Phone conversations posted online on Tuesday (20 October) are said to show former Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat asking for bribes from a local businessman, who has been accused, along with Filat, of involvement in the theft of $1 billion from three banks.
Filat was detained by police on Thursday (15 October) over a possible connection to the fraud which has brought the banking system close to collapse and brought thousands into the centre of the capital Chisinau, where they have camped in protest for weeks.
Filat was the premier of Moldova between 2009 and2013. He is the founder of the EPP-affiliated Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM). In the last parliamentary elections, Filat’s party took 20% of the vote and 23 MPs in the 101 member parliament. Current Prime Minister Valeriu Strele? is a member of PDLM, as well as six of his 18 ministers.
The phone conversations, posted on Facebook by protest leader Renato Usatii, appear to be of Filat asking for cash from billionaire Ilan Shor, in exchange for helping him resolve business issues and easing his relations with Strele?.
“It’s best if you help financially. Money is needed for new underwear,” someone who sounds like Filat tells Shor on the recording.
One of the recordings appears to have been made on 13 October, the day before Shor confessed to police he had made payments to Filat. In it, a male voice that sounds like Shor’s, describes bringing 20 million lei ($1 million) to Filat’s office.
Representatives for Shor and Filat did not respond to requests for comment on the veracity of the recordings or their content.
Moldovans have camped out in Chisinau since early September, protesting against government corruption and demanding those in power be held accountable for the banking fraud in which the equivalent of one eighth of gross domestic product vanished overseas.
Filat told EURACTIV in an interview that early elections were the worst possible solution for Moldova, because of the risk that pro-Kremlin forces having the upper hand.
An investigation by investigative agency Kroll pointed the finger at Shor in May, but he denied any involvement in the crime and has since been elected mayor of a small town close to the capital.
Filat, who heads the pro-European Liberal Democrat Party of Moldova (LDPM), has also denied any connection to the crime.
Insiders have said the fraud – which had been going on for years until it hit a peak in 2014 – reflects deep-seated corruption in Moldova and involved some degree of complicity from many of those in power since 2009.
The case has held up the disbursement of valuable budget support from international lenders and highlighted the corrosive rivalry between oligarch groups in Moldova that might yet derail the course it wants to chart towards European integration.
Moldova, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, is one of Europe’s poorest countries. It is trying to reorient its economy towards the European Union after economic turbulence in Russia, its Soviet-era overlord, hit the pace of its own growth.
Moldova is a former Soviet republic, and was part of Romania before being annexed by the Soviet Union in World War II. It is landlocked between Romania and Ukraine. Moldovans speak Romanian, although the country's constitution calls it the 'Moldovan language'. Russian is also widely spoken.
Moldova has signed its EU Association Agreement on 27 June 2014 and has ratified it only five days later. Russia doesn't approve this pro-EU move and tries to keep Moldova in its orbit.
Transnistria, a Moldovan region east of the Dniester River, has been considered a 'frozen conflict' area since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It has ethnic Russian and Ukrainian populations. Although internationally Transnistria is part of Moldova, de facto its authorities do not exercise any power there.