While Moldova has taken steps to adopt European and international standards to combat corruption and organized crime, corruption remains a major problem. The current government’s focus on anti-corruption marks the third wave of anti-corruption reform efforts in Moldova.
Since winning a majority in Parliament in July 2021 elections, the ruling Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) has focused on several facets of the fight against corruption. The government replaced or suspended under-performing or corrupt officials. In its first months in office, the government increased transparency regarding beneficial ownership by offshore interests, amended the constitution to increase judicial independence, enacted national security screening legislation for foreign investments, passed a bill to vet judicial and prosecutorial oversight bodies for integrity issues, and implemented measures to increase accountability in the Prosecutor General’s office. A Constitutional Court ruling allowed for confiscation of unjustified assets from government officials with a lower burden of proof. The government also started implementation of plans to conduct extraordinary vetting of judges and prosecutors, and to reform anti-corruption agencies.
The National Anticorruption Center (NAC), created in 2012, focuses on investigating public corruption and bribery crimes, and is subordinated to the Parliament (the CCECC had been organized under the executive branch). In 2018, a new statutorily created agency, the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency (CARA), began operating as a specialized unit within NAC. The selection and appointment of the agency’s leadership is coordinated through a competitive process by the NAC. Moldovan judges, who previously enjoyed full immunity from corruption investigations, can now be prosecuted for crimes of corruption without prior permission from their self-governing body, although the Superior Council of Magistrates still must approve any search or arrest warrant against a judge.
The government has developed and enacted a series of laws designed to address legislative gaps such as the Law on Preventing and Combating Corruption, the Law on Conflict of Interests, and the Law on the Code of Conduct for Public Servants. The Criminal Code criminalizes two forms of public sector corruption: passive and active. These statutes apply only to corrupt acts and bribery committed by public officials. In 2016, part of the reform of the prosecution system, Moldova adopted the Law on the Prosecution Service, and created two specialized prosecution agencies – the Anticorruption Prosecution Office (APO) and the Prosecution Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Cases (PCCOCS). Beginning in 2015, specialized prosecution offices began to investigate and prosecute individuals allegedly involved in the “billion dollar” banking theft and a series of high-profile bribery, corruption, and tax evasion cases, though with limited progress. These offices face multiple challenges, including lack of independent budgets, high workload, external interference, and serious questions about their independence, transparency and impartiality. In August 2022 a new APO Chief, with U.S. prosecutorial system experience, was appointed following a competition process developed by the Superior Council of Prosecutors.
In 2016, Parliament passed the Law on the National Integrity Authority (NIA) and the Law on Disclosure of Assets and Conflict of Interest by public officials. The NIA became operational in 2018. The director, deputy director, and all inspectors are hired in competitive processes, but the agency has not yet hired a full complement of inspectors. NIA continues to lack staff and sufficient resources to fulfill its mission. The issuance of “integrity certificates” to individuals with well-known ties to the billion-dollar heist further degraded the organization’s reputation. The transparency and efficiency of NIA needs further improvement.
In 2018, APO and PCCOCS started recruitment for seconding investigators to their offices. According to the 2016 prosecution reform law, these investigators are responsible for supporting prosecutors to investigate complex corruption cases. However, even with a nearly full complement of seconded investigators, APO still relies on NAC investigators to conduct many corruption-related investigations and prosecutions. The government further plans to restructure the anticorruption agencies to focus on high-level corruption after Parliament approved the proposal in a preliminary vote. In August 2022 a new APO Chief, with U.S. prosecutorial system experience, was appointed following a competition process developed by the Superior Council of Prosecutors.
In 2022, as in the previous year, dozens of criminal cases dealing with high-level corruption were opened against current and former high-ranking officials, including the suspended prosecutor general. However, most cases are still under investigation and only a few were sent to courts. In 2022, Parliament approved the 2023-2027 national program and action plan for better efficiency and international and interagency cooperation in criminal asset recovery.
