Moldavian citizenship – shield for lawbreaking foreigners and controversial businessmen
Diana Bulai, Natalia Rotari, Nata Scobioală
Over 400 foreigners were granted Moldavian citizenship in the last ten years. Half of them own affairs in the country. Some are suspicious or illicit. The Moldavian citizenship had been withdrawn in some cases after illegalities came out publicly and other newly granted citizens with legal problems seem to be of no interest for the government. One of the Moldavian citizenship benefits is the country does not extradite its citizens.
It seems Moldavian citizenship attracts many foreign priests especially from the neighbouring country of Romania. Ion Țivlea was born in 1958 and received Moldavian citizenship in 2010 after four years of acting as local priest in the village of Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Cahul district. Two years before being granted the citizenship several priests Țivlea included were asked to leave Moldova due to visa irregularities. They belonged to Bessarabia Metropolitan Church and were banned by the Communists who motivated their decision based on priests’ lack of work permits issued by the Moldavian authorities.
Another Orthodox priest who was granted with Moldavian citizenship in 2010 is Mihail Milea originated from Buzău, Romania. He is running Saint Sava Foundation for Children since 1993 and develops social projects for elders, homeless children or establishing social canteens. In 1998 Milea set up a vocational school. In his hometown of Buzău the Romanian priest was given the Man of the Year title in 2010 and the local Honorary Citizenship a year later. In 2016 the priest was accused by a 93 years old woman of fraud as Milea had not abide his promising to take care of the old-age pensioner and took her money and assets. Apparently the pious retiree donated her entire properties to Milea-owned Saint Sava foundation. Upon several meetings with the old woman relatives the priest returned the assets except a five hectares land he already sold it despite the legal provisions. The relatives went to court.
Dumitra Niculicioiu a Romanian citizen involved in religious activities in Moldova received the citizenship in 2009. Few months later in May 2010 she became Mother Superior of The Pentecost and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary monastery in the village of Găvănoasa, Cahul district. During the Communism regime in 2006 a Catholic priest originated from Romania was granted with the Moldavian citizenship.
Benone Farcaș was born in Bacău and graduated a chorister school in 1982 and Saint Josef Roman Catholic Theological Institute in Iaşi seven years later. Between August 1989 and March 1994 he was Chancellor of Chişinău Apostolic Administration in Republic of Moldova. Four years later he was a simple priest in Creţoaia later to become vicar of Holy providence in Chişinău. Starting with 2010 Benone Farcaș was appointed rector of Theological Studies Academy in Chişinău for five years and taught for one year Canonic Law. In September 2015 he was named rector of the Saint Josef Theological Institute in Iaşi.
Cesare Lodeserto is an Italian whose Moldavian citizenship had been withdrawn. His life is an adventure novel. Lodeserto was born on 1960 in Italy and was granted the Moldavian citizenship in 2006 based on a presidential decree signed by that time president Vladimir Voronin. Ten years later his citizenship had been withdrawn because Lodeserto fraudulently received Moldavian citizen upon offering false information and hiding court details as it is mentioned in the withdrawal official document.
The Moldavian government started a criminal investigation and Vladimir Voronin became subject of indictment for excess of authority. The investigation started after Lodeserto was indicted in Italy for keeping by meaning of force immigrants is not yet finalized. The former Moldavian president Vladimir Voronin decided to ignore this information in spite the fact his adviser Artur Reșetnicov asked for rejection of Lodeserto citizenship application. Moreover, the Moldavian Embassy in Rome had been briefed by the Lecce Prefect on the Lodeserto’s illegal activities. He was under investigation for restraining and violence over immigrants accommodated in Regina Pacis Centre. Voronin had also been briefed on Lodeserto.
Angela Cibotaru Starinschi the spokesperson for the National Anticorruption Centre – NAC confirmed the institution started a criminal investigation for excess of authority by Republic of Moldova Presidency personnel regarding granting the citizenship to an Italian individual. “In this stage we talk about prosecution. A rogatory commission has been sent to Italy and we wait for reply”. The spokesperson also said Vladimir Voronin is not implicated in the investigation. In March 2016 Cesare Lodeserto suit Presidency of Moldova and asked for annulment of the citizenship withdrawal decree. The trial is ongoing
Pentru a iniția o altă afacere pe teritoriul Republicii Moldova, Schnurr a împrumutat, în 2010, 100.000 de euro de la partenerul său de afaceri Valeriu Răducan, cu care colabora încă din anul 2000. Conform înțelegerii dintre cei doi, banii trebuia să fie returnați după o lună, ceea ce nu s-a întâmplat. Răducan l-a dat în judecată pe Schnurr iar procesul este încă pe rol.
