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'Theft of the century' in #Moldova: Billion was stolen by #Filat and #Platon

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Probably, there is no person in Europe who would not have heard about the “theft of the century” in Moldova. From the banking system of this small post-Soviet country, painfully experiencing a choice between the West and the East, nearly a billion US dollars were stolen. Among the victims was the system-forming bank 'Banca de economii', which the state declared bankrupt.

Who is guilty?

Until now, the European society had a strong opinion regarding the organizers and beneficiaries of this audacious theft. It was based partly on the assessments of Moldovan opposition, and partly on the findings of the first report of the detective company Kroll, which the National Bank of Moldova hired to search for the stolen money. This view states that the main guilty of “the theft of the century” is Ilan Shor, a young businessman and politician who controlled all three banks involved in the money withdrawal scheme.

It would seem that everything is simple! He controlled the bank, withdrew the money and hid them and now is engaged in politics, builds a real European city from a ruined provincial center, is engaged in charity, helps the elderly and children and prepares for elections to get immunity. But this elementary logic at some point fails. Any sane person has the right to ask himself a question: he stole the money, withdrew them, but why did he stay? Why did not run away, did not leave, did not hide from justice? With Israeli citizenship and a billion of dollars, Ilan Shor could be perfectly settled anywhere in the world. Including Europe, known to be very loyal to very rich people.

He could leave Moldova, using his own plane, which he had long before the bank theft. Or through Transnistria, which is uncontrolled by Chisinau. Nevertheless, he remained in Moldova, where he was subject to daily obstruction by opposition politicians and publications, where he was forced to attend court sessions, to overcome public opinion opposed to him. Shor himself declares that he is not leaving Moldova, because he loves the country, because he is not guilty and intends to prove his innocence. Even if we dismiss patriotism, as an irrational motive, Shor’s statements about his own innocence, even if they seem cynical and impudent to someone, deserve attention. For the simple reason that another explanation why Shor today does not sunbathe on any island in the Indian Ocean, but repairs roads and builds lighting systems in the small Moldavian city of Orhei.

In Moldova, with its tangled history, complex present and uncertain future, much is not quite what it seems at first glance.

'Ideal suspect'

A millionaire, a successful entrepreneur, young, happily married to a Russian pop diva, the successful mayor of Orhei, the leader of a party with a parliamentary rating, besides all these – a Jew by nationality - Ilan Shor is the “ideal suspect”. Even too ideal. In numerous accusations directed to Shor for stealing the billion, formed by the Moldovan "pro-European" parties led by Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase, it is difficult to see the line between political struggle and outright xenophobia.

In the meantime, there are several important points missing from this barrage of accusations. For example, such: Ilan Shor voluntarily surrendered to the authorities, and his testimony allowed to reveal large-scale corruption in the Moldovan government. And indeed: only the interested complicity of high-ranking government officials can be explained by the fact that millions of dollars were withdrawn from banks in front of the National Bank of Moldova in an unknown direction, and no one moved, none of them did not sound the alarm.

The transfer of the state bank “Banca de Economii” to the hands of private investors was the initiative of the government. For two decades of theft, the bank was devastated, having long passed the point of no return. Ilan Shor claims that the then head of government, Vlad Filat, forced him to invest in a “dead” bank, using the stick and carrot tactics - threatening with business persecution and at the same time promising to expand it significantly by managing other state assets. And this is readily believed, given the specific relations that develop between government and business in such small post-Soviet states as the Republic of Moldova. Everything ended as planned: money was withdrawn from the bank, which - in transit through Shor's firms - moved to the accounts of companies close to Filat and his business partner, a scandalous businessman, a direct participant in the Landromat international money laundering scheme, Platon. And the Moldovan society, justice and Western public opinion received the “ideal suspect” in the person of Ilan Shor.

A silence of a billion dollars

Why are those representatives of the pro-European opposition and the affiliated press silent about this, who daily, both in Moldova and in Europe, raise the topic of the stolen billion? Everything is very simple. The leader of the PAS party, Maia Sandu, was a member of the government and party team of Filat, who is serving his sentence today. As a member of the government, she voted for the allocation of several billion lei from the reserve fund of the National Bank for the “salvation” of the robbed banks. Her aggressiveness towards Shor is explained more likely by her desire to throw off herself from responsibility, rather than to get the truth.

The leader of another opposition party, the “DA” Patform, Andrei Nastase, was the personal lawyer for two Moldovan Businessmen Victor and Viorel Topa, who today are hiding from Moldovan justice in Germany. Viorel Topa, at the turn of the 1990s and 2000 was a member of the board of Banca de Economii, when funds were actively withdrawn under the guise of loans that never returned to the bank. One of these loans, Victor Topa, tried to use for the privatization of the state-owned airline Air-Moldova (this transaction was subsequently canceled as illegal). There is a strong suspicion against Andrei Nastase that he still continues to be financed by the entrepreneurs Topa. They also own the Moldovan TV channel “Jurnal TV”, which made Ilan Shor the main target of their attacks.

