As the European Union calls out state capture in Moldova, the authorities in Chișinău are rewriting the rules of the game for civil society and opposition politics.
Moldova’s parliament recently accused two influential opposition parties of engaging in subversive anti-government activity, and the parties themselves of illegally accepting foreign funding. The formal grounds for this accusation was the opposition’s collaboration with the European “Open Dialogue Foundation” NGO, which parliament claims is being financed and led by the Russian security services. The Moldovan government is now proposing to review the regulations on the funding of political parties and NGOs, and initiate a criminal investigation into opposition activities.
The Moldovan parliament’s official report into the activities of Open Dialogue is the authorities’ response to the European parliament’s latest criticism of the government and its de facto head, oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc.
On 16 November, the Moldovan parliament examined the final report of its own investigative commission, which had researched the “circumstances behind the intervention of the Open Dialogue Foundation in Moldova’s internal politics”. This document, unprecedented in both essence and content, was approved by members of the Democratic Party of Moldova’s parliamentary majority, which is controlled by Vladimir Plahotniuc. Members of both the Democratic Party and the Party of Socialists, a pro-Russian party which works in collaboration with the authorities, were represented on the investigative commission.
The commission’s report contains categorical allegations against Open Dialog by opposition politicians including Andrei Năstase, leader of the Dignity and Truth Platform (PAS), and Maia Sandu, head of the Action and Solidarity party (DA), as well as a number of civic activists.
What is Open Dialogue?
The Open Dialogue Foundation was founded in Poland in 2009 by Lyudmyla Kozlovska, who is still the president of the organisation today. The foundation works on human rights in the post-Soviet space, and has permanent offices in Warsaw and Brussels.
In August 2018, the Polish government entered Lyudmyla Kozlovska into the Schengen Information System’s “blacklist”, together with a request to ban her from entering EU member states. The Polish government did not explain the reasons behind entering Kozlovska on this list. Kozlovska says that the Polish authorities’ request is revenge for the political activities of her and her husband, Polish opposition activist Bartosz Kramek. A month after this request, Kozlovska received special visa from Germany, Belgium, France, and was able to enter the United Kingdom freely. The Polish authorities did not present any claims against the work of the Open Dialogue Foundation itself.
The Moldovan investigative commission bases its accusations against the Open Dialogue Foundation on publications in Ukrainian and Polish media. The commission also cites funding sources for the foundation, which it believes could be connected to Russian state companies.
The Open Dialogue Foundation is referred to in the report as “a sophisticated strategic weapon”, and is charged with:
– receiving funding through a money laundering scheme known as the “Laundromat”, as well as resources and money from the “heist of the century” – the theft of a billion dollars from three Moldovan banks in 2014
– lobbying various European structures in the interests of people with a suspicious past
– having links with Russian intelligence agents, including businessman Vyacheslav Platon, who is now serving an 18 year prison sentence for embezzlement and whom the Moldovan authorities believe to be at the centre of the “heist of the century”. According to Moldovan MPs, Kozlovska and Open Dialogue have been lobbying Platon’s interests in various European countries, which has led to a worsening of relations between the Moldovan government and European politicians
– undermining the national security and discrediting the image of Eastern European states (Poland, Ukraine and Moldova) in the interests of Russia.
If this report is to be believed, just about all the criticism levelled at Moldova by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and other European agencies and politicians has no basis in the Moldovan government’s ignorance of the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law. Instead, according to the report, this criticism is the product of activities of Open Dialogue.
The condemnation of “invented” abuses by the prosecutor’s office and courts towards human rights and civic activists, the suspension of EU macro financial aid and changes to Moldova’s electoral system – all these are described in the report as results of lobbying by Lyudmyla Kozlovska’s Foundation. The Moldovan authorities also accuse Open Dialogue of lobbying the interests of Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is cited as one of their major financial sponsors.
Kozlovska believes that Moldova’s ruling party is trying to discredit her organisation in response to her support for the “Magnitsky Law” and adding Vladimir Plahotniuc to the EU sanction list.
Accusations against the opposition
According to the investigative commission, Moldovan opposition leaders Andrei Năstase and Maia Sandu were recruited into Open Dialogue’s subversive activities, and the parties they lead were financed by the foundation. The report’s conclusion particularly stresses the idea that these activities were financed and coordinated by Russia’s security services (all foreign funding for political parties is in fact illegal in Moldova).
The commission also concludes that participation in “subversion” boils down to criticising the Moldovan government at events run by the foundation and other European platforms.
As for the “illegal funding” of DA and PAS, the parliamentarians have concluded that this consisted of payment of the transport costs of the leaders of these party leaders. There is no mention of the parties themselves receiving any funding from a foreign organisation.
In other words, the charges against Open Dialogue come down to a few airline tickets bought for Moldovan politicians. The commission also cites media reports stating that in May 2017, the foundation paid for flights to Brussels by Năstase and Sandu to attend a conference entitled “Moldova at the Crossroads”. This event was organised by Open Dialogue itself, and was attended not only by Moldovan politicians, human rights campaigners and journalists, but also by members of the European Parliament.
Members of the investigative commission, citing the Central Executive Committee, have confirmed that there are other foreign organisations operating in the country that pay Moldovan politicians’ travel expenses. These include the US’s International Republican Institute (IRI), the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. It is, of course, telling that only members of opposition political parties receive financial help from foreign foundations.
Moldova’s pro-government media were already writing about Open Dialogue’s funding of opposition leaders’ trips abroad in October 2017, but this information failed to attract official attention.
Up until mid-2018, the ruling Democratic Party was, in its relations with its western partners, keen to position itself as the main proponent of Moldova’s pro-European policies. For the sake of EU and US support, the Democrats were ready to accept criticism and charges of usurping power from the pro-European opposition, declare its willingness to cooperate with its chief critics and opponents, DA and PAS, lend formal support to Maia Sandu in the 2016 presidential elections and talk about the necessity for the unification of all Moldova’s pro-European forces.
The situation changed radically, however, after Chișinău’s snap mayoral election in June this year. The city courts refused to confirm the victory of Andrei Năstase, the candidate from the united right-wing opposition who is one of the government’s chief critics. As a result, the European Parliament froze 100 million euros of macro-financial aid to the country. Since then, relations between Brussels and Chișinău have soured completely. Although the Moldovan government has formally maintained its pro-European stance, it has ceased to pay any attention to Brussels when taking internal policy decisions.
The first charge directed at Open Dialogue and Lyudmyla Kozlovska by the Democratic Party appeared in August, two months after the mayoral election debacle. A group of Democratic Party parliamentarians demanded that the General Prosecutor’s office check for a possible connection between the DA and PAS parties and Lyudmyla Kozlovska. A week earlier, media controlled by the ruling Democratic Party announced that Kozlovska had been deported from the EU “for links with the Russian security services”. These media reports also mentioned close links between Kozlovska and opposition leaders.
A month later, in mid-September, Vladimir Plahotniuc announced that his ruling party was adopting a new set of politics (“For Moldova”), and was refusing to engage in geopolitics. He promised that his party would concentrate on Moldova and its citizens “regardless of their geopolitical preferences”.
In October, on the initiative of the Democratic Party, a parliamentary commission was set up to investigate “the intervention of the Open Dialogue Foundation and its founder Lyudmyla Kozlovska in Moldova’s internal affairs”.
Meanwhile, on 14 November, the European Parliament examined a report into Moldova’s implementation of its EU Association Agreement, and issued a strong resolution on Moldova as a “state captured by oligarchic interests”. The resolution discussed clear issues around Moldova’s ability to observe democratic principles, as evidenced by electoral changes, the revocation of the Chișinău mayoral election results, the absence of an independent judiciary, the botched investigation into the missing one billion dollars and politically motivated cases against opposition and human rights activists, as well as pressure on journalists and government monopolisation of the media.
In the light of this situation, the European Parliament recommended that the Council of Europe restrict financial aid to Moldova and explore the possibility of introducing personal sanctions against people involved in the billion dollar theft.
Two days later, the Moldovan parliament approved a “retaliatory” document – a report by the investigative commission on Kozlovska’s case, where the aforementioned European Parliament resolution was referred to as the result of lobbying by a foundation controlled by the Russian security services. And the opposition politicians keenest on integration within the EU were represented as recipients of money stolen from Moldovan banks.
So what next?
The report approved by the Moldovan parliament contains an extensive list of recommendations for the widest possible range of governmental bodies.
Parliament is charged with producing an overview of all the current draft bills relating to political parties’ and NGOs’ funding and removing any risk to national security. The government must make proposals to parliament on these issues. In 2017, the government already attempted to ban foreign funding to NGOs, but was forced to abandon the idea under pressure from foreign diplomats and civil society. It’s unlikely that this will stop from them doing it now.
Moldova’s Central Election Commission is now due to check political parties’ financial affairs.
The General Prosecutor’s office is recommended to give a legal evaluation of the activities of Open Dialogue and its associate organisations which are subverting Moldova’s national security (the first draft of this point, as proposed by the commission, also listed the articles under which suspects could be charged: “Treason”, “Espionage”). Immediately after the parliamentary session where the commission report was accepted, the parliamentary speaker, Andrian Candu, declared that if the opposition politicians Năstase and Sandu took part in deliberately “subversive activity” against Moldova, they could be charged with high treason.
This document, written in true Stalinist style, may well lead to stricter legislation in the area of party and NGO funding, as well as a further rollout of repressive measures against opposition politicians and human rights campaigners. And MPs could certainly use accusations of this kind to ban the opposition PAS and DA parties from putting candidates forward in the upcoming parliamentary elections. In 2014, it was in fact an accusation of foreign funding that led to the removal of the Patria political party, which had a very good chance of winning seats in parliament, from the election lists.
Moldova’s judiciary, parliament and Central Election Commission have been under direct control by the ruling Democratic Party for a long time now.
In February 2019, Moldovans will go to the polls in parliamentary elections. The government has prepared for these as thoroughly as possible. Democrats and socialists have changed the electoral system in their own interests, replacing proportional representation with a mixed system. They have also removed the ban on campaigning on election day and are initiating criminal cases against civil activists, opposition MPs and local council members. The only influential opposition parties still in the mix are the PAS/DA bloc. The hysteria around the idea that members of the opposition are enemies of the state, as well as the cleared fabricated charges of subversion and treason being levelled at these parties’ leaders indicate once again that February’s parliamentary elections will not be free and fair. Everybody, both in Moldova and outside it, knows it.
Read the ODF’s statement: