Three Moldovan central bank officials detained in money laundering investigation

Three Moldovan central bank officials detained in money laundering investigation
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest August 5, 2016

Three current and former officials from Moldova’s central bank were detained by prosecutors on the morning of August 5, in relation to investigations into money laundering in the former Soviet country, local sources reported. The move was confirmed by a spokesperson for the National Anticorruption Centre, Angela Starinschi.

The three suspects are believed to have ignored information available on money laundering carried out through Moldindconbank (MICB), head prosecutor Viorel Morari confirmed at a press conference after news of the arrests leaked to local media. Veaceslav Platon, a reputed corporate raider believed to control MICB, was recently arrested in Kyiv and Moldovan prosecutors are seeking his extradition.

The three officials detained by Moldovan prosecutors are Emma Tabarta, a former vice-governor of the central bank dismissed in April 2015 after the scandal of the $1bn banking frauds broke, the head of the central bank’s bank supervision department Matei Dohotaru and Vladimir Turcanu, the head of the central bank’s department that authorises banks' operations and the former head of the supervisory department.

The operations in question took place between 2010 and 2014, Morari added. Prosecutors based their decision to make the arrests on testimony from witnesses.

Moldova stopped the laundering of Russian money through MICB, previously carried out with the support of corrupt judges, back in May 2014, the CNA said on May 25. It added at the time that its investigations into events at the bank were continuing.

MICB is now looking for a strategic investor, after it was revealed to have been involved in the illegal transfer of $46bn from Russia, which is currently being investigated by authorities in Moscow.

Platon officially controls only 4.5% of MICB. However, it is suspected that he is behind other individual shareholders and such speculations are encouraged by the fact that the monetary authority did not screen and validate the shareholders. Powerful local oligarch, Vlad Plahotniuc - Moldova’s first deputy president and the main sponsor of the senior ruling Democratic Party - reportedly wants to take control of the two banks Platon controls in the country, MICB and Moldova Agroindbank.

Platon has been detained for 40 days in Ukraine at the request of prosecutors, the head of Moldovan cross-border cooperation police Fredolin Lecari confirmed on July 28. Moldova launched extradition procedures in the meantime. However, Platon claims that he is no longer a citizen of either Moldova or Russia – another country that could ask for his extradition over his suspected involvement in money laundering.

A court in Kyiv had been due to judge Platon’s appeal against his arrest, but prosecutors failed to attend and the decision was postponed. Prosecutors most likely delayed the decision on purpose, until the court rules on the request for Platon’s extradition.

In an interview with Europa Libera, former Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Sturza, a businessman active mainly in Romania and to a lesser extent in Moldova, explained that Platon’s arrest at this particular moment is not necessarily the result of the efforts of Moldovan prosecutors or Plahotniuc, who is supposed to exert a certain degree of control over the judicial system in Moldova. Instead, Sturza claimed it is the result of developments in Russia.

Platon had been working for Alexander Grigoriev, who was recently arrested in Moscow. Grigoriev headed of a number of failed financial institutions including Zapadny, Doninvest and the Russian Land Bank (RZB), all of which lost their licenses between 2014 and 2015 for high-risk credit policies, placing funds in low-quality assets, withdrawing capital from Russia, and for the mysterious vanishment of its own funds, a OCCRP report explained. Grigoriev, whose business partners included Igor Putin, a cousin of the Russian president, was arrested in 2015 while dining with his girlfriend in the glamorous restaurant he part-owned in Moscow.

Sturza’s theory is that most of the recent developments in Moldova, including the arrest of businessman Ilan Shor who was identified as the visible beneficiary of the $1bn banking frauds more than a year earlier, are linked to ongoing developments in Russia, where various groups of interests are in conflict.

Shor worked for the group that includes the former head of Russia’s Federal Customs Service (FCS) Andrei Belyaninov and son-in-law Serghei Lobanov, both of whom were arrested recently. Lobanov controls nearly 40% of another Moldovan bank, Victoriabank, and was recently proposed as a member of the bank’s managing board.