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 companyâ€™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 companyâ€™s clinics in Chisinau or Kyiv. â€œWe 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.â€ 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 companyâ€™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: â€œI am definitely not going to pay more to surrogate mothers because of the crisis. Itâ€™s easier to find donors in Ukraine, than a free restaurant table in downtown Kyiv!â€
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.)