And speaking of Moldova

First, Scraps of Moscow has had some good coverage of the Moldova elections. If you’re interested, check out some of the recent posts over there.

Second, my recent post on Vladimir Voronin neglected to mention one of the most obnoxious aspects of his regime: his useless and disgusting son Oleg. I should correct that.

So: Oleg Voronin has used his position to become one of the richest men in Moldova; depending on who you talk to, his fortune is estimated at tens of millions, hundreds of millions, or “over a billion” dollars. One analysis suggests it’s around $600 million, which would be roughly 10% of Moldova’s GDP. (Keep in mind, this is a country whose per capita GDP is lower than the Philippines or Mongolia.) Whatever the amount, it’s pretty impressive for a podgy fortysomething guy who, up until the collapse of Communism, was a biologist working for a milk cooperative.

The secret of Oleg’s success is fairly simple. In the early 1990s he founded a bank. And then his father became President. And after that, every major transaction of the Moldovan state went through that same bank. This has enabled Oleg to expand very rapidly, buying everything from chain restaurants to bus companies. Then his various companies get state contracts — generally without the tedious distraction of competitive bids. Whether these contracts are fair, whether the goods are delivered and the work is done… well, no Moldovan prosecutor or regulator has ever brought an action against Oleg Voronin. So that’s all right.

What’s striking is that nobody, not even President Voronin’s supporters (and he has some) — nobody pretends for a moment that this is because of any particular intelligence or energy on the part of Voronin fils. Nor that Oleg has done anything useful or productive with his tremendous wealth. He’s just… the President’s son.

Here’s a thing: many of the former Soviet Republics are best viewed as former colonies. This is most obvious in the case of Central Asia, where all the ‘stans were 19th century conquests of Tsarist Russia. But it applies to some extent to Moldova, too. And like post-colonial politics in Africa and Asia, post-Soviet politics in Central Asia and Moldova have been characterized by strenuous and clumsy attempts at nation-building; conflicted relationships with the former colonial masters; and corrupt, authoritarian politics dominated by Big Men. Voronin and his family make a lot more sense if you think of them as Eastern European versions of the post-colonial African and southeast Asian dictators of a generation or so back — Ferdinand Marcos, say, or Kenya’s Arap Moi.

Anyway. To bring this back to Oleg, Romania’s Center for Investigative Journalism has a particularly disgusting story about some of his recent activities:

We investigated the relations between a Moldovan company working in the area of artificial insemination and the son of the Moldovan Communist president and found a series of links. The company BIOTEX is advertised on the Internet as intermediary in vitro fertilization, providing a large database on surrogate mothers…

The administrators of the business establish and act as intermediaries in the relations between surrogate mothers and potential clients from the West for payment. The clients are couples that cannot have children, do not have time or are not ready for a pregnancy. The mothers are recruited from Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Uzbekistan.

We contacted the company BIOTEX by email, posing as potential clients: a British couple interested in the services provided by surrogate mothers…

Nicola sent us a model of the VIP package contract: EUR 30,000 for a child born by a surrogate mother selected from the company’s database, all costs included. Everything can be arranged in this business, even the birth of a child by a surrogate mother with a sperm donor that has no connection with the couple that pays. Nicola told us all the operations can be performed in the company’s clinics in Chisinau or Kyiv. “We are very successful and even our rivals come to us and pay us for mothers because we have a lot of surrogate mothers, all young and healthy.” He boasted that… the company had contacts at the consulates in Chisinau and could easily obtain documents for the newborns.

We asked Nicola to arrange a meeting with Albert Mann to discuss practical details and to see the company’s clinics. Our reporters met Mann in Kyiv and in Chisinau. He avoided showing us his offices. The meetings were held in cafes. In Kyiv, he showed us a renowned clinic, Isida, saying he was cooperating with it. But the discussion was held in a cafe, where Mann told us optimistically about the development of his business: “I am definitely not going to pay more to surrogate mothers because of the crisis. It’s easier to find donors in Ukraine, than a free restaurant table in downtown Kyiv!”

The company is owned by — who else? — Oleg Voronin. Given the size of his fortune, it’s a tiny sideline. But hey! Desperate childless couples, desperately poor young women… a market niche cries out to be filled!

I won’t even mention the bodyguard story. You know how much 19,000 lei is? About 1,700 dollars or 1,200 euros. Wait, Voronin did pay for a nice funeral. So there’s that.

There needs to be a phrase or term for people like this, who just bring the loathsome to everything they do. Reverse Midas touch? Fractal vileness?

(There’s some damn good journalism coming out of Romania and, yes, Moldova. Unfortunately most of the good stuff is being done on a shoestring, supported by NGOs or donations or done as a labor of love. On the other hand, it’s not like the Western system is exactly showering good investigative journalism with money and respect.)

14 thoughts on “And speaking of Moldova

  1. Actually, things are not much different in the former Kolonialmacht either. Matvienko’s son is a VP of VTB-Capital and a “successful businessman”, Fradkov’s son is a member of the Board of Direcors in Vneshekonombank, etc, etc.

  2. Ukraine does not look much better either. Yushchenko’s son, Andriy, openly touts his wealth (though, unlike Oleg Voronin, he has not revealed a source of his income, aside from his dad’s official salary). And the story of Yuri Lutsenko and his son reminds one of “New Russian” farce of the early 1990s.

