Rally against 'missing billion dollars' in Moldova

Sep 06, 2015 12:00 AM

Protesters have called on the government to investigate more than a billion dollars missing from banks. The scam has driven down the national currency, stoked inflation and hurt standards of living.

Protesters yelled "we want the one billion back!" on Sunday, urging the central bank governor, the general prosecutor and others to resign.

In a fraud that has exposed endemic corruption and demonstrated the power of oligarch groups in the country, $1 billion (900,000 euros) has disappeared from the banking system - roughly one eighth of Moldova's gross domestic output.

The state-owned Savings Bank, the Social Bank and Unibank, from where the money disappeared before November 2014 parliamentary elections, were put under the National Bank of Moldova's administration in December, and the losses were covered by state cash reserves.

The banks will be liquidated by October.

Outrage over corruption

That's led to a crisis in confidence among many Moldovans left to foot the bill in the ex-Soviet country of 3.5 million people.

"Dictatorship does not sleep. It is quaking with fear, doing everything it can to stop people from all regions coming here to the capital, Chisinau," said one organizer, Valentin Dolganiuc. "But we, tens of thousands of ordinary people, have come here to triumph, and we shall."

Protesters directed much of their criticism at the country's super-wealthy oligarchs who control key sectors of the economy and threatened to stage a non-stop demonstration in central Chisinau until their demands were met.

The scandal has also tarnished the image of the pro-Europe ruling class in the eyes of ordinary Moldovans, many of whom struggle by on a family income of about $300 (270 euros) a month, though many protesters carried pro-EU flags indicating they were not against European integration.

Police put the strength of Sunday's rallies at between 35,000 and 40,000 - bigger even than mass anti-communist protests of April 2009. Organizers claimed that three times as many turned out, many arriving from surrounding provinces.

The rallies will be a setback for Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet , whose appointment in July to succeed a disgraced predecessor opened the door to renewed dealings with international lenders, including the IMF.

In August, Strelet said Moldova would step up efforts to try to trace the missing $1 billion and bring the money back to Moldova from bank accounts abroad.

But an unpublished parliamentary report said some of the money was transferred to Russian banks. The banks are owned by Moldovan and Russian investors.

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