Moldovan businessman Iurii Luncaşu was pronounced dead on the night of August 17, after suffering a gunshot wound to the head. This information was released in the press the next morning and details quickly emerged about the circumstances of his death. It appeared to be a suicide, but all he left was a cryptic note he asked his driver to write just before he died. It read, “I bought the White House in 2017, I was an investor.”
The suspicious death has garnered a lot of attention in Moldova, given the ongoing shakeup in the country’s business world after the fall of the Democratic Party Government in June. Moldova’s new coalition government consists of a marriage of convenience between the pro-Russian Party of the Socialists and the pro-European ACUM Bloc – and it’s being hailed for taking a strong anti-oligarch stance under the leadership of Prime Minister Maia Sandu. In turn, the past few months have seen corruption schemes in which businesses and the former regime cooperated to defraud the state being brought to light – leaving many in business and politics rushing to do damage control.
A number of high-profile businessmen and politicians have even fled abroad. This includes the country’s richest oligarch, former Democratic Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc, as well as fugitive businessman and politician Ilan Shor. Both men are facing criminal charges in Moldova and are implicated in the Kroll 2 Report, which revealed that they were among the beneficiaries involved in the 2014 “Billion Case” – a banking scheme that actually defrauded the country of $2.9 billion.
READ MORE: “Theft of the Century”: Report Reveals How 2014 Bank Scheme Robbed Moldova of Billions
The “White House” Luncaşu had his driver write about in the note is an imposing building complex in downtown Chișinău that the businessman purchased in 2017; a €7.4 million property that linked him to both Shor and Plahotniuc (his close friend). And although Luncaşu is believed to have committed suicide, experts think the case is more complicated, given his important friendships among Moldova’s most corrupt oligarchs.
In response to Luncaşu’s death, Moldova’s Buiucani Prosecutor’s Office opened a first-degree murder case involving three possibilities: suicide, murder and pressures to commit suicide. According to Luncașu’s friend, Igor Fraihman, it’s possible that he was driven to kill himself, given the emotional stress he was experiencing as a result of what he claimed were unfounded accusations recently published in the press, and the fact that he was facing the progression of multiple sclerosis; a disease he had been diagnosed with twenty years ago.
Iurii Luncaşu. Photo: ZdG
But after only two days of investigating the suspicious death as a murder/suicide, the interim Prosecutor General, Dumitru Robu, ordered that the case be transferred to the Prosecutor's Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Cases (PCCOCS), due to the “complex character of the criminal case.”
Hromadske’s partner, Ziarul de Gardă (ZdG), breaks down what is known so far about the ongoing investigation into the death of Iurii Luncaşu.
Suicide Note: “I bought the White House in 2017”
The news portal noi.md was the first to publish information about the case. The portal wrote that at 8:07 p.m. on August 17, Luncașu’s driver Boris Babin called 112 for emergency response services, saying that his boss shot himself in the head on the side of the Ialoveni-Durlești road.
According to the source, Luncașu’s driver made a declaration to law enforcement stating that at approximately 7:00 p.m. that same night, his boss contacted him by telephone. Luncașu asked him to come to his home and take him for a drive (to an unknown destination), “to get some fresh air”. The driver took his work car to Luncașu's house, where he picked up Luncașu and then headed for the Ialoveni-Durlești road. At one point, Luncașu asked the driver to stop the car in a field, and to write a letter saying “I bought the White House in 2017, I was an investor.”
According to the driver’s statement, his boss then got out of the car and told him (the driver) that he wanted to get some fresh air. He shot himself in the head shortly afterwards with an Astra type 6.35 caliber gun (serial number: 85034). He died as a result of the injuries he received.
Mass Media Officer for the Chisinău Police, Natalia Stati, confirmed for ZdG that Luncașu’s driver made the 112 call to the emergency services at 8:07 p.m.
The so-called “White House” mentioned in the letter – an imposing building complex at the foot of Valea Morilor park in downtown Chișinău – is owned by Business Agreement. Investar Investment Limited took over this company in 2017, under the representation of Iurii Luncașu.
"White House", Chișinău. Photo: ZdG
Suicide: the Main Suspect in the First-Degree Murder Case
The Buiucani Prosecutor’s Office initially opened a criminal case for first-degree murder, stating that although the main version of the events is a suspected suicide, this is considered one of three possibilities being investigated. The other two are first-degree murder and someone pushing Luncașu to kill himself.
According to the Head of the Chișinău Prosecutor's Office, Ștefan Șaptefraț, Luncașu’s driver Boris Babin is considered a witness in the case at this point, because he was the one who called the emergency services to say that his boss had shot himself.
That being said, Șaptefraț also confirmed that Babin is the father of the young man responsible for killing Teodor Țăranu (the son of Moldovan political analyst Anatol Țăranu) in the summer of last year.
"This means nothing," Șaptefraț said.
