The European Parliament on Friday slapped down four of its members, including at least three with links to a Moldovan businessman convicted of a massive bank fraud, for planning to act as observers in Moldova’s general election.
Parliament issued a statement saying it is sending its own five-member official delegation to observe Sunday’s election in the former Soviet republic. “No other member of the European Parliament has been mandated and is therefore not authorised to take a position or express an opinion on behalf of the European Parliament,” the legislature declared.
The statement came after Moldova’s election commission published a list of observers that included the names of four other MEPs, at least three of whom have ties to businessman Ilan Shor, who is running to become an MP on Sunday as the leader of a political party that bears his name.
The quartet includes Italian MEP Fulvio Martusciello, from the center-right European People’s Party, and Barbara Kappel from Austria’s far-right Freedom Party. POLITICO reported on Friday that both had helped with Shor’s run for office.
In an email, Kappel said she was in Moldova “for an individual unofficial election observation with an independent NGO.”
Another MEP on the list is Laurenţiu Rebega of Romania, who is part of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE). The umbrella group, which includes Britain’s governing Conservatives and Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, has embraced the Shor Party as a “global partner.” Rebega was among ACRE politicians who welcomed the Shor Party into the ACRE family in June last year, according to a Moldovan media report.
In an email to POLITICO, Rebega said there must have been a misunderstanding: “I never planned, nor am I am planning to attend or observe/monitor the elections in Moldova in any capacity whatsoever. I have been in Rome since yesterday for party political functions, and flying back to my constituency in Romania tonight where I will be staying until Monday.”
Nikolay Barekov, a Bulgarian MEP whose party is a member of ACRE, is also on the Moldovan list of observers. ACRE was due to decide on Friday on the Shor Party’s application to become a full member of the organization.
In June 2017, a Moldovan court sentenced Shor to seven and a half years in prison for a fraud of around $300 million, part of a larger scam that sucked some $1 billion out of three of the small country’s largest banks. Shor maintains he is innocent, and remains free pending the result of an appeal against the verdict.
An investigation by Kroll, the global risk consultancy, for Moldova’s national bank also pointed the finger at Shor for what is known as the “theft of the century” in one of Europe’s poorest countries.
The European Parliament has faced problems with rival observer missions before. In 2013, unaccredited MEPs praised “free, fair and transparent” elections in Azerbaijan while the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which had a long-term mission on the ground, found major flaws in the vote.
In January, the Parliament updated its rules on observation missions, declaring that any unofficial groupings “shall be fully transparent in their actions and shall not engage in any activities which might result in confusion with the official activities of Parliament or of its bodies.”
“They may not organise events in third countries that coincide with a mission of an official Parliament body, including an official election observation delegation,” the rules say.
This article has been updated to include a statement from Laurenţiu Rebega.