It truly never fails to surprise me how blindly every single foreign analyst (including Romanians, who truly should know better) treats the internal politics of the Republic of Moldova as a simple, binary battle between “pro-EU” and “pro-Russian” camps.
I suppose it’s because Moldova is a really small country, and so the presupposition is that such a tiny place shouldn’t have staggeringly complex internal politics. But nonetheless, it is so. What goes on inside Moldova is enough to make the ghost of Macchiavelli drool.
Case in point is the latest bombshell from Pro Publica (🇺🇸):
Trump’s New Spy Chief Used to Work for a Foreign Politician the U.S. Accused of Corruption
Richard Grenell did not disclose payments for advocacy work on behalf of a Moldovan politician [Vladimir Plahotniuc], whom the U.S. later accused of corruption. His own office’s policy says that could leave him vulnerable to blackmail.
Aside from the poor grammar, the broad strokes of the article are factually true.
To avoid Senatorial scrutiny, as well as to evade the fact that Grenell is barely competent enough to dress himself, American leader Donald Trump has appointed Richard “Ric” Grenell as his new Director of National Intelligence – on an interim basis.
It is also true that Grenell wrote several articles in 2016 that championed the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM) at a time when they desperately needed to keep the slush funds to keep flowing from the IMF and United States.
And it is highly likely that Grenell broke the law by working on behalf of several foreign agents (including the Moldovan Democratic Party) without the required legal disclosures.
But Pro Politica has taken two true facts – that Grenell wrote the pro-PDM articles, and that the PDM was controlled by Plahotniuc – and drawn the wrong conclusion from them.
Because I don’t think it was Plahotniuc pulling Grenell’s strings. Instead, I am convinced that it was Plahotniuc’s éminence grise, Andrian Candu.
A Shaky Start
Back in 2016, Grenell fell in love with Donald Trump. A long-time Republican, Grenell was then a freelance consultant being paid by foreign clients who wanted “insider access” to the halls of power in Washington, D.C. and the newly-elected Trump administration. But what Grenell really wanted was another government job.
Indeed, Grenell seemingly felt quite guilty about the work he was doing for foreigners, as evidenced by the article that he wrote for the Washington Examiner (🇺🇸):
Political insiders in Washington, D.C., have a long history of getting duped by foreigners pushing propaganda.
But the foreign propagandist that Grenell was fulminating against is identified only in the fourth paragraph:
Earlier this month, a former Moldovan official with ties to Russia and disguised as a whistleblower circulated the halls of official Washington.
Mihail Gofman, who was fired from his job as deputy director of the Moldovan government agency responsible for money laundering, told his tale of how the current Moldovan government, struggling to be pro-West while surrounded by Russian pressure to be pro-East, hasn’t arrested those responsible for a $1 billion bank scheme that left the Moldovan Government losing one-eighth of its assets.
Gofman met with U.S. officials and reporters to undermine the current pro-West Prime Minister Pavel Filip and push the international community to abandon Moldova 10 weeks before Moldova’s national election.
I can’t help but laugh that Grenell seems to truly believe that there is an agency in the Moldovan government responsible for money laundering as opposed to, you know, combating or fighting money laundering ;)
Grenell can barely speak English, and Gofman only speaks Russian, which tells you all you really need to know about Grenell’s capability of piercing the veil of Moldovan politics.
But here’s the real meat of the matter:
Mihail Gofman is also calling for the arrest of Vladimir Plahotniuc, the deputy chairman of the Democratic Party and a member of the Governing Coalition, by exaggerating Plahotniuc’s role in the bank heist.
The bulk of the rest of the article is about defending Plahotniuc against Gofman’s “lies,” which gained traction after they were published by Forbes magazine.
It is clear Mihail Gofman has already duped many. Forbes Magazine was forced to print embarrassing corrections of two separate stories where they repeated the claims of Gofman almost verbatim.
I believe that Candu paid Grenell to write his illiterate garbage precisely because it was Candu who read the Forbes article and urgently needed to undermine it.
The Same Week
Quite literally during the same week of August 2016, Grenell also wrote an article for The Washington Times (🇺🇸):
Moldova, the former Soviet Republic which has had five Prime Ministers since 2015, responded by appointing a skilled technocrat completely committed to transparency and the continuation of a Western-style democracy. Prime Minister Pavel Filip took office six months ago but is relentlessly pursuing the priority reforms demanded by the IMF, the UN, and other international organizations.
Keep in mind that Filip’s “western-style” democracy involved him being sworn into office during a secret midnight ceremony.