Moldovan law requires private companies to establish internal codes of conduct that prohibit corruption and corrupt behavior. Moldova’s Criminal Code also includes articles addressing private sector corruption, combatting economic crime, criminal responsibility of public officials, active and passive corruption, and trading of influence. This largely aligns Moldovan statutory law with international anti-bribery standards by criminalizing the acts of promising, offering, or giving a bribe to a public official. In 2022, new provisions in the law consolidated whistleblower protections and requirements for disclosure of ultimate beneficiary owners.
A new illicit enrichment law allows a simplified procedure for unjustified asset confiscation. A record 40 criminal cases on illicit enrichment were initiated in 2022 against mostly former top officials, including a former president of the country, but only one case reached the courts.
The country has laws regulating conflicts of interest in awarding contracts and the government procurement process; however these laws are not effectively enforced. In 2016, Parliament added two new statutes to the Criminal Code criminalizing the misuse of international assistance funds. These provisions provide a statutory basis for prosecutors to investigate and prosecute misuse of international donor assistance by Moldovan public officials in public acquisitions, technical assistance programs, and grants. Starting in 2022, the Public Procurement Agency can apply sanctions for violation of public procurement procedures. Small value procurements still lack transparency and are prone to corruption.
In 2022, Moldova ranked 91 out of 180 (from 105 the prior year) among countries evaluated in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. This was the country’s best score in a decade, with Transparency International mentioning Moldova among the eight countries globally that improved their score over the past five years.
Opinion polls show the fight against corruption is a top priority for the Moldovan public. The 2022 edition of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index maintained Moldova in the “flawed democracy” category with an overall score of 6.23 at rank 69 out of 167 countries. Moldova’s modest improvement of 0.13 points from 2021 was attributed to “improvements in the electoral process and pluralism and in political participation,” with scores of 7.42 for electoral process and pluralism (on a scale of 0 to 8) and 7.22 for political participation. Moldova maintained the score of 6.76 for civil liberties and 4.38 for democratic political culture and dropped 0.35 points to 5.36 for functioning of government.
The Freedom House Moldova “Nations in Transit Report” 2022 noted the commitment by President Sandu to implement anti-corruption policies, which she had begun during a brief period as Prime Minister in 2019. Public competitions have been mostly non-transparent and based on controversial regulations or political loyalty to, or membership in, the ruling political group, rather than on the basis of merit.
The investigation into the “billion-dollar” banking sector has been progressing relatively slowly despite the government’s renewed efforts to prosecute the organizers. Official data reported that as of March 2022, only USD 187 million has been recovered, mainly from taxes, credits, and the sale of assets belonging to the three banks liquidated following the theft. The stolen assets have not been recovered; there remains no assurance that they will be.
Freedom House’s most recent report, Democracy in Retreat: Freedom in the World 2022, found Moldova continues to be only “partially free,” earning 62/100 points for political rights/civil liberties.
Although the PAS government has prioritized transparency, several issues persist, including the late publication of plans, draft policies, budgets, and bills for consultation. Procedural shortcomings and allegations of political bias by opposition parties have led to criticism in some cases that the appointment of public officials was not transparent.
Opinion surveys conducted by reputable pollsters like the International Republican Institute (IRI) show that a majority of Moldovans see corruption as a major problem for the country, though it ranks below other economic issues. In 2007, Moldova ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, subsequently adopting amendments to its domestic anticorruption legislation. Moldova does not adhere to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery. However, Moldova is part of two regional anticorruption initiatives: the Stability Pact Anticorruption Initiative for South East Europe (SPAI), and the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) of the Council of Europe. Moldova cooperates closely with the OECD through SPAI and with GRECO, especially on country evaluations. In 1999, Moldova signed the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and Civil Law Convention on Corruption. Moldova ratified both conventions in 2003. In 2020, Moldova joined OECD’s Istanbul Anticorruption Action Plan.
Moldova is one of the participating countries in the Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ACN), a driver of anticorruption reforms in the region.
In October 2020, Moldova’s second Compliance Report, adopted by the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in the fourth round of evaluation, concluded the current level of compliance of Moldova with the GRECO recommendations is generally insufficient. Following the evaluation, 18 recommendations were addressed to Moldova. Subsequently, out of 18 recommendations, four were rated as satisfactorily treated or implemented, and 10 were partially implemented, and four remain unimplemented.