Shaving and Crying: The Approval of New Magistrates – a Farce between CSM and President

shadow
Duminică, 30.04.2017 21:36   2140
The approval of candidates to the top jobs in Moldova’s courts of law may serve well as a source of inspiration for writers of modern tragicomedy.

This is translation from Romanian. The original story is HERE.

The ten magistrates whom the president had earlier refused to approve for the office of chair and vice-chair of the newly-reformed courts of law shall most likely get the seats they desired. 

The candidates have applied for a second time and should the Higher Board of Magistrates (CSM) accept their applications, President Igor Dodon will be obliged to concede. Mr. Dodon rejected last time these candidates over issues related to their integrity and said such judges must not ever fill in such responsible posts. Four magistrates claim the chairmanship of the district courts in Drochia, Strășeni, Criuleni and Hâncești, and six magistrates sought appointment as vice-chairmen in the district courts of Chișinău, Drochia, Soroca, Ungheni, Căușeni and Anenii Noi. Some of these judges have been exposed in high-profile journalist investigations. 

Hypocrisy: Dodon has no choice

In a letter delivered to CSM in January 2017, President Dodon notified the Board that he reviewed the profiles of the candidates based on the requirements of the Moldovan legislation and the spirit of the judiciary reform, “which aims at regaining the confidence of the Moldovan society in the justice system […].”

The chief of state recommended the CSM members to have a better look at the candidates’ professional history and ask themselves whether the candidates comply with the integrity and compatibility codes. 

This lack of faith though did not sadden any candidates and they shortly renewed their applications to CSM, which is expected to review them again at an ordinary session soon, along with the president’s observations and the motivation notes his legal experts. In Moldova it’s customary when the chief of state awards the job to a judge in a second round if the Higher Board of Magistrates insists. 

Maxim Lebedinschi, the president’s legal advisor, says that the chief of state simply has not choice and shall have to abide by the law. “Our laws are the way they’ve been crafted, and at this moment we do not have any legal opportunities to oppose [the appointments]. The political will of the parliamentary majority is necessary in order to amend legislation. And the will of CSM is also an issue. We know that two or three years ago the Board itself turned down certain magistrates and later – the same Board – promoted the same judges under other circumstances, and we all guessed what principles were used in both cases,” Mr. Lebedinschi stated.

Another legal expert, Nadejda Hriprievschi of the Moldovan Center for Legal Resources, says that the ping-pong game between Moldovan presidents and CSM has a long history and “harms both the judiciary system and the general public.” 

He says „On one hand, CSM didn’t bother to provide convincing reasons why this or that candidate deserves to be appointed or promoted, although the score the given candidate collects during the evaluation process is not necessarily the highest and investigative media reports raise fair questions regarding the candidate’s integrity. And then the game comes: the president pretends that he wants valuable magistrates and rejects others – but again, he does not back up his recommendations with sufficient arguments. He can do it, because he has access to the files of the Security and Information Service at least.”

CSM in turn complains that its members don’t have access to the files which the president has, and it stands by the declined candidates, often without justification as to why the doubts which the chief of state cast were not considered, Mrs. Hriprievschi said. She added: This practice may change if all of the institutions involved get more serious about their competences regarding the appointment and promotion of judges. 

Real estate empire of Oleg Melniciuc

Among the rejected but with good chances to get the job is Oleg Melniciuc, ex-chairman of the Râșcani District Court in the capital, appointed in June 2013. Until then he had served as deputy chairman of the same court. He was promoted by former president Nicolae Timofti in spite of objections regarding the judge’s objectivity. 

„In my view, the work history of Mr. Melniciuc as deputy chairman and justice in some civil suits contains deviations from the norms of the Law on Status of Justice and the Ethical Code of Judges, as well as conditions of a conflict of interests,” says a formal motivation which Timofti – himself a former magistrate – delivered to CSM and got published in a joint investigation by the Center for Journalist Investigations and Ziarul de Gardă.  

Melniciuc seeks appointment as deputy chairman of the Chișinău Court. During his chairmanship at the Râșcani District Court, he lobbied for his subordinates to get cheap apartments in a block in Botanica District of the capital. The apartment block was built for magistrates, on a site that was rented from the municipality for more than two million lei. Melniciuc himself received a new apartment by arguing that he wanted his three underage children to own it in the future, says an investigation by RISE Moldova published in late 2015. 

