Vladimir “The Puppeteer” Plahotniuc Called for the West’s Help Against “Russian Aggression”

By Bogdan Mokanu

On December 27th, 2017, the well-known American publication “The Wall Street Journal” published an article written by the Moldovan politician and businessman Vladimir Plahotniuc with the loud title “Moldova Needs the West’s Help Against an Aggressive Russia”.

This is an extremely controversial statement, especially from a person who, in addition to holding Romanian and Moldovan passports, also has citizenship of the Russian Federation, which he is not going to renounce.

The real authorship of the article is likely to belong to one of the American lobbyists hired by Mr. Plahotniuc, since he himself has not been seen as an op-ed columnist until now.

But why did he need to attach his signature to it? And why did such an article appear?

We think that Mr. Plahotniuc is trying to avoid criminal prosecution on charges of organising an attempt to assassinate his political opponent Renato Usatîi.

As is known, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation instituted criminal proceedings against Vladimir Plahotniuc, a citizen of the Russian Federation (if Plahotniuc was not a Russian citizen, then such a case would be outside the jurisdiction of the IC) on charges of organising an attempted contract murder. And more precisely, on charges under Part 1 of Article 30 and Part 2 of Article 105 of the Criminal Code (attempted murder based on political and ideological hatred). Basmanny District Court of Moscow had issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Plahotniuc on November 30th, 2017.

Mr. Plahotniuc’s lawyer, Yadviga Khabarova, tried to challenge this decision by appealing to the Moscow City Court. However, the appeal of December 11th, 2017, was rejected, and the court ruled that Vladimir Plahotniuc should be taken into custody for two months after his detention on the territory of the Russian Federation or in the case of extradition from another country.

So after an unsuccessful attempt to challenge the warrant for his arrest, Vladimir Plahotniuc suddenly becomes a “fierce supporter of European values” and “a fighter against Russian aggression”.

Let’s try to figure out who Mr. Plahotniuc is. And why does he hate Mr. Usatîi so much that he tried to organise his murder?

Vladimir Plahotniuc is a typical post-Soviet oligarch with close ties to the criminal underworld. Over the past twenty years, he was a financier, a banker, and the head of the largest Moldovan petrochemical company “Petrom Moldova”.

Since 2007, according to Forbes magazine, Plahotniuc has been under the supervision of Interpol due to his ties with one of the largest Russian criminal groups – the so-called “Solntsevo” group.

He tried to become Prime Minister of Moldova several times, starting in 2008. But each time he met the strongest resistance from the three heads of state – President Voronin, then Filat and, finally, Timofti. They all named “suspicions of non-compliance with the necessary criteria of incorruptibility” as the reason for the refusal to appoint Mr. Plahotniuc to the post of Prime Minister.

Then Plahotniuc took a different tack. First, he became the largest sponsor of the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM), and later he headed it. And already as a leader of the party he got into parliament as a result of regular elections.

There is also information that at the same time he is a sponsor of several other parties (including the Communist Party, which he portrays as his competitors) while trying to control all major political movements of the country. In the Moldovan press he has the nickname “Păpuşarul”, which translates as “Puppeteer”, because he placed his people in all the most important posts.

To begin with, having headed the national anti-corruption agency (it is like assigning a fox to guard a chicken coop) Vladimir Plahotniuc consistently dealt with all his political opponents, one by one accusing them of corruption, removing them from their posts and throwing them in jail.

Now Mr. Plahotniuc, using his behind-the-scenes connections and influence, as well as total control over the media, actually carried out an anti-constitutional coup in Moldova, removing the democratically elected president Igor Dodon from power.

According to the declaration submitted by General Media Group, Vladimir Plahotniuc is the sole owner of the television channels Publika TV, Prime, Canal 2 and Canal 3, as well as radio stations Publika FM, Maestro FM and MUZ FM (formerly Prime FM). I.e., he controls almost all the major media sources of Moldova, which allowed him to establish unofficial censorship and actively manipulate the public opinion of the country.
Also, according to unofficial information, Plahotniuc owns several large hotels in the Moldovan capital, an insurance company, a night club, and a security agency. It is quite a standard set of property for a legalised criminal.

In particular, it allows Plahotniuc to cover organised prostitution (hotels and a night club), raider seizures of banks and enterprises (security agency), financial fraud (bank and insurance company). In addition, Vladimir Plahotniuc is associated with the arms trade and contract killings, but his control over the government and the media allows him to easily close all the cases brought against him, each time accompanied by statements about “political persecution”.

Politics has become not only an opportunity to come to power and become the largest corrupt official in Moldova for Mr. Plahotniuc, but also a reliable umbrella that covers his criminal business. And now, when he was once again accused of preparing the murder of his political opponent – he habitually yelled about “Russian interference in the affairs of Moldova”, and the DPM declared a political motivation of the criminal case.

Who is this opponent of Mr. Plahotniuc, Renato Usatîi? The leader of a small but independent “Our Party” party and the head of the second most important city in Moldova, Balti. His party won the last municipal elections in twelve Moldovan cities (despite the most serious interference by Mr. Plahotniuc, who, for this purpose, brought in the administrative resource and propaganda for his own media), and now he controls virtually the entire north of the country and the Gagauz autonomy.

During the election campaign, Renato Usatîi actively disseminated information about the corruption and criminal activities of Mr. Plahotniuc, often confirming this with irrefutable evidence (including the publication of audio records of telephone conversations of high-ranking officials affiliated with Plahotniuc), thus provoking the latter’s undisguised rage and hatred.

Now Renato Usatîi is hiding in Russia from persecution by Moldovan authorities inspired by Mr. Plahotniuc, and his supporters in Balti (whose mayor he still remains) are preparing a referendum on the popular support of Usatîi. Mr. Plahotniuc, for his part, is actively trying to thwart this referendum.

As we see, there is no question of any commitment to democracy and European values on the part of Mr. Plahotniuc. And he stated his “counteraction to Russian aggression” only when another criminal case was brought against him in connection with his purely criminal crimes.

Thus, Plahotniuc hopes, on the one hand, to receive the support of the United States in order to keep power, which he is likely to lose without them after the elections scheduled this year (the support rating of his party varies between 3-4% only). On the other hand, he will try to make terms with Moscow to close the criminal case in exchange for a possible rejection of pro-Western policies.

In any case, European politicians should not contact either such an unreliable and compromised “ally” or his criminal background. The reputational and other risks are too great, there are no guarantees, and the possible result is highly questionable, both in terms of probability and in terms of utility.

It will take a lot of efforts and resources to support Mr. Plahotniuc, there will be more dirt in the process, and the possible benefits are not even visible. Therefore, European politicians should stay away from such characters, and perhaps consider the possibility of supporting opposition politicians.

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