Some time ago, Anatol Şalaru, defence minister of the Republic of Moldova (RM) and vice-president of the Liberal Party, said he would be willing to run in the presidential elections to be held on 30 October 2016 if the party supported his nomination.
Şalaru’s presidential ambitions seem rather fanciful given this Romanian citizen’s scandalous reputation. In March and again in June, the Moldovan parliament, on the initiative of the country’s opposition parties (the Party of Communists and the Party of Socialists), voted twice on a resolution of no confidence in Şalaru, but both times the initiative was defeated by a parliamentary majority consisting of members of the Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. Yet we are talking about someone whose entire political career has been plagued by corruption scandals.
Before becoming defence minister in July 2015, Şalaru was the transport and road infrastructure minister for a few years (2009-2013), a post he took up after leaving the Ascom Group, a company belonging to his millionaire relative Anatol Stati. While president of Moldova, Vladimir Voronin accused Anatol Stati of financing the opposition and attempting to secure political patronage for his business. Chișinău believes this is precisely why Anatoli Stati placed Şalaru in the Liberal Party. Incidentally, the president of the Liberal Party and the former acting president of Moldova, Mihai Ghimpu, is also a relative of Şalaru. This is one of the reasons why the political regime in Moldova is referred to as ‘a democracy of godfathers’.
Under Şalaru, the Ministry of Transport broke every record in terms of corruption and the misappropriation of funds. One of his first ‘achievements’ as transport minister (Şalaru is a veterinarian by training) was to send €12 million to the Romanian company Remar for the modernisation of five railway locomotives. The locomotives that were returned to Moldova have regularly broken down ever since and have even caught fire twice. Another example involves the Turkish company Bayburt Insaat, which, in 2012, won a tender to construct a section of the Comrat-Ciumai road, but was forced to walk away from the contract, because officials in Şalaru’s ministry were «demanding too much money».
In 2010, Şalaru announced plans to rebuild the national and provincial road network, more than 90 percent of which was in a state of disrepair, and requested $4 billion. In the same year, the newly-appointed minister was accused of having corrupt links with the Romanian oligarch and ‘Road Construction Lord’ Nelu Iordache. Romania’s general prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the road construction firm Romstrade, one of Iordache’s companies. The issue under investigation was that funds provided by the European Union under a contract to rebuild the road between Arad and Nadlac had been stolen. The Portuguese firms that Iordache had enlisted to do the work had lodged a complaint with the European Commission. As a result, the Romanian Highway Company terminated the contract with Romstrade. According to Romanian law enforcement officers, if the project had been completed, losses may have reached €6 million.
Socialist MP Bogdan Țîrdea has referred to Şalaru as a ‘patriarch’ of corruption and a ‘maestro’ of criminal schemes. Under Şalaru, the fee to be appointed as a conductor was set at $3,000, and to be appointed as a train manager was $10,000.
Şalaru is also using his position as defence minister for his own personal enrichment. His thirst for public money is insatiable. Şalaru’s recent deals include the sale of three S-125 Neva surface-to-air missile systems for $600,000. These systems are still used by many armies, including the Romanian army, but Şalaru declared that the S-125 Neva no longer meets the demands of modern warfare. Immediately after the auction, the missile systems were declared non-functional, although this is not true and the cost of such weapons is much higher.
At the beginning of July, the Moldovan public prosecutor’s office confirmed reports that the National Anti-Corruption Centre of Moldova had opened a criminal investigation on 31 March 2016 into the sale of the three S-125 Neva surface-to-air missile systems. «I think that Mr Şalaru has simply been lucky so far», said Moldovan MP Gregory Novak on the issue, «because there is no real public prosecutor’s office in Moldova today. However, he should look at the calendar every day and say to himself that tomorrow will be different from today».
Former Chief of the General Staff of the Moldovan National Army Igor Gorgan says that from his very first days as defence minister, Şalaru has shown a remarkable commercial interest in property and plots of land belonging to the defence department. One such plot of land with an area of more than 3 hectares on Testemitanu Street in Chișinău has already been sold and others are being prepared for sale.
The former first deputy defence minister of Moldova, General Nicolae Petrica, has alleged that Şalaru is selling off the remnants of the National Army. There are also questions for the minister regarding some 2.7 million leu that Şalaru spent on military uniforms which proved to be unsuitable to wear.
Through the efforts of people like Anatol Şalaru, Moldova’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index is now equal to that of the criminal pseudo-state Kosovo. According to research by Transparency International, the level of corruption in Moldova has grown continuously since 2012. In 2015 alone, nearly $1 billion was removed from the country’s national reserves through commercial banks and has disappeared without trace. The BBC has called the scam «The great Moldovan bank robbery».
Igor Gorgan, who was removed from his post as chief of the general staff of the army by the defence minister, believes that Şalaru’s activities need to come to the attention of the National Anti-Corruption Centre. Members of the Federation of Veterans and Reservists of Moldova are calling for Şalaru’s resignation, claiming that from the moment he became defence minister, a process has been underway to destroy the Moldovan army.
If Şalaru becomes president, he will hold the keys to every room where the money is kept. And this money will disappear with the same inevitability as money has disappeared from every ministry that Mr Şalaru has been in charge of.