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Moscow court arrests Moldovan tycoon in absentia on charges of creating crime gang

According to investigators, Vladimir Plahotniuc has fled to the US
Vladimir Plahotniuc Vadim Denisov/TASS
Vladimir Plahotniuc
© Vadim Denisov/TASS

MOSCOW, August 5. /TASS/. Moscow’s Tverskoy court on Monday arrested in absentia a businessman and ex-leader of Moldova’s ruling-turned-opposition Democratic Party, Vladimir Plahotniuc, on charges of setting up and participating in a criminal group, a TASS correspondent has reported from the courtroom.

Judge Anatoly Belyakov ruled to "satisfy the investigator’s motion and place Plahotniuc in custody in absentia." Under the court’s ruling, this pre-trial restriction measure will be in place since the oligarch’s extradition to Russia or his detention on Russian soil. According to investigators, Plahotniuc has fled to the US.

Lawyer Darya Konstantinova told the court that her client was innocent, asking it to decide against his arrest in absentia. She insisted that the prosecution against Plahotniuc in Russia was "politically motivated." In his turn, the investigator announced plans to seek the defendant’s extradition to Russia. "Sufficient evidence has been collected in the case confirming Plahotniuc’s complicity in the crimes he has been accused of and we will seek his extradition to Russia," a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said.

Money laundering case

Plahotniuc is charged with setting up and participating in a criminal group and carrying out illegal transactions in foreign currency and rubles to the accounts of non-residents using fake documents. Besides, Plahotniuc’s henchman, professional kickboxer Constantin Tutu, has been charged in absentia with taking part in a criminal group.

On February 22, the Russian Interior Ministry pressed charges against Plahotniuc and businessman Vyacheslav Platon over organizing the so-called Moldovan scheme, under which more than 37 bln rubles ($569 mln) was illegally transferred from Russia. In April 2017, Platon was sentenced in Moldova to 18 years in jail for illegal transfer of funds from Russia. In 2017, Plahotniuc was arrested in absentia by Moscow’s Basmanny court upon the demand of the Russian Investigative Committee and was put on an international wanted list. The investigators suspect that he could have masterminded a failed assassination attempt against businessman Renato Usatii.

In July, a member of Moldova’s parliament’s Legal Committee for appointments and immunities Grigory Novak said a criminal investigation had been launched against Plahotniuc in Romania.

Drug trafficking case

The Interior Ministry is also investigating a criminal case against the leaders and participants of a transnational criminal group, which smuggled large-scale batches of hashish from North Africa via EU countries to the former Soviet states, also illegally selling drugs in Russia. According to investigators, in August 2012-June 2019 police jointly with foreign colleagues from Moldova, Belarus and Spain nabbed more than 60 participants of an international drug syndicate, seizing more than 1 tonne of hashish.

Plahotniuc and Tutu have been charged with 28 counts in connection with smuggling and illegally selling a large-scale volume of drugs. Investigators believe that the Moldovan tycoon was one of the leaders of a criminal transnational drug syndicate, controlled by Tutu, and acted as a sponsor for its members. Plahotniuc, who fled to the US, has described the charges in Russia as "investigators’ phantasy."