Moldova urges EU to impose sanctions on oligarch behind alleged Kremlin plot

Moldova urges EU to impose sanctions on oligarch behind alleged Kremlin plot

Moldova’s foreign minister has called on the EU to impose sanctions on a fugitive oligarch whom he accuses of helping Russia wage a hybrid war against the government in Chișinău.

Nicu Popescu told the Financial Times that Ilan Șor was spreading social unrest with Moscow’s backing in a bid to topple Moldova’s pro-western government. Over the weekend Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said Washington was worried by “some of the plotting that we’ve seen coming from Russia”. Ukraine has expressed similar fears.

“We don’t see the risk of military scenarios in the immediate future at the Moldovan border, thanks to Ukrainian resistance and resilience. But hybrid subversion, attempted coup d’état, yes, there are risks,” said Popescu in an interview in Brussels.

“This oligarch [Șor] is continuing to attack Moldova,” said Popescu. “We hope the EU will sanction the corrupt individuals waging, together with and on behalf of Russia, hybrid war against the Moldovan government.”

Șor, the founder of his eponymous party, was placed on UK and US sanctions lists in 2022. The US Treasury has accused Șor of working “with Moscow-based entities to undermine” the pro-western government. Washington also imposed sanctions on Șor’s wife Sara Lvovna, a Russian pop star whose stage name is Jasmin.

In 2019, Șor fled Moldova after being convicted of money laundering and embezzlement in a bank fraud scandal that siphoned off $1bn from the country. Moldovan prosecutors are seeking his extradition from Israel and also accusing his party of receiving illegal financing.

Ilan Șor fled Moldova in 2019 after being convicted of money laundering and embezzlement © Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images

For many voters ending the oligarch’s influence over Moldova remains an important test of the government’s pledge to end corruption — and win EU accession.

“I want to see Șor in prison, where he should have been long ago,” said Nina Lozovanu, a nurse who confronted a crowd that had gathered outside a Chișinău courthouse to support Șor on Monday. “We were promised a good justice system and we deserve it.”

The 35-year-old, who inherited a duty-free business from his father and has purchased media outlets and a football club, was appealing against his 2017 conviction.

Dorin Recean, the new prime minister, has pledged to focus on security and reinforce “order and discipline” within Moldova’s institutions. Diplomats in Chișinău stress that a functioning judiciary and regulatory system are crucial to Moldova’s European ambitions, after it was granted EU candidate status alongside Ukraine last June.

While Șor is ensconced in Israel, where he was born and has citizenship, his party hands out food and clothing to supporters, particularly pensioners living in poorer regions.

Last Sunday busloads of his followers travelled to Chișinău for the latest demonstration against the government. The protest, however, was peaceful and smaller than demonstrations in the autumn.

Iulian Bălan, one of Șor’s lawyers, argued the length of the appeal only demonstrated that “our judicial system is as dysfunctional as it was a few years ago, despite all the EU money that has been poured into reforming it”.

Marina Tauber, Șor’s deputy
Marina Tauber, Șor’s deputy while he is out of the country, says she wants ‘good co-operation with all countries’ © Dumitru Doru/EPA/Shutterstock

But lawmaker Ina Coșeru said that “reforming the judiciary isn’t like building a road, you need more time. Our justice system was controlled by oligarchs who can still influence it from abroad.”

With Șor out of the country, his deputy Marina Tauber has become the party’s public face. Tauber, 32, is a former tennis player who became president of Moldova’s tennis federation before entering politics alongside Șor, whom she said she met in high school.

She spent part of last year in jail and under house arrest while being investigated over whether the party had received money from organised crime. In an interview, Tauber denied wrongdoing and dismissed the investigation as “completely political”.

Asked whether she wanted Ukraine to defeat Russia, Tauber said: “I think that it’s very dangerous to get into geopolitical declarations. We want good co-operation with all countries.”

Electorally, Șor is more a nuisance than a threat to the governing party, as it won just 6 per cent of the vote in Moldova’s last parliamentary elections. It faces stiff competition from other opposition forces in a splintering political landscape that now also features a party launched last year by Chișinău’s mayor.

Outside the courthouse, some Șor supporters insisted that demanding the government’s removal did not mean they wanted Moscow to regain control over its former Soviet republic.

“We now have political leaders who have taken all the credit from the EU and America and left us paying all the bills,” said Anton Băut, a 29-year-old waiter. “So we need a fresh start — and Șor doesn’t need Putin to give us that.”

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