But again, Forbes was the main target of Grenell’s ire:
The American business magazine Forbes last week was forced to print embarrassing corrections of two separate stories after failing to do basic research, but delivering as fact repeated conjecture hurled by a former Moldovan official.
The Forbes writer failed to question the controversial source who, according to several independent media organizations, has been investigated on suspicions of how his own personal fortune was amassed.
The writer also failed to read the post-mortem report from Kroll, the Manhattan-based, independent audit and financial security company that identified the perpetrators, one of whom sits in jail today for his crime.
Three whole paragraphs dedicated to smearing one Forbes reporter…
Unlike Grenell, however, I assure you that I have most certainly read the entire Kroll report ;)
Here is the Forbes article (🇺🇸) that Grenell was paid to attack, including the “embarrassing” correction:
CORRECTION & UPDATE: This article reported that Vladimir Plahotniuc had a controlling stake in three banks that were part of a scheme to defraud the Moldovan central bank of $1 billion.
During the reporting of this story, we tried numerous times to contact the government of Moldova, and various associated officials, to confirm these and other facts, but got no response.
And it is true – Plahotniuc did not own more than 50% of the three banks involved in the scandal. So yeah, the original article did get that fact wrong.
But here’s the interesting bit:
After our story was published, a representative of Washington DC lobbying and public affairs firm, Podesta Group, contacted Forbes saying he was a representative of the Democratic Party of Moldova. He refuted Plahotniuc’s stake in the three banks and implication in Moldova’s banking scandal.
Unlike Grenell, the Podesta Group (since renamed – but an agency with close ties to the American Democratic Party) was legally registered as a foreign agent working for the Moldovan Democratic Party.
The Forbes article was published on August 1, 2016. Grenell’s Washington Times piece was published on August 10, 2016, and his Washington Examiner article was published on August 25, 2016.
The date that the Podesta Group contacted the Forbes reporter and the correction was posted is unknown. But we do know that before Forbes published the article, nobody in the PDM government bothered to answer the Forbes journalist’s emails, but after it was published, someone got Grenell to write two articles in quick succession.
Unfortunately for “someone,” Grenell’s incoherent ramblings failed to control the damage, as an article from the Houston Chronicle (🇺🇸), published on October 27, 2016, shows:
As far as congressional acts go, Randy Weber’s anti-corruption resolution supporting the impoverished former Soviet state of Moldova seemed to hold little controversy.
Weber, a Republican, wrote a bill that had almost no chance of becoming law. But it was what that bill wanted to do that caused “someone” to call on Grenell yet again:
Among those targeted for possible sanctions in Weber’s resolution is a top official in Moldova’s pro-Western Democratic Party, Andrian Candu, who recently met with U.S. State Department officials and House Speaker Paul Ryan to mark the 25th anniversary of Moldovan independence.
Some critics, including Candu, say Weber misfired after meeting with two Moldovan critics of the nation’s ruling Democratic Party, one of them a competing candidate for president at the time.
Candu also claims that the resolution was the work of U.S.-based lobbyists working with Andrei Nastase, a candidate for president until he withdrew Oct. 15 to support another opposition group known as “Action and Solidarity.”
Yes, that’s the eternal loser, Andrei Nastase. And although she isn’t named in the article, he gave his support to Maia Sandu, whose campaign was entirely financed by the Romanian government.
She later lost, quite badly, to Igor Dodon, the current president of Moldova, during the elections that Grenell was so “worried” about.
Back to the Houston Chronicle:
Nastase met with Weber last month. That came after a meeting in July with Mihail Gofman, a former official in Moldova’s National Anti-Corruption Center. Currently on the outs with the Moldovan government, Gofman remains in the United States. He styles himself as a nonpolitical whistleblower, but according to Moldova’s Publika.md website, he is being sought for questioning by Moldovan prosecutors.
The Chronicle journalist clearly had no idea that Plahotniuc was (and still is) the owner of Publika and that the prosecutors “seeking to question” Gofman were working for Plahotniuc.
Grenell to the rescue!
“[The resolution calling for sanctions on Candu] is clearly written by somebody who is pro-Russian,” said Richard Grenell, a former spokesman for four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, including John Bolton. “He’s trying to attack the only pro-European group in Moldova.”
Grenell also argued that withholding money from Moldova could push the nation back into Russian hands.
“Randy Weber does not know what he is doing,” he said. “It sounds like he just stepped in it, that some lobbyist got to him.”
That’s right. Congressman Weber was duped by “foreign lobbyists” but Richard Grenell, who was working as an registered lobbyist for foreigners, was not.