According to his revenue declaration for 2015, the magistrate owns two mansions – one in the Drochia District and another in the Râșcani District of the capital.

Advertisement

He also owns five domains, an accessory construction and one non-habitable construction. 

Another investigation that was published on Anticoruptie.md demonstrates that the magistrate’s mother, Elena Melniciuc and several of his relatives too received apartments in the same block. 

Elena Melniciuc, at her age of 79, lives in reality in a village called Mândâc, Drochia District, but owns several non-habitable properties in various residential blocks in the capital, and a land plot of 0.056 hectares at Arheolog Ion Casian Suruceanu Str. Official cadastral files show that the ok Chișinău lot was rented by a hotel during 2008-2013. 

In early January, the Anticorruption Prosecution Office launched a probe regarding Melniciuc’s role in the affair with apartments, following a request from Ion Diacov, the former prosecutor of the capital. However the Prosecutor-General’s Office decided not to press for charges and notified the National Integrity Authority – a non-functional institution – to check out if there was a conflict of interest. 

Media reports said that CSM chairman Victor Micu, too, procured an apartment in the residential block in Botanica District without bothering to file a formal claim, which was required. The journalist who contributed one of such reports pointed to a conflict of interests, especially when Mr. Melniciuc was elected as deputy chairman of the Chișinău Court and Mr. Micu was one of the decision-makers who supported the judge instead of withdrawing from the election process.

„They forwarded my note to the Legal Affairs Inspection (LAI), and this is wrong, because LAI interferes when a case concerns the professional experience of a judge. It’s different in the case I reported. I contested this treatment but my petition was turned down,” investigative reporter Viorica Zaharia said. 

Since he was appointed as justice in 2004, Oleg Melniciuc has made a bad name for presiding over a number of suits while being in a conflict of interest, including a case involving a relative. During the mass protests in April 2009, he was one of the magistrates who tried young men and women in the police sections, rather than in a court of law. He has criticized many times the reform of the judiciary system and compared the project with a ghost. 

At the general assembly of magistrates and lawyers in October 2016, Mr. Melniciuc ran for a seat in the College for Judge Selection and Career. „Although the press tried to picture me as a controversial person, most of you know me very well, you know my aspirations, and my causes. If you support my candidacy, I promise you an impeccable conduct in this College,” Melniciuc told the assembly. He was not elected though. 

Vladimir Belous, with thousands of euros in donations and „cheap” cars

Vladimir Belous works at the Soroca District Court since 2000 and expected re-appointment as deputy chairman of this court (since 2011). In 2015 he released his income statement and disclosed more than 190,000 lei earned in wages, 4,000 euros earned in donations, as well as 500 euros and 10,000 lei in donations from persons in his custody and support

Mr. Belous is among the judges who regularly admit to receive donations from relatives or family; he and his family earned thousands of euros this way in the past years. 

The Belous family owns a non-agricultural field and a 145-square-meter house, as well as three motor vehicles – two Toyotas made in 1996 for which he paid just 3,000 lei and 5,000 lei respectively in 2008, and a third Toyota made in 2011, for 140,000 lei. Speaking about one of his 2008 acquisitions that cost him 3,000 lei, the judge told Moldova Curata reporters that the condition of the car was deplorable and he invested a lot of money in its reconditioning. A second-hand vehicle of this brand from the same year costs between 1,600 and 3,000 euros.

Maria Chiperi, a judge rescued from disciplinary measures 

The deputy-chairwoman of the Anenii Noi District Court, Maria Chiperi, was among the magistrates applying in 2010 for confirmation in office until her requirement age, whom the then-acting president Mihai Ghimpu turned down. 

„We found an incompatibility of the candidates with the status of justice because during their service and free time they demonstrated a conduct that discredit the judiciary system and harm the dignity of a justice, and also cast doubt regarding their objectivity, neglect the professional ethics and disregard the law,” Mr. Ghimpu explained his decision

In a month CSM resent the applications and the acting president was obliged to issue the appointment decrees. In 2011, Mrs. Chiperi was promoted to deputy chairmanship in Anenii Noi and kept the seat until 2015 thanks to ex-president Nicolae Timofti. The judiciary reform now obliges her to seek reconfirmation in the same office.

