2 May 2023 18:44

Moldovan prosecutors seek trial of former top-ranking officials for granting Chisinau Airport concession

CHISINAU. May 2 (Interfax) - A number of former top-ranking Moldovan officials will be prosecuted in a criminal case dealing with the granting of concession for Chisinau Airport, head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office Veronica Dragalin said on Tuesday.

Prosecutors have forwarded the criminal case on granting concession for Chisinau Airport to the courts. This action has resulted in damage to the state amounting to 392 million lei (around $20 million), Dragalin said.

"We are referring to a group of eight public officials who abused their office, causing massive damage. These are former Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, Economy Minister Valeriu Lazar, chief of the Public Property Agency Tudor Copaci and his deputy Angela Susanu, Chisinau Airport Director Petru Jardan, and its financial director, Alexandru Ciutac. All of them acted in the interests of an organized criminal group formed in June 2013," Dragalin said.

Investigators also have testimony from 20 witnesses, as well as financial reviews of documents and scrutinized bank accounts and transfers, she said.

The defendants have not admitted any wrongdoing. The case has been forwarded to the Buiucani Court of Chisinau to examine its merits. If found guilty, the suspects face up to eight years in prison.

To rectify the damage to the state, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office and the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency (ARBI) have frozen the assets and authorized capital of the Avia Invest company, as well as the assets of the suspects, including those who remain abroad. They amount to 189 million lei (around $9 million).

The decision to award a 49-year concession to Avia Invest SRL to operate Chisinau Airport was made by Iurie Leanca's government in 2013, on orders from businessman Vladimir Plahotniuc, who in effect governed the country at the time and who currently remains abroad.

Khabarovsk Airport acted as the consortium's principal founder. After the concession agreement was signed, Khabarovsk Airport withdrew from the group of co-founders in favor of a group of individuals close to Plahotniuc and another fugitive businessman, Ilan Shor. In addition, Shor opened his own chain of duty-free stores at the airport. Last year, Moldovan authorities amended the law to abolish duty free trade on the country's border, resulting in the closure of the duty free stores.

In November 2022, Chisinau's Appeals Chamber ruled to terminate the concession contract for Chisinau Airport with Avia Invest and to transfer it back to state ownership, on the grounds that the company had failed to honor its investment obligations. Avia Invest appealed the judgments of the Moldovan courts with the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, which ruled against it. In line with the courts' rulings, the airport was transferred to state ownership on April 1.