Putting It All Together
It is 2016, and Moldova is about to hold its very first presidential election. Prior to that, the position of the president had been much more ceremonial and was chosen by the parliament. But after the revelations in 2015 that a billion dollars had been stolen from the government of Moldova, public protests led to a revision in the law, and so the presidential campaign became a really big deal.
On top of that, the IMF, EU, and USA had gotten wary of feeding endless money into the gaping maw of corruption that is Moldova. “Western-style” dictator Pavel Filip (of the PDM) perfected a technique of always saying the right thing but never delivering. And the Powers That Be were finally starting to realize that they had been duped by the end of 2016.
And then along came Gofman (with a lay-up from the moronic Nastase) wandering around the halls of Washington with his Russian translator, and that that posed a really serious threat to “someone,” first an article in English in Forbes magazine and then Randy Weber’s no-chance bill that would’ve applied sanctions against certain specific individuals, including Andrian Candu.
Plahotniuc is a very weird, nearly autistic man, and although he speaks a little pidgin English, he’s not the type to pay attention to what American newspapers are saying (or answer emails from American reporters).
Andrian Candu, on the other hand, speaks English extremely well. He’s also light years ahead of Plahotniuc in terms of craftiness and animal cunning. He is, by far, the most dangerous man in Moldova, in my opinion.
Candu certainly reads Forbes. He also read the Kroll report (written in English) because he’s the one who released it to the public, which was a huge PR boon because neither he nor Plahotniuc is mentioned anywhere therein.
But keep in mind that he only published part one of the Kroll report. The second part has never been unveiled.
My guess is that Candu is the one who told Plahotniuc to get his paid lobbyists (the Podesta Group, with friends in the American Democratic Party) to get Forbes to issue their correction. But Candu is slick enough to know that a “second opinion” from a Republican insider would also be useful – and that insider was Grenell.
The facts all fit – Grenell’s talking points matched Candu’s exactly, right down to the mention of the Kroll report. And Grenell was well-known in Washington for doing “off-books” work for any foreigner with enough money and an anti-Russian agenda.
2019 and Beyond
Fast forward to 2019 and the parliamentary elections left Moldova in a three-way split between the Democratic Party, President Igor Dodon’s former party, the (“pro-Russian”) Socialists, and the ACUM coalition led by Loser Nastase and Holy Maia Sandu.
After months of negotiating and a bit of questionable legal maneuvering, the Socialists outfoxed the PDM and formed a ruling coalition with ACUM, making Sandu the Prime Minister.
She spent her few short months in office doing everything that she could to get rid of Plahotniuc. Indeed, he fled the country just a week after she was installed as PM.
And since she had widespread backing in Washington, she got the ball rolling on the paperwork that led to Mike Pompeo to personally intervene in January 2020:
I am designating former Moldovan official and oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc due to his involvement in significant corruption. In his official capacity, Plahotniuc was involved in corrupt acts that undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Moldova.
Under Section 7031(c), once the Secretary of State designates officials of foreign governments for their involvement, directly or indirectly, in significant corruption, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for visas to the United States.
But that took place on January 13, 2020, a bit too late for Sandu, who got outfoxed by the PDM, which formed an alliance with the Socialists to get remove her from office in late 2019.
Plahotniuc is still AWOL from Moldova, and Filip is now the president of the PDM. But last week, Candu announced (🇲🇩) that he and five other PDM members were leaving the party and forming their own, as of yet unnamed, political party.
But don’t think that is due to some kind of ideological shift or rift between Candu and Plahotniuc. On the contrary – Candu specifically stated that they are still quite close.
But crafty old Candu had one one more surprise (🇲🇩) up his sleeve this week.
Andrian Candu has revealed Vlad Plahotniuc’s current whereabouts. The former leader of the PDM, Vlad Plahotnmiuc, is in the United States. This announcement was made by deputy Andrian Candu during the broadcast of “The Fourth Estate” on the N4 television channel.
That’s right. Candu, for years Plahotniuc’s right-hand man, said on February 21 that Plahotniuc was in the United States despite being “ineligible for a visa,” beginning on January 13.
Whether it is true or not, I have no idea. I don’t know enough about American law to know if “ineligible for a visa” means that any existing visa would be canceled, or whether Plahotniuc maybe secretly has American citizenship. Or maybe it’s that Plahotniuc is using his other Moldovan passport (🇲🇩) under the name Victor Novak. Or maybe something else entirely is going on.
All I know for sure is that Candu is three steps ahead of everyone else in Moldova when it comes to manipulating the United States, and it certainly can’t hurt to have a fool like Grenell now in position to whisper sweet nothings about Moldova into Trump’s ear…