Investing in bilateral relations

Moldovan Ambassador Larisa Miculet says there's untapped economic potential between her country and Israel.

larisa miculet 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
larisa miculet 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prior to her appointment as ambassador to Israel, 48-year-old Larisa Miculet was the highest-ranking woman in Moldova's General Prosecutor's Office, where she headed the Department for International Cooperation and European Integration. She doesn't think that being what some might term a "blonde bombshell" affected her career one way or the other. Her achievements, she says, are the fruits of arduous labor. "I am not a feminist because I never felt any discrimination as a woman," says Miculet. "But I had to work harder than a man to achieve my aims and prove that I'm good at what I'm doing." She was recognized by men not for her looks, she insists, but because she was qualified. Ironically, she adds, it was the women she encountered during her career rise who seemed to think that a woman couldn't be other than a secretary or a clerk. On more than one occasion, she recalls, when preparing a case and ushering a female witness into her office, the woman would ask anxiously: "Will the prosecutor also be here?" Without batting an eye, Miculet would reply: "Yes, of course." In a recent interview in her office in the Moldovan Embassy in Tel Aviv, Miculet rises from her chair from time to time, crosses the room to her desk and double-checks on her computer the facts she presents. In Moldova's justice system, she explains, staff in the General Prosecutor's Office wear uniforms, and are given civilian ranks equivalent to those of the army. The GPO is an autonomous body that reports directly to parliament and not to the Ministry of Justice. Its 11-member board is elected by parliament in the same manner as government ministers. Miculet was elected twice, and her special rank since February 2000 was Justice State Council 3rd Class - the civilian equivalent to the rank of general, which earned her the widely used nickname of "Mrs. General." "At home," she says with a trace of embarrassment, "they used to say that Moldova has only one woman general. They didn't say that she wasn't a military one." It's difficult now to get used to calling her "Mrs. Ambassador," says her 18-year-old son, Eugeniu - a student in the US who came to Israel to be with his mother when she presented her credentials to President Moshe Katsav late last month. Miculet timed a tour of Yad Vashem to coincide with her son's visit. When Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin visited Yad Vashem, she says, he brought with him documentary evidence of atrocities that took place in Moldova during the Holocaust. Today, she insists, Moldova is not afflicted with anti-Semitism. It is state policy to condemn terrorism and all forms of racism, she says, and Holocaust studies are included in the educational curriculum. ALTHOUGH THIS is her first diplomatic assignment - and though she is the first woman to be appointed as ambassador of Moldova to Israel - Miculet is not without practice in the art of diplomacy. The positions that she held put her in frequent contact with representatives of other European countries. In 2002, she served as a national expert on the Council of Europe's Committee of Deputy Ministers, which was evaluating developments in Moldova with regard to freedom of expression and access to information legislation. She was also national coordinator for different projects by the Council of Europe, the Stability Pact (which encouraged South-Eastern European states in their endeavors towards peace, democracy, implementation of human rights and economic prosperity) and the US Bar Association. Prior to that, in 1995, she had been Moldova's national expert to Council of Europe committees dealing with international judicial cooperation and combating white collar crime and human trafficking. Although familiar with aspects of American federal legislation through her studies and via USAID projects in Moldova, she became more familiar with it as a Fellow at the American University in Washington, DC and later as a Fulbright visiting scholar and scholar in residence in the School of International Service at the American University Transnational Crime and Corruption Center. In addition, the single mother also taught for seven years at Moldova State University's Law Department and at the National Training Center for Judges and Prosecutors; contributed frequently to publications in Moldova and abroad; and wrote a book comparing the American and Moldovan prosecution of white collar crime and corruption. THE GREGARIOUS Miculet - who boasts an excellent memory for faces - is determined to be as successful a diplomat as she was a prosecutor. And not to take any "short cuts" where her new post is concerned. She considers herself fortunate to have come to Israel "when bilateral relations [between Israel and Moldova] and political dialogue are good." Pointing to the fact that "there are more than 100,000 people who migrated from Moldova living in Israel; and there are 30,000 Jews in Moldova," she says her aim is to improve upon the existing ties between the two countries by promoting tourism and cultural exchanges. To this end, she has met with the heads of Moldovan organizations in Israel, as well as with Israel's most famous ex-Moldovan, Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman. Although the volume of trade between Israel and Moldova is low - currently standing at around $9 million - Miculet says that it increases annually and presents a huge, untapped potential. Formerly part of Romania, Moldova was incorporated into the Soviet Union at the close of World War II and is the poorest nation in Europe. Aside from trying to unleash that potential through boosting bilateral trade, Miculet says she will do her utmost to encourage Israeli investments in Moldova. She says that Moldova is geopolitically convenient for Israeli investors, because of its location in the center of Europe and due to its having eliminated most of the bureaucratic barriers that hinder business activities. Moldova's law on investments and entrepreneurial activity ensures transparency between public authorities and foreign investors, offers guarantees against expropriation, and allows 100% investment participation in all sectors of the economy. Foreign investