The mayor of the Moldovan capital Chisinau, Dorin Chirtoaca, was detained by anti-corruption prosecutors for 72 hours late on May 25 on suspicion of influence peddling in an ongoing investigation related to the new car parking system in the Moldovan capital.
Chirtoaca is vice president of the relatively small Liberal Party (PL). He was arrested as part of an investigation from 2015 that has recently been reactivated. This, and the detentions and searches of other PL members, sparked speculation in the local media of a possible campaign to put pressure on the party which opposed changes to the voting system that the ruling Democratic Party (PD) and President Igor Dodon’s Socialist Party (PSRM) are trying to push through.
The parking investigation concerns plans to build car parks and introduce paid parking in the yards of blocks of flats in the Moldovan capital.
It has resulted in a series of arrests in April and May. Earlier on May 25, the National Anticorruption Centre (CNA) detained the secretary of Chisinau city council, two local councillors and six representatives of companies for 72 hours. In April, Chisinau deputy mayor Nistor Grozavu was also put under house arrest in the same investigation. Six other people were detained at the time, including the head of the public transport directorate.
The prosecutors claim that Chirtoaca asked the deputy mayor, who was also the president of the commission in charge of selecting the companies that would implement the parking system in Chisinau, to break the law and sign a contract with Eme Parkleitsystem without the city council’s approval, CNA said in a statement.
They also say Chirtoaca broke the law by endorsing the permits for the project design, according to the public-private partnership between Chisinau city hall and Ene Parkleitsystem. The prosecutors claim that the company won the tender following concerted action of Chisinau city hall representatives, economic agents and the businessman behind Ene Parkleitsystem.
Specifically, the representative of the winning company and the head of the public transport directorate reportedly met several times to discuss the scheme through which the tender should be won by a certain company, the mayor’s involvement in signing the contract, as well as a “bonus” for the delivered services.
The prosecutors claim that, following discussions between the businessman and the city hall representative, the civil servant was asked to register an off shore company in Cyprus, which later became an associate of Eme Parkleitsystem, with a 26% stake. Witnesses in the investigation claim that 26% of the company’s revenue, equally split between Chirtoaca and Grozavu, was offered in return for their services.
Chitoaca was escorted to the headquarters of the CNA on the evening of May 25, after the prosecutors searched his office for three hours. Soon after, the mayor’s supporters came to the CNA headquarters to protest against the mayor’s detention.
On the other hand, Dodon called Chirtoaca’s detention “good news” and expressed his hope that early elections would be organised this autumn in the Moldovan capital. Currently, Dodon’s pro Russian Socialist Party (PSRM) is collecting signatures for a referendum on Chirtoaca’s dismissal.
On May 5, an ad-hoc parliamentary majority formed by the PD and the PSRM endorsed in the first reading two bills that would change the country’s electoral system, turning it into a mixed one, a move seen as favouring the two parties in the next general election. The planned changes have prompted protests in the country.
Chirtoaca has been the mayor of Chisinau since June 2007. A graduate of the Law Faculty in Bucharest, Chirtoaca is one of the biggest supporters of Moldova’s reunion with Romania and reportedly a friend of Romania’s former President Traian Basescu (he is the godfather of Basescu’s granddaughter). Chirtoaca’s detention comes at a time when pro-Russian Dodon has been pushing to strengthen relations with Moscow.
Corruption is a major issue in Moldova as the country ranks 123rd out of 176 countries in the 2016 Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International in January.