US visit of Moldovan oligarch Plahotniuc stirs controversy

US visit of Moldovan oligarch Plahotniuc stirs controversy
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest May 4, 2016

Controversial Moldovan oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc appeared to be the main player in the recent visit of a Moldovan delegation to US, though the mission was formally led by vice prime minister Octavian Calmic.

The visit prompted concerns among the pro-EU opposition in Chisinau, not because of the potential higher credibility enjoyed by the ruling coalition and Plahotniuc following the visit (their support among voters is particularly weak anyway), but because the opportunity given by the event to the pro-Russian opposition that claims that the US and EU support the corrupt ruling coalition.

The delegation was “hosted by the Atlantic Council and met with the representatives of international organisations and the US government,” the US embassy confirmed to on May 3.

While the statement said that Calmic led the delegation, Plahotniuc appears to have been the real leader judging from his position as coordinator of the coalition and since he was the only member of the delegation that held discussions with US officials.

It was Plahotniuc – and not other members of the delegation - that held discussions with Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs at the US Department of State. Diplomatic details such as the pictures at the press conference underline the leading role of Plahotniuc in the delegation.

Nuland rated the progress made by the ruling coalition in Moldova, Plahotniuc’s party, the Democratic Party (PD) said in a May 3 statement.

“Keep the pace of reforms and we will support you”, Nuland said, according to the PD. “The US Department of State is ready to send expert teams in Moldova to help the government in keys sectors, she added.

By his visit, Plahotniuc attempted to get recognition from the US, Jamestown Foundation analyst Vladimir Socor stated, quoted by If he is invited to Washington, he could claim the US approved his “dictatorship” in Moldova, Socor explained. This is how Plahotniuc wants to explain his visit to the US and this is how his propaganda apparatus will use his visit, Socor added.

Plahotniuc is vice president of Moldova’s senior ruling DP, and was recently appointed as head coordinator of the ruling coalition. The government was appointed by Moldova's fragile ruling coalition in February. It has 57 MPs in the 101-seat parliament, but the ruling parties' support among voters is very weak.

Notably, none of the parties in the ruling coalition are expected to meet the 6% threshold needed to enter the parliament, if early elections were organised immediately, according to a poll organised by the US International Republican Institute, reported on April 21. The parties led by pro-Russian politicians Igor Dodon and Renato Usatii would easily form a 51% majority, but probably not the two-thirds majority needed for more important decisions.

Plahotniuc has concentrated political and business influence in his own hands on a scale unseen in Moldova since 1991, the independent think tank Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) concluded in a recent commentary on Moldova’s politics.

Resorting to skillful political manoeuvring and capitalising on his control over the Moldovan judiciary system, Plahotniuc, one of the leaders of the nominally pro-EU DP and the richest person in the country, was able to bring about the arrest of his main political competitor, former prime minister Vlad Filat, in October 2015, OSW commented. Then he pushed through the nomination of his trusted aide, Pavel Filip, for prime minister.