Also of interest is the story of the involvement of the Kroll detective agency in the investigation. This happened also with the filing of Filat. In the long history of "Kroll" there are many episodes when the results of the investigation directly pointed to the competitors, or the political opponents of the customer. About the insufficiently thoroughly conducted investigation of Kroll pronounced himself, in particular, the QC James Ramsden, a professional with an impeccable reputation, hired by Ilan Shor to represent his interests in the London court. At his press conference in Chisinau, Ramsden drew the attention of the public to the fact that Kroll company deliberately focuses in its reports on a single person, Ilan Shor, basing its findings on one source, which is the customer of the investigation - the National Bank of Moldova. The royal lawyer recalled that it was the NBM that was the national regulator in the banking sector, and it was under its management when Banca de Economii became bankrupt.

Moreover, James Ramsden hired an investigation company, Quintel Intelligence, to investigate, concluding in its report: "The evidence shows that Filat and Platon are the real culprits of banking theft". The silence of the opposition and their patrons in the European Parliament on this subject, thus, becomes absolutely clear.

Russian trace

The theft of the billion, of course, is a terrible blow to the economy and social system of such a poor country as Moldova. It is important to understand the question - was it a banal theft with the aim of enrichment? Some time ago, a record of Veaceslav Platon’s revelations, made on a mobile phone, who is now imprisoned appeared on social networks. Not knowing that he is being recorded, he frankly spoke in connection with the “theft of the century” that he planned to “block” the economic system of Moldova. And this is not just a simple theft.

The scandal broke out in 2014, on the eve of the next parliamentary elections in Moldova. The Russian Federation did not hide its interest in changing the pro-European power to a more loyal regime. Veaceslav Platon has been suspected for many years of having links with the FSB. We remind: it was Platon, his banks and judges that were the key link in the Moldovan part of the Landromat scheme for laundering and pumping Russian billions. Platon knew the banking system of Moldova well from the inside, occasionally used the BEM money and was in friendly and business relations with the corrupt Prime Minister Vlad Filat. On his hands were all the cards for a successful coup. The collapse of the banking system was supposed to provoke popular unrest, on the wave of which pro-Russian political forces could well break through to power. In part, this plan worked. By the way, it was then that the Russian Federation declared Ilan Shor, who actively resisted the bankruptcy of Banca de Economii, persona non grata.

This year, this version, which was actually acknowledged by one of the organizers of the banking system collapse, Veaceslav Platon, found a rather unexpected confirmation from two people outside the Republic of Moldova. One of them is Mihail Gofman, who lives in the USA, and is a former deputy head of the Anti-Money Laundering Service of the National Center for Combating Corruption and Economic Crimes. For a long time, he was the main opposition newsmaker in the case of banking theft, and his departure from Moldova was interpreted by the opposition press as an escape from the ruling regime in the country. He gave a sensational interview to the journalistic investigation agency "Zeppelin".

Gofman, directly linked Landromat, the case of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars from Russia, to the so-called “theft of the billion” in Moldova. According to him, in both scandalous cases, the same phantom firms belonging to imprisoned Veaceslav Platon were used. Platon and the criminal schemes for the withdrawal and laundering of money created by him, according to Gofman, were covered by high-ranking government officials. In particular, the ex-Prime Minister Vlad Filat, who is also serving a prison sentence for corruption. Gofman noted that the role of Ilan Shor, who at the time of the banking theft served as chairman of the board of directors of BEM, was subsidiary. “Shor was following instructions,” stressed Gofman.

Mihail Gofman also pointed to the political background of the banking scandal. He made it clear that BEM was in the center of an international conspiracy, the purpose of which was to collapse the banking system of Moldova in order to provoke social unrest in the country. The result of this multi-pass operation, according to the plan, was to be a change of political regime in the Republic of Moldova.

The position of Mihail Gofman was supported by another recent favorite of the right Moldovan opposition – Serghei Sagaidac, who also is now located abroad, being the   former head of Banca Sociala, one of the three banks from which the billion was withdrawn. “Filat should be tried for the betrayal of the motherland. He was controlled by the Russian special services. Who introduced Platon to Moldovan politics? Urechean with Filat. Of course, the truth hurts. But the traitors of the motherland must answer for their actions. Mihail Gofman, bravo for courage! Go on, because others don’t know what an officer's oath is” – wrote Sagaidac on his page on social networks.

In the light of these newly discovered circumstances, it seems strange that the Moldovan pro-European opposition continues to insist on the exclusive guilt of Ilan Shor in stealing the billion. Today, any citizen of Moldova and the EU has the right to ask a question: is this an attempt to divert public opinion from the true perpetrators of this crime and - most importantly - from those who stood behind them?

