Five Moldova coup-plotters face EU sanctions

Five Moldovans are to have their EU money frozen and lose access to Europe to help stop Russia from usurping power in Chișinău.

Two alleged white-collar bank robbers and Russia-coup masterminds — Ilhan Şor and Vladimir Plahotniuc — top the new blacklist for “actions destabilising the Republic of Moldova”, dated 22 May (Monday) and seen by EUobserver.

  • Ilhan Şor: ‘Where’s the [missing] $1bn?,’ Moldovans wants to know (Photo:

EU ambassadors are expected to rubber-stamp it by Friday and for measures to enter into force next week.

The sanctions paper also names a Russian tycoon, a former police chief, and a Moldovan Şor party deputy chief, while yielding a veritable anatomy of Russia’s coup d’etat playbook, in their statements of reasoning.

It says Şor is wanted for having embezzled hundreds of millions of euros from Moldova’s banks 15 years ago and is now using the stolen money to fund “violent protests and rallies, primarily in the capital Chișinău, with the help of protestors paid by the Şor party, throughout 2022-2023.”

It also names Plahotniuc on the bank fraud and notes that he is being “investigated for bribing the former president of Moldova with a bag of cash in exchange for political favours”.

The Russian businessman, Igor Chaika, “played the role of Russian ‘purse’, channelling money to FSB assets in Moldova in order to bring the country under the control of the Kremlin,” the EU said, referring to Russia’s main intelligence agency.

The Moldovan ex-policeman “used his connections” in the force “to recruit former police officers and create a paramilitary group to ‘protect’ the violent demonstrators against the Moldova government.”

He also founded a “so-called ‘shadow government’ with the aim of replacing the democratically-elected government of the Republic of Moldova”.

And Marina Tauber, the Şor party deputy chief, who poses for glamorous photo shoots, was cited for helping to hoard “knives, flammable substances and daggers” to be used in rallies and for using “special communication instruments” to organise protest logistics.

Two other Moldovans, a politician and a businessman, are also being listed for helping Russia in occupied regions of Ukraine, in move which highlights the regional dimensions of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s war.

The sanctions mean any of their EU assets will be frozen and it will be illegal for any EU banker or lawyer to help them move around money.

They will also be banned from entering all 27 EU countries.

But Tauber, in any case, is going nowhere for now — she has been under house arrest in Moldova since 1 May after police intercepted her trying to fly to Israel despite ongoing criminal proceedings.

Şor also lives in Israel and Plahotniuc reportedly lives in Turkey.

Pro-Russian commentators love to mock EU sanctions as being ineffective.

But Şor, for one, cares, seeing as he has quietly recruited at least one lobbyist in Brussels to be his eyes and ears on the EU process and to badmouth Moldova’s pro-EU government.

Dozens of other Russian and pro-Russian oligarchs also care enough to be spending a few million of their billions challenging EU sanctions at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

But despite the court option, getting EU-blacklisted is difficult to shake off.

If those sanctioned beat it with an EU Court of Justice (ECJ) annulment, it tends to come back because you find yourself re-listed under new EU legal acts, which change a few words in their statement of reasoning, and need a whole new (two-year) trial to overturn again.

That leaves their business and political reputation disfigured.

“Sanctions litigation is pointless,” Andreas Geiger, an Austrian lawyer who used to represent ousted former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in ECJ cases, told EUobserver.

“By the time you get a judgement, there are several new sanctions rounds in place against which you need to sue again. So you will never have any win with that litigation. The only way to get off the list is by convincing the legislator [EU countries]”, he said.

Şor declined EUobserver’s interview request to give his side of the story.

The Russian coup threat is a serious danger, given that Putin also has thousands of soldiers stationed in a breakaway part of Moldova called Transnistria.

But when EUobserver spoke to Moldovan diplomats to see what they would ask Şor if they ever got him in an interrogation room, they showed how much it still hurts Moldovan people — who are among the poorest in Europe — that the bank robbers got away with it.

“Where’s the [missing] $1bn?,” was the diplomat’s first question.

“Where do you see Moldova’s future: with Russia or with the EU?,” was the second.

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