power in the country, all this has rekindled protest sentiments, which are nevertheless unlikely to change the political situation in Moldova. It also seems unlikely that this situation could be affected by the restrained reactions from Moldova’s Western partners.

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Category: A Frontpage, Civil liberties, Corruption, Crime, Eastern Partnership, EU, EU, Moldova, Money laundering, Ukraine, Victims of crime

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