  3. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Moldova: The President’s Son

  4. @ Steven,

    Very interesting article, it shows us how sleazy the methods are, that are used by Voronin and his communist clan, to protect their interests at al costs. But maybe this is not the last trick of our communist leader. Marian Lupu, the former minister of economics of Europe’s most economically failed state and widely seen as Voronin’s successor, suddenly left the communist party shortly after the April selections to become the leader of the oppositional Democratic Party
    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/aug2009/mold-a08.shtml
    Recently Moldova’s oppositional party’s have formed a coalition, in order to gain a majority in parliament. And guess who is trying to profile himself now as the new opposition leader…
    Doesn’t it looks if Voronin’s clan has parachuted Marian Lupu as the new opposition leader, so he could protect their interests in case the opposition takes over power?
    Ron.

  5. Pingback: And speaking of Moldova | Headlines Today

  6. It seems that what I predicted about Marian Lupu in my former comment on this article, is slowly becoming an reality.
    I found the following Romanian article (in English)
    http://www.actmedia.eu/top+story/russia+links+the+solution+of+the+transdniester+conflict+to+the+non-accession+to+the+nato+for+the+republic+of+moldova+/23460

    The communist party, lead by the retired USSR-general Voronin, was, till they lost the elections, always the most important defender of the Russian interests in Moldavian politics. Reading this Romanian article, it seems that the Russian leadership has find now an “new” favourite in the Moldovan politics, and will give full support to Lupu with his effort to become the new president of Moldova. This ahum..”ex”-communist, is the only important oppositional leader who has an eye for the Russian interests, of which the most important one is to prevent that Moldova will join the NATO.
    It wont surprise me if Russian intelligence has given some support with the parachuting of Lupu as the new oppositional leader, after all this is Moldova…..
    Ron.

  7. Or maybe Marian Lupu has cut his own deal with the Russians. Data insufficient.

    Keep in mind that Moldova is a small place, and the political-economic elite there is a very small group indeed. There’s no strong reason to start a blood feud. Whoever becomes President — and I expect someone will, by year’s end — Voronin will be allowed a graceful retirement, and his disgusting son will get to keep his empire.

    Neutrality: almost everyone in Moldova agrees that the country should be neutral and not join NATO. (Note that joining NATO would require something like a tenfold expansion of Moldova’s tiny military.) The Russians seem to realize this; it’s probably one reason they’re not getting too upset at Voronin’s fall.

    Doug M.

  8. @ Douglas

    Has Moldova really a neutral attitude toward NATO? Well…not really. Of course Moldova is not a full NATO member but they do have a rather close relationship with it.
    Moldova has signed a IPAP-2 treaty with NATO. According to this treaty Moldova’s military is equipped and trained toward NATO standards.
    http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-41BC9D1C-AC605C3A/natolive/topics_49727.htm
    So Moldova is already cooperating with NATO, but do they also allow NATO troops on their territory? Of course, when they were really totally neutral they wont, but as I said they are not totally neutral. Already in 2006 in Moldova was held the NATO organised exercise Longbow/Lancer. (Later they were also hosting NATO organised exercise Medceur). Not surprisingly this was seen as a provocation in Transnistria.
    Recently U.S. Vice President Joe Biden made a statement about Moldova should joining the NATO when they are ready for it.
    For there is only one link allowed in a comment, I will give the links to exercise Longbow/Lancer and the statement of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in two separate comments.
    Ron.

  9. Ron, IPAPs are pretty meaningless. They’re basically agreements to cooperate, do some joint training on stuff like peacekeeping, and maybe do a little standardization if it’s not too much trouble. They don’t remotely reflect an intention to get closer to NATO, never mind to join. NATO also has IPAPs with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. None of those countries have the slightest interest in joining NATO. So I wouldn’t put too much weight on this.

    The Longbow/Lancer was a very modest exercise designed to help troops train for UN peacekeeping. It was tiny — just 1,000 soldiers — and did not include contingents from most NATO members. On the other hand, it /did/ include contingents from (among others) Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, and Belarus… again, countries with no interest whatsoever in joining NATO.

    I note that both the IPAP and the exercise happened back in 2006, when Voronin was going through his brief phase of being disgruntled with Moscow. I suspect these were gestures of independence on his part. Whatever the motivation, they definitely don’t reflect a consensus on the part of Moldova’s population or its elites.

    Also, you want to take a look at Article 11 of the Moldovan Constitution. That requires Moldova to be neutral and forbids the stationing of foreign troops on Moldovan territory. Basically, it makes NATO membership impossible. The Constitution could be amended, of course, but the provisions on neutrality can’t be amended without a referendum first — see Article 142, section 1.

    Doug M.

  10. It seems that the recent political changes in Moldova begins to get its effects for Oleg Voronin. In an today’s article from Moldpress, we can read that Oleg was asked to appear before the Centre for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption (CCCEC) for questioning, but he could not show up because he was abroad.
    http://www.moldpres.md/news/default.asp?Lang=en&ID=128219
    Well, just lets wait and see what will happen next……..
    Ron.

  11. It seems that the wolf has entered through the back door. Since 30 December 2010 Marian Lupu (wolf in Romanian language) Is the acting President of the Moldovan Republic. He automatically got this important post, because he was chosen as the new speaker of parliament in the course of a secret voting, and the speaker of parliament is acting as the president as long as there is no newly chosen president. Well, lets wait and see how much value this President will give to his name…
    Ron.