The head of the Buiucani Prosecutor’s Office, Eduard Mașnic, said that Babin testified to the police and no interdiction was applied against him because these types of preventive measures can not be applied to witnesses. The prosecutor also mentioned that, in general, information on the witnesses is part of any investigation.
Case Transferred to the PCCOCS
After two days of investigation, the interim Prosecutor General, Dumitru Robu, decided to transfer the case from the Buiucani Office of the Prosecutor General to the Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Cases (PCCOCS).
"Considering the complex character of the criminal case, which required the involvement of representatives of other law enforcement bodies, and in order to ensure the operative and objective investigation of the circumstances of the case, it was ordered to send the file for the continuation of the criminal prosecution in the PCCOCS," the Prosecutor General explained.
He said that different versions of the case are being checked at this time, but that there is no suspect, considering that, at the time, the case investigation had only been underway for three days.
When asked about why the file was transferred to the PCCOCS, Prosecutor Denis Rotaru said that the Prosecutor's Office has experience with such cases and that the file would be one of increased public interest. The head of the Buiucani Prosecutor’s Office, Eduard Mașnic, mentioned the same reasons when asked about the case was being moved to PCCOCS.
When asked why a first-degree murder case was opened despite the fact that Luncașu’s death is believed to be a suicide, the PCCOCS interim chief Rotaru stated that this was done, firstly, because the criminal prosecution on this article allows law enforcement personnel to carry out more criminal prosecution possibilities and to investigate all versions, including suicide or that someone pushed to kill himself.
"Certain witnesses were heard, other witnesses were set to be heard in the near future. More expertise has been formed. More research, more examinations to follow. We have a criminal prosecution group. We have established an action plan, very concrete, which we are already executing,” said Prosecutor Rotaru, adding that this is the only information he can make public with regards to the investigation into Luncașu’s death case.
Interior Minister Responds to the Suspicious Death
After Luncașu’s death, rumors appeared that the current government could have been involved in his killing.
According to the Minister of Internal Affairs Andrei Năstase, “such statements are part of a well-developed scenario [created] by forces hostile to our civilized, European path, which have been democratically disembarked from power and are suffering.”
Minister of Internal Affairs Andrei Năstase. Photo: ZdG
"Do you think any of us or even the society aims for people in Plahotniuc's circle to shoot bullets in their heads? No! The people want the culprits to stand trial, to answer for the illegalities committed and, of course, to have their assets confiscated,” the Minister said in an interview with Radio Free Europe.
Năstase said that he was surprised that this case appeared in public discussion immediately after it happened and that someone carefully tried to give credit to a “single hypothesis” about the circumstances surrounding Luncașu’s death.
Plahotniuc’s Message on Social Media
On August 20, Luncașu, was buried at the Saint Lazăr Cemetery. On the same day, the former leader of the Democratic Party, Vlad Plahotniuc – a close friend of the late Luncașu – posted a message of condolence on his Facebook page.
“True friends are counted on one hand, they are the family you choose. Deep sadness and an emptiness that cannot be filled. Rest in peace, my dear and good friend,” Plahotniuc wrote, without mentioning a name.
READ MORE: In Grozesti, Plahotniuc's native village: "We had great confidence in him"
According to the prosecutors, Luncașu’s relatives requested that they give statements after the funeral.
Luncașu’s family claims that they don’t exclude the possibility that someone drove him to suicide, given that he was facing the progress of the disease multiple sclerosis and was suffering from the emotional impact of what they claimed were unfounded accusations that have been published in the press lately.
Igor Fraihman, a friend of Luncașu and his family, stated during a press conference:
"Of course, I am not a doctor, but I am sure that stress has only aggravated his condition. Recently, in several mass media there appeared unfounded accusations against Iurii, which greatly aggravated his physical and psycho-emotional state. In fact, he was very worried about these publications," said Fraihman, specifying that Luncașu was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis twenty years ago.
Igor Fraihman. Photo: ZdG
Fraihman also said that the family hired a lawyer who will analyze all the misinformation published in the press that could have generated tragic consequences.
According to him, because of the false information disseminated in the public space about Luncașu, such as him being a relative of Vlad Plahotniuc, or that he would have done business with the Tiraspol Sheriff's holding chief, Victor Guşan, or that he had business in cigarette production.
At the same time, he gave assurances that there were "no pressures either professionally, financially or otherwise" that could have caused the businessman to commit suicide.
Fraihman also stated that Luncașu “had no political ambition, but that any great businessman, from any country in the world, always of course maintained high-level connections.” However, he did not specify what “high-level connections” Luncașu may have had.
The family is willing to collaborate with the investigation to clarify the circumstances of Luncașu's death.
READ MORE: Turkey’s Long Arm Sparks Criminal Case In Moldova
/Adapted by Eilish Hart. Using materials by Ziarul de Gardă, courtesy of the Russian Language News Exchange.