Tatăl și frații Kilicoglu
Bora Kilicoglu este originar din Republica Turcia. A obținut cetățenia Republicii Moldova în 2009. Prin același decret, semnat de președintele Vladimir Voronin, au primit cetățenie moldovenească alți doi turci: Burak Burcin Kilicoglu și Zikri Kilicoglu. Dintr-un articol din presă se poate afla că toți trei sunt rude: Zikri este tatăl celorlalți doi. Împreună, ei figurează în calitate de fondatori și conducători ai mai multor firme înregistrate în Republica Moldova. Afacerile celor trei țin de fabricarea produselor de cofetărie.
Una din întreprinderile gestionate de noii cetățeni moldoveni este Nefis. Conform informațiilor disponibile pe site-ul oficial al firmei, istoria companiei Nefis începe în luna octombrie 1997 în micul orăşel Floreşti, plasat la nordul Republicii Moldova. Aceeași sursă arată că produsele Nefis sunt exportate în peste 30 de ţări ale lumii de pe cinci continente. Din informațiile Camerei Înregistrării de Stat (CÎS), aflăm că cele mai multe acțiuni ale firmei le dețin frații Kilicoglu, în proporție de 48% fiecare. Tatăl lor, Zikri, și-a păstrat doar 4% din active. Din 2011 până în 2015, NEFIS a încheiat peste 300 de contracte de achiziție cu grădinițe, școli, primării, direcții de învățământ, spitale din toate raioanele Republicii Moldova.
Lodeserto is a catholic priest and founded Regina Pacis centre in 1997 because many Albanian women arrived on the Eastern Italian shores. Later the foundation extended its housing for the female victims of human trafficking from all Eastern European countries. As Moldavian outnumbered the other nationalities in the centre Lodeserto traveled many times in Republic of Moldova. In the summer of 2000 he established a branch of his foundation in Chişinău. The foundation operates also in Ukraine, Romania and the self-declared state of Transnistria.
Cesare Lodeserto was on the front-page headlines in European media after his involvement in violent incidents at his centre. Several women complaint they were kept by force inside the foundation building in Lecce and denounced the priest for insulting and slapping. They were also threatening to be remaining without their residence permit in case they would have left the centre.
The Italian priest’s past is full of court decisions. In 2005 he was convicted to sixteen months in prison for domestic violence and aggravated bias against seventeen African immigrants.
2007 brought the priest another conviction of sixty-four months in prison for defamatory statements, kidnapping and blackmail the centre’s guests. The Italian Court of Audit ruled in 2007 against Lodeserto who had to pay 133.651 euro to the state upon a financial investigation into the foundation. At the Regia Pacis foundation in Chișinău we tried to find Lodeserto opinion on the charges but we were told the priest is in Italy and is not returning soon to Moldova.
Citizenship through charity
The German Rainer Schnurr is the second individual deprived of the Moldavian citizenship within the last ten years. He was granted the citizenship in 2010 soon to be established that Schnurr submitted false documents. Therefore his Moldavian citizenship was revoked in 2016. Six years earlier he registered the Chișinău based Association for Assistance of Families’ and Destitute Children. The purpose of this association was to endure social welfare of extremely poor families, or with numerous children as well of the homeless, ill, disabled or in need children.
