Moldovan prosecutors have indicted seven individuals suspected of plotting to assassinate the businessman and head of Moldova’s Democratic Party Vladimir Plahotniuc in April. They are to be charged with a range of offences including attempting premeditated murder, procurement of weapons and ammunition, and illegal entry into Moldova, prosecutors from the Office for Organized Crime told reporters at a press conference in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. Deputy Chief Prosecutor Vitalie Busuioc said that eight of the seventeen-man hit squad were arrested in a rented apartment in possession of weapons and ammunition, including grenade launchers, that were to be used in the assassination of the powerful and controversial politician. Several other men are being investigated in Ukraine for their involvement in the plot. The alleged mastermind behind the attempt was Grigore Karamalak, a former wrestler wanted by Interpol for extortion and currently thought to be in hiding in Russia. He is suspected of contracting a group of Moldovan and Ukrainian men to carry out the killing in return for 200,000 dollars.
It is thought that the weapons were procured from pro-Russian separatist groups fighting in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
Plahotniuc has refused to offer himself as a witness in the trial because, he says, he did not come to any harm, but this has only added to the questions around Karamalak’s supposed motivation for wanting him dead. According to prosecutors, Karamalak wanted Plahotniuc out of the way so that he could extend his control over Moldovan politics, but Plahotniuc’s critics suspect the assassination attempt was in fact staged by the politician himself in an effort to improve his image and portray himself as an enemy of organised crime. These critics point to a video recorded by police of the plotters openly discussing their plans in a busy parking lot and even tracing them out on the ground as straining credibility.
The former MP and now head of the ruling Democratic Party is no stranger to controversy. Deeply unpopular among Moldovans he has long been associated in the public mind with criminality, not least in connection with the theft of $1 billion from the Moldovan National Bank – for which he was never charged – and a litany of other underworld dealings linked to his sprawling business empire. In contrast to how he is perceived at home, internationally he projects himself and his party as a pro-Western bulwark against Russian influence working towards gaining Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, EU accession status.
A trial date has yet to be announced for the seven men in custody who if found guilty face between 15 and 20 years in prison.