Photo: courtesy of Ziarul de Gardă
Editor's Note: This is an adapted version of an article by Ziarul de Gardă, Hromadske's partner.
At the center of one of the biggest bank frauds in Eastern Europe’s history is Ilan Shor – a Moldovan businessman and politician who made headlines last week after being sentenced to seven and a half years in prison and fleeing the country illegally. Nevertheless, he is still a parliamentary deputy for the Shor Party, representing Constituency 18 – Orhei. He was elected by a landslide in the February 2019 parliamentary elections despite the pending charges against him.
Moldova’s Prosecutor General’s Office had announced the sentence on July 16, finding Shor guilty of involvement in money laundering and fraud schemes at the Banca de Economii (BEM). Shor was incriminated in the investigation into a multi-billion dollar bank fraud featured in the Kroll Report, which links him to fugitive oligarch and former Democratic Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc – who is also implicated in the bank scheme, along with former Prime Minister of Moldova Vlad Filat.
According to the Kroll Report, Shor has ties to several companies belonging to the “Shor Group,” which received massive loans through three Moldovan banks as part of a 2014 banking scheme that robbed the country of an estimated $2.9 billion.
READ MORE: “Theft of the Century”: Report Reveals How 2014 Bank Scheme Robbed Moldova of Billions
After being banned from leaving the country on June 12, he reportedly fled Moldova through Chișinău International Airport between June 14 and 17. He left the country illegally – bypassing border control – and he wasn’t heard from again until July 26, when he reacted online to the arrest warrant issued in his name.
“The new power is creating a great deal of pressure,” Shor complained, saying that the arrest warrant was issued under intense pressure from the new government. “The Cahul Court of Appeal ignored the law.”
Moldovan authorities announced a search warrant for him at home and abroad on July 30.
Shor’s decision to flee Moldova has led to a lot of speculation – but we wanted to see what the people who voted for him think. So we paid a visit to the towns and villages in Shor’s constituency to find out where the people think their deputy is and what they think about the criminal charges he’s facing and the national and international search for Ilan Shor.
In Pelivan: “We don’t count other people’s money, do we?”
In Constituency 18 we went to the villages of Cișmea and Pelivan, which are home to 3,257 inhabitants according to the 2014 census. But as we entered Pelivan, the village seemed deserted.
The community has a rich history and bears the name of a promoter of Romanian national ideas. Democratic Party representative Ion Gamarț has been the mayor of the community for four years. Even so, in the February 24, 2019 parliamentary elections 60 percent of Pelivan residents voted for Ilan Shor.
We met three women and a man waiting for the minibus from Orhei to Cișmea. We started asking questions, to find out their opinion on the missing deputy. They spoke about Shor with admiration and said how much the deputy did for Orhei. I asked one of the ladies where he got the money from, and the man next to her, who was barely in control of his emotions, exploded.
"And what about Maia Sandu, where does she take money from? And where does Nastase get his money? Don’t they all steal money from people? What did Maia Sandu do? Closed schools, here and there, what else did she do? Ilan Shor built roads all over Orhei, and he did many other things because Orhei was totally destroyed. We do not know whose money it was, we don’t count people’s money, do we? And if we turn to the Socialist Party, what did they do? Have they done anything in their lives? Nothing,” the man kept shouting, and the people around him nodded in approval.
We asked him his opinion on why the former mayor ran away. "He didn’t tell us. He's not guilty. What should he be guilty for. Take [Parliamentary Speaker Zinaida] Greceanîi, her husband stole too. Why don’t they ask Greceanii to return the money? All of them have been stealing, not just him,” the man said fiercely.
The minibus arrived but we managed to ask the same man what he will do if, eventually, Ilan Shor is held responsible and imprisoned. He was at the door of the minibus when he answered: "We will protest here and in Chișinău.” The lady next to him approved of his words.
Shortly afterwards, we met Mihai. He is 74 years old. Although he was deported to Siberia in Soviet times he returned to his native village and remembers that during the sovhoz the village was beautiful and rich. Now it has been destroyed.
When asked about Shor’s guilt, Mihai shares an opinion strikingly similar to that of the other local people: "I would not say that he has to stay in prison, for, as I see he is paying for his faults."
"He may have stolen all right – but he does something for people!"
Vasili and his entire family voted for Ilan Shor in the parliamentary elections. He has been living in Pelivan since 1973. We met him near the bakery, where he works as a security guard. Although he is aware of the charges against Shor, he thinks that the deputy can’t have done anything illegal and said that he likes him as a leader. To Vasili he seems sincere, he thinks that his policy is for people and that he has done much for Orhei. He also said he would be disappointed to find out that Shor had stolen the money after all.
"I will stop respecting him and be done. And if there are elections, I will not vote for him anymore.”
Andrei is 50 years old and is a member of the Shor Party. We caught him talking to another local outside of the house’s gate. He said that the government does little for Pelivan: “Shor started to do things, but look, they put the breaks on it,” Andrei said. “As for these other ones, yeah, they do nothing but steal; they steal and don’t do anything else.”
Andrei said he supports Shor, because of his promises to do good things in Pelivan. "We'll see, in time maybe he will.” He knows nothing about the deputy’s money, but he assured us that Shor is innocent and that he’s currently on holiday. Soon he will come back and answer all of these questions – he even saw him on TV, giving a speech.
In the event that Shor is arrested, Andrei said that people will gather to support him.
"We will support him, we will hold protests in Orhei, even in Chișinău. Shor gave a speech today and said ‘if they need protests – we will hold protests and settle all the questions with the theft and so on.’ Well, he may have stolen all right – but he does something for the people!" the man concluded.