Schnurr’s association and Chișinău Municipality had a common project of 48 million euro to renovate inner and outer toilets of the city’s educational establishments. In a splendid ceremony the first toilet was officially opened a year later. Spiru Haret high-school new toilets costed 11.000 euro. The municipality spokesperson said the partnership lasted for one year even though was expected to continue until 2020. Eleven similar toilets were renovated in one year of partnership. “The renovations were executed only for the toilets mentioned in the first phase of the project. Nothing happened after that” said the spokesman “the association came both with the initiative and money while the municipality was just a partner”
On the Association website is mentioned it activities spread across the country. We called on the number displayed on the website and ask to talk to an Association official. A lady told us she represents a company which also is in search of Schnurr’s association officials. The lady who answered the phone told us she works for a company called Business Office 5 Centre located on Tighina 49/3 Street which offers registration offices for companies and Schnurr was one of the clients. “We try to find them because they left without paying the 195 euro accumulated debts they had for renting a registration office. This is the reason we terminated the contract. The association headquarters was somewhere else and all the incoming mail we forwarded via email”. Schnurr also borrowed for one month period 100.000 euro from his business partner Valeriu Răducan in 2010 never to return it. Răducan suit Schnurr and still wait for the trial outcome.
From Turkish sweetshop to Russian intelligence
Bora Kilicoglu was born in Turkey and received Moldavian citizenship in 2009. On the same day other two Turks were granted the citizenship following a decree signed by the former president Vladimir Voronin: Burak Burcin Kilicoglu and Zikri Kilicoglu. According to media articles the three are relatives as Zikri is Bora’ and Burak’s father and together they own and run several companies registered in Republic of Moldova. Among these firms which produce sweets is Nefis. On the company’s website is mentioned the Nefis’ history. It was established in October 1997 in the small town of Floreşti, northern Moldova.
The same source indicates the Nefis’ products are exported in over thirty countries on five continents. Data from registrar of Companies shows Kilicoglu brothers owns each 48% and the father four per cent of the company. Between 2011 and 2015 Nefis signed a four year contract with 300 kindergartens, schools, municipalities and hospitals to deliver its products. Another company founded by the Kilicoglu brothers is Dulcevis SRL registered in 2005. A similar name was used for a firm Burak Burcin established in 2015 in Romania.
Moldavian media named Burcin Burak as one of the wealthiest people in the country and rnews.md associated the Turkish businessman with Nigeat Elsad Askerov, a Moldavian citizen of Azeri community. According to rnews.md Askerov is actively promoting the ideas of Moldova’s adherence to Euro-Asian Union and a fervent activist for the left-wing populist Our Party political party.
Renato Usatîi - one of the party founders was accused in 2014 by the Russian banker German Gorbuntsov accused Renato of hiring a gunman to kill him. In 2015 Usatîi was arrested and charged with illegal tampering the phone of former prime-minister Vlad Filat, convicted for corruption. The same publication quoting inside party sources said Askerov repeatedly revealed his closed connections to Suret Guseinov an influential businessman in Russia and Azerbaijan and in relation with Russian intelligence. rnews.md said Guseinov financed and deployed several actions causing unrest in the Caucasus regions and together with Russian intelligence was involved in plenty of actions to protect Russian Federation abroad.
An off-shore maze
Vaja Jhashi Enricovich a controversial figure born in Soviet Union in 1966 became Moldavian citizen when he was 39. He is the president of Trans Oil Group of Companies in Moldova since 2004 and introduces himself as an American citizen on Trans Oil website. Later he moved the company’s assets from US to Geneva, Switzerland. Enricovich was subject of media investigation in August 2016 when journalists revealed that Trans Oil a maze of Switzerland and Cyprus based off-shore companies purchased shares in Moldavian and Romanian limited companies. For instance, through Visions Holding S.A. it has shares in four Moldavian companies which are proprietors of silos across the country: Moldogranum, Kelley Grains, Elevator Kelley Grains, and Elevatorul Iargara. Through Trezeme Limited the company owns other firms involved in similar activities: Transbulk Logistics SRL and the grain terminal in Giurgiuleşti port managed by the Chechen national Azamat Misirbiev.
Besides agricultural monopoly in Moldova and trading businesses Enricovich is also involved in the banking system as the main shareholder of Chişinău located Victoriabank. He is also member of the Board of Businessmen Association presided by Moldavian politician Vladimir (Vlad) Plahotniuc. Enricovich was a business partner of the Russian banker and businessman German Gorbuntsov who also owns more than forty companies in Russia Republic of Moldova. The Trans Oil president’s name was also mentioned in the Romanian media as being involved in a company called Racova one of the largest agricultural investors in eastern Romania. Racova is own by a former soccer referee and football club holder Adrian Porumboiu. Enricovich companies leased Racova’s vast agricultural fields and rented Porumboiu’s cooking oil plant.