EU

Amid France-Turkey row, UK calls on NATO allies to defend free speech

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called on NATO allies to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on values of tolerance and free speech, in a veiled rebuke to Turkey which has been calling for a boycott of French goods, writes Estelle Shirbon.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has urged Turks to stop buying French goods and has accused France of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda. Britain, France and Turkey are all NATO members.

Erdogan is one of several leaders in the Muslim world angry with France over its response to the murder of teacher Samuel Paty, who showed pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad as part of a lesson on free speech.

“The UK stands in solidarity with France and the French people in the wake of the appalling murder of Samuel Paty,” Raab said in a statement. “Terrorism can never and should never be justified.

“NATO allies and the wider international community must stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the fundamental values of tolerance and free speech, and we should never give terrorists the gift of dividing us.”

Paty, a teacher at a state-run school in the far outskirts of Paris, was beheaded on 16 October by a man of Chechen origin. The teacher had been criticised by some in the local community for showing his pupils the cartoons because Muslims view images of the prophet as blasphemous.

The French government, backed by large numbers of citizens, saw the beheading as an attack on free speech and said they would defend the right to display the cartoons.

President Emmanuel Macron called Paty a hero and pledged to fight what he described as Islamic separatism, saying it was threatening to take over some Muslim communities in France.

The reaction to Paty’s murder has caused widespread anger in Muslim countries, where there have been anti-French demonstrations and calls for boycott. France has warned its citizens in several Muslim-majority countries to take extra security precautions.

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EU

Customs Union: Commission proposes new ‘Single Window' to modernize and streamline customs controls, facilitate trade and improve co-operation

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The European Commission has proposed a new initiative that will make it easier for different authorities involved in goods clearance to exchange electronic information submitted by traders, who will be able to submit the information required for import or export of goods only once. The so-called 'EU Single Window Environment for Customs' aims to enhance co-operation and co-ordination between different authorities, in order to facilitate the automatic verification of non-customs formalities for goods entering or leaving the EU.

The Single Window aims to digitalize and streamline processes, so that businesses will ultimately no longer have to submit documents to several authorities through different portals. The proposal is the first concrete deliverable of the recently adopted Action Plan on taking the Customs Union to the next level.

It launches an ambitious project to modernize border controls over the coming decade, in order to facilitate trade, improve safety and compliance checks, and reduce the administrative burden for companies. Economy Comissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Digitalization, globalization and the changing nature of trade present both risks and opportunities when it comes to goods crossing the EU's borders.

"To rise to these challenges, customs and other competent authorities must act as one, with a more holistic approach to the many checks and procedures needed for smooth and safe trade. Today's proposal is the first step towards a fully paperless and integrated customs environment and better cooperation between all authorities at our external borders. I urge all member states to play their part in making it a true success story.”

The proposal, the press release, the Q&A and the factsheet are available online.

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coronavirus

Merkel plans circuit-break lockdown as German virus cases surge

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Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed regional leaders on Wednesday (28 October) to agree to a partial lockdown in Germany which would see restaurants and bars closed but keep schools open, a draft document seen by Reuters said, write and

The drastic measures, to take effect from 4 November, are aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus in Europe’s biggest economy as the number of new cases hit a record high.

Under the planned new restrictions people would only be able to go out with members of their own and one other household. Fitness studios, discos and cinemas would close, as would theatres, opera houses and concert venues.

Restaurants would only be allowed to offer takeaways, the document said. Shops could remain open if they implement hygiene measures and limit customer numbers.

Merkel will hold a virtual conference with the country’s 16 state premiers later to try to agree the nationwide rules and ditch a confusing patchwork of regional measures.

Almost all regions of Germany face an exponential increase in infection rates, said the document to be discussed, and local health authorities can no longer trace all infections.

“The aim is to interrupt the dynamic of the infection fast so no far-reaching limits on personal contact and economic activity are needed over the Christmas period,” it said.

Germany was widely praised for keeping infection and death rates below those of many of its neighbours in the first phase of the crisis but is now in the midst of a second wave. Cases rose by 14,964 to 464,239 in the last 24 hours, the Robert Koch institute for infectious diseases said on Wednesday.

Deaths jumped by 85 to 10,183, fuelling fears about the health system after Merkel warned on Tuesday it could hit breaking point if infections continue to spiral.

“If we wait until intensive care is full, it is too late,” Health Minister Jens Spahn, who last week tested positive for the virus, told broadcaster SWR.

The government has long insisted it wants to avoid a second blanket lockdown after an initial one this year hit economic growth, with the economy shrinking by a record 9.7% in the second quarter.

While economists expect a rebound for the July-Sept period, they warn that a further lockdown could wipe out growth in the last quarter. Third quarter data is due on 30 October.

Under the plans, the government aims to provide aid to firms hit by closures, including the cultural event sectors.

Only necessary overnight stays would be allowed, according to the document. Brothels, swimming pools, beauty and tattoo studios would close but physiotherapists and hairdressers could stay open. The steps would run until the end of November but are subject to review.

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