In July 2012, former justice minister Oleg Efrim ordered disciplinary measures against judges Maria Chiperi and Veronica Nichitenco for damaging the public budget of the Căușeni District. Mrs. Chiperi had obliged the Căușeni authorities to provide housing for her colleague, judge Nichitenco, and later changed the prescription and ordered the city to pay 27,000 euros – the cost of apartment. CSM defended both judges and ruled that Maria Chiperi had acted in a legitimate manner.  

In her income statement for 2015, Maria Chiperi declared no land or real estate or other properties than a net salary of 144,513 lei and 20.910 lei from sale of a small apartment of 29 square meters. 

Millionaire Sergiu Osoianu

Sergiu Osoianu was appointed as chairman of the Strășeni District Court in March 2016 and has applied to keep the post. In 2015 the city of Chișinău paid him more than one million lei after losing a civil suit to the judge. The web portal Moldova Curata reported that eight years ago Mr. Osoianu – a prosecutor at that time – asked the municipal authorities to give a larger apartment to his family; he invoked the Prosecution Law at that time. The city refused and Sergiu Osoianu sued it in a court of law. In August 2008 Osoianu won the case but the city again refused to comply with the ruling, therefore he asked the Central Enforcement Office of the capital to handle the issue. For several years bailiffs who handled the enforcement ruling changed frequently. 

In 2014 Sergiu Osoianu procured an apartment under preferential conditions thanks to CSM, which included him in a list of magistrates who needed a home in the capital. The same year the judge borrowed half a million lei of which more than half from an unnamed individual. Nonetheless his income statement for 2015 contains not one mention about the apartment – just a 2007 Honda motor car acquired in 2014.

Mihail Macar lives at his mother-in-law

It is the second experience of Mihail Macar to get rejected by the chief of state. Earlier Nicolae Timofti refused to confirm his nomination as head of the Hâncești District Court, citing the fact that the judge had missed to indicate the properties belonging to his family members in the income statement for 2015. Yet Mr. Macar got the seat in 2012 and in June 2016 he acted as interim chairman of the court. He also served as a member of the Supreme Court of Justice, in 2007-2011. 

In his income statement for 2015, the magistrate put a net salary of 187,790 lei and triple as much from his wife, who works as a notary officer: 595,725 lei. Plus a pension and a loan of 600.000 lei. Mihail Macar did not declare any properties. Last year he said his family lived in his mother-in-law’s home, which he needed not to declare. When the woman died the judge said he would include the house in the income statement.

Lilia Țurcan and a loan of 1.7 million lei for her daughter’s restaurant

Lilia Țurcan has been chairwoman of the Dondușeni District court for the past eight years and she wants to take over in the Edineț District Court. 

Press reports said that in 2014 Mr. Țurcan borrowed 1.7 million lei from a bank, for ten years, under a 10% interest. The money was given to build a restaurant for her daughter. Journalists calculated that the judge was liable to pay more than 14,000 lei every month per loan, without taking in consideration the interest. Mr. Țurcan cut it short when asked about her financial possibilities: “This is my private life, not your business!”

Mold-Street.com learned that the Țurcan family owns a home in Dondușeni, three land fields, two motor vehicles, and a 50,000-leu loan taken in 2014.

* * *

Acest material este publicat în cadrul Proiectului „Investigative reporting for transparency in public finance management and government integrity (Jurnalismul de investigație pentru transparența în managementul finanțelor publice și integritatea guvernului), implementat de Mold-Street.com. Preluarea și diseminarea, integrală sau parțială, a acestui material se poate face în mod gratui și nu necesită acordul Mold-Street.com.

Elaborarea acestui material a fost posibilă datorită ajutorului generos al poporului american oferit prin intermediul Departamentul de Stat al SUA. Opiniile, constatările și concluziile din articol aparțin autorilor și nu reflectă în mod necesar poziția Departamentului de Stat al SUA sau a Guvernului SUA.  

 


Oportunitati