Interim Presidents in favour of strange grantees
During the interim mandate of Mihai Ghimpu as country President many Romanians were granted Moldavian citizenship. Among them is Răzvan Vasile Paveliu born in 1978 in Romania who received the Moldavian status in 2010. He is investigated with his partner Viorel Țopa for money laundry carried out by an organized group. Țopa is a well-known figure in Moldavian politics. Paveliu is now an internationally wanted person after Buiucani Court sentenced him in absentia in 2016 to seven years in prison for use of forgery and aggravated money laundry. According to realitatea.md Paveliu was Țopa’s accomplice who is also a fugitive person.
Ghimpu signed a similar presidential decree in 2010 in favour of 49 years old Romanian citizen Doru Liviu Dendiu. Romanian media mentioned Dendiu as running for parliamentary election in 2016 for Popular Movement Party – PMP . He was also permanent correspondent in Moldova for Romanian Public Television – TVR and when paternal leave he became the party’s coordinator in Moldova in contradiction with TVR statute. This regulation underlines the incompatibility between journalism and political activity.
Active Watch an organization that militates for free communication for public interest in Romania sent to TVR’s Ethics and Arbitration Committee a petition emphasizing the journalist’s obvious state of conflict of interests with great impact over public television credibility, independence and impartiality. Dendiu defended himself on Facebook by saying he was in paternal leave therefore the statute is not applying. He told the journalists he asked for Moldavian citizenship because he started a family there and also to escape the police pressures.
Recently the former Romanian President Traian Băsescu who is now PMP president and Romanian senator was granted the Moldavian citizenship only to be withdrawn few months later by the newly elected Moldavian President Igor Dodon. Băsescu filed a petition to court against this decision and won in the first court.
Băsescu’s political enemy Felix Stroe, 62, was given the Moldavian citizenship in 2011. Stroe who is the a very important figure of the ruling Social Democratic Party – PSD was a Military Navy officer and commanded warships for five years. His autobiography shows Stroe was vice-mayor of Constanta the largest city on the Black Sea, local representative in the City Council, and general manager of the public-owned water company RAJA SA. Stroe also controls a shipyard where the Romania Navy’s ships are repaired. In Republic of Moldova Stroe is the manager of RAJA SRL - parent company is RAJA SA - registered in 2011 in Comrat, Gagăuzia an autonomous region of Moldova. RAJA is the water supplier in Comrat since 2012 the same year when Stroe received the local Honorary Citizenship. Comrat mayor Serghei Anastasov said RAJA is not longer active in the region and Stroe comes very rarely to Comrat.
New Olympic sport: Naturalization
Moldavian citizenship attracts not only priests, businessmen but professional athletes. The reason is purely financial as Moldova is on the top of the countries to offer important rewards for remarkable results in international competitions and Olympics. The officials of Ministry of Youth and Sport explain Moldova have considerable rewards compared to Russian Federation, Japan or Romania. A governmental decision from May 2016 details the financial rewards for Olympics and Paralympics: 150.000 euro - gold medal; 125.000 – silver medal; 100.000 – bronze medal; 30.000 – fourth place and 20.000 – fifth place.
Vladislav Poghircă the head of Citizenship and Pardon Department within the Moldavian Presidency informed us the foreign sportspersons receive the citizenship through a simplified procedure. “It is only necessary an application sent by the National Olympic Committee or particular federation proving the athletes would be included in national teams and represents the country internationally”.
One of the famous athletes to receive Moldavian citizenship is the Ukrainian canoeist Serghei Tarnovschi who won a bronze medal in Rio. After failing the doping test Tarnovschi remained without the medal and was suspended four years by the International Canoe Federation - ICF. The Moldova National Olympic Committee was keen to reward Tarnovschi did not wait for the ICF decision and offered the canoeist an apartment in Chișinău. Tarnovschi was not found to comment in spite of many messages and calls.
In 2015 Moldova won the first place on the Latino dance sport World Championship in Wien, Austria. Moldova’s representatives were Anna Matus and Gabriele Goffredo who was granted with citizenship in 2013. The couple also has won in 2016 the gold medal in Latino Dance at the World Championship, the first prize at the European Championship and International World Games Association offered the two “sportspersons of the month”. Goffredo was not to be reached to comment on his citizenship.