But Andrei’s fellow villager is of another opinion. The man said he does not support anyone and that all the changes in the village are thanks to the mayor. He said that he heard about Shor's participation in the theft of the billion, and he believes that there’s no smoke without fire.
“A simple man cannot flee like this: either they have pressured him, or he has something, perhaps a criminal case – one doesn’t flee without reason, a simple man does not flee like that. Our people are easily lured with a candy bar. People like us trust anyone who comes and says nice and sweet words, but nothing is done,” he said, sounding upset.
Having departed, Ilan Shor has left people in uncertainty and with unfulfilled promises. Some are shocked to hear that he was convicted and refuse to believe he might be guilty. Even so, they defended him, saying that others in the government stole too.
Near the shop we discovered a playground for children. Seeing us, the little ones who were running around started talking about Ilan Shor. A little girl said, looking straight into our eyes "we love Ilan Shor,” as if confirming what Maria said. We also met two moms there looking after their kids, who were playing on the swings. One of them told us that she was from Pelivan and that she had lived in the village for 29 years. She turned out to be a loyal supporter of the deputy.
"We are waiting for him to come and do what he promised for our village too. I do not know with what money, in any case, I care about him. There are many [politicians] who stole money, maybe he stole it too. Even if he did it, I trust him. That's our conviction. He did not run away, he will come back and fulfill his promises,” said the woman.
In OrheiLand: "Great Thanks to this Man"
In Orhei, 67.6 percent of the people who voted in the February 24 parliamentary elections voted for Ilan Shor. So on the way to Chișinău we had to visit OrheiLand – the amusement park built at the initiative of the missing deputy. Upon entering the park we were stopped by security even though the restriction panel contained no information about the media. The man asked where we were from and communicated the information to someone else over the phone. In the end, we were given permission to enter.
Inside we met Ana and her granddaughter. Ana was delighted by the amusement park and did not hesitate to thank Shor: "We thank the man who created such a beautiful center and city for us.”
Regarding Ilan Shor's involvement in money laundering schemes, Ana insisted that he couldn’t have done it and that he was not guilty.
"They say so much, but I believe that there is no man who does not make mistakes, but we can fix them. I think he had some money if he started all of this. You can't be empty handed and start up a business. I am sorry that he was forced to leave the country or maybe it was his own desire, I have no idea of how he got involved in it,” she said, looking puzzled.
Ana said that she found out about the departure of the former mayor of Orhei from the Internet and she believes that he’s gone because he needed time to think. The woman was surprised to hear that Shor was banned from leaving the country after being sentenced to seven years and six months of imprisonment, however, she tried not to show her disbelief.
"He was forbidden from leaving the country, yes, when I heard it, I was really shocked. He did so many things, he put in so much effort and now he fled, I was surprised. But I did not get one hundred percent disappointed and I still expect a better result,” she said.
– Would you vote for him again? Yes! she said.
We met another visitor at OrheiLand, waiting for the merry-go-round to start.
"Orhei is beautiful, because of the people,” he told us.
"I can't say anything about Ilan Shor, because it was the people who did everything, it’s their victory. Shor appears as the beneficiary of the stolen billion in all the Kroll Reports, him and his companies are involved in the theft of the billion. Now he has fled to Israel, so that he is not held responsible, and avoids going to prison,” the man said.
In Peresecina: "They have to put them all in a row and shoot them"
As we were heading towards Chișinău, we stopped in the village of Peresecina in the Orhei district. Although the village is part of constituency 20, before parliamentary elections, the Shor Party electorate was very active in this locality. This electoral district saw a tough competition between the candidate of the Shor Party and that of the ACUM bloc, the latter coming out victorious with a small difference in votes.
In Peresecina, just like in other localities, people's opinions are divided. We met a man who told us he had voted for Shor, but was shocked to find out that this candidate, who he trusted, was convicted for fraud. Even so, he still claimed that Shor is a good man.
"He did not throw money around, he sensibly invested it in Orhei. I didn't hear anything about him stealing money. I don't believe he's guilty. He was a good man to us, but I can't tell you what he did later," he said.
On the other hand, another villager responded rhetorically when we asked him about Ilan Shor: "You mean Ilan Shor, the bandit, don’t you?” Then he added: "I do not vote for such people.”
"Well, he robbed the banks of Moldova when he was mayor in Orhei, I don't know which ones, he filled his pockets and bags with money, and fled. Now they are looking for him to send to jail,” the man said.
Seventy-year-old Maria was returning from the shop. She had bought something to eat for dinner. When asked her view of the former government, the woman, who has lived in Peresecina all her life said, “they have to put them all in a row and shoot them.”
In her old age, she complains about her pension. "I live on a very small pension now, even though I worked really hard,” she told us.
She also seemed disappointed by the former mayor of Orhei, "He kind of stole a little bit, perhaps not a little, but quite a lot. It’s true, it’s not just him, there are many more thieves, they ruined, crippled Moldova.”
Shor Party spokesperson, Alina Șargu, told us on the phone that she had no information about the whereabouts of the party leader nor when he might return. We wanted to hear her comments on the fact that Ilan Shor was nowhere to be found in the country despite being banned from leaving. The spokesperson replied that we were asking "illogical" questions.
READ MORE: In Grozesti, Plahotniuc's Native Village: "We had great confidence in him"
/ Materials by Ziarul de Gardă, courtesy of the Russian Language News Exchange.