UK citizen Aaron Cook is the junior world champion in taekwondo and fight for Britain in 2008 Olympics. He chose to represent Moldova when he understood there was no place for him in the British delegation for 2012 Olympics in London. In 2015 Cook said the press he looked for solution to continue his international career and was approached by the Moldavian federation. Cook mentioned when receiving the Moldavian citizenship he was willing to represent his new country until the end of his career. He became the first Moldavian to win a medal at the taekwondo World Championship. In August 2015 Cook won the silver medal at G4 Grand Prix in Moscow and qualified himself for the 2016 Olympics in Rio after another silver medal at WTF World Grand Prix Final in Mexico. Cook obtained the title for the best taekwondo strike during 2015 International Taekwondo Federation award-winning festivity. In December same year the British fighter was given the title of the Best Sportsperson of the Year by the Moldavian Sports Press Association.
Born in Romania the luger Bogdan Ernest Macovei obtained Moldavian citizenship in 2006 and represented Moldova in international competition and Olympics since. Macovei explained there was no room for him in Romania and represents Moldova thanks to Liviu Cepoi. Macovei was present to three consecutive Winter Olympics between 2006 and 2014. At Sochi Olympics the last Macovei participated in the luger came on 36 out of 39 competitors. “It was a challenge for me. Now I train the national junior team and do hope to take part in other Olympic games. Liviu Cepoi is the father of Leonard Cepoi another luger with Moldavian citizenship who represented Moldova in 2015 at the Youth Winter Olympics.
Since 2009 the Austrian alpine skier Georg Lindner salutes the Moldavian flag during the international tournaments. At the Sochi Olympics in 2014 Lindner failed to finish the Super-G race. He blamed the softy snow for his abandon and retired. “I decided to apply for Moldavian citizenship because this country offered me a chance to participate in international competitions”, told us Lindner.
Fraud in a nutshell
Rahmo Tarek is a Syrian citizen who received the Moldavian citizenship in 2010. Tarek is one of the Chișinău located Garden City company shareholders. The other is the former Syrian Consul in Moldova Jamous Bader also a Moldavian citizenship beneficiary. In 2012 interview Bader emphasized that he received the citizenship upon a special decree issued and signed by the country’s former president Petru Lucinschi. That time double citizenship was not allowed by the Moldavian government.
Tarek is the sole owner and manager of Nut Land and Gozram companies which are the shareholder of Maestro-Nut SRL one of the largest nuts exporters in Moldova and ranked on Top 30. The same year the State Tax Service detected Maestro-Nut as breaching the revenue legislation by diminishing the income tax for 2012 of approx. 350.000 euro. An investigation was carried out by the same institution in co-operation with Criminal Prosecution General Department within the Ministry of Interior against the company. The officials concluded that in 2012 Maestro-Nut purchased nuts and nutmeat in value of 3,2 million euro from people who were living abroad or were dead. We tried to contact Tarek at the Maestro-Nut headquarters with no success.
Moldova: No extradition
Under the Article 5 of 1991 Law 556 provisions regarding the Republic of Moldova citizenship its citizens are protected by the state. Moldova is not extraditing its citizens who are subjects of state protection when abroad but can refuse to grant the citizenship in case the applicants are convicted criminals, have a crime history or are under prosecution when requesting it. Article 20 of the same law state the similar provisions apply to applicants who endanger the state security, public order, health or morality of population. Iulia Petuhov expert for the Organization for Attracting Investments and Promoting the Foreign Investments said Republic of Moldova offers facilities and fair treatment both for local and foreign investors within the law limits. “We are an open economy which equally treats individuals”.
Number of individuals who received Moldavian citizenship in the last ten years:
2016 – 80
2015 – 47
2014 – 29
2013 – 27
2012 – 20
2011 – 34
2010 – 47
2009 – 47
2008 – 14
2007 – 16
2006 – 45
Total - 406
This article was developed within the “Overcoming media’s stereotypes through cross border co-operation” coordinated by the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism and supported by The Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation – A Project of the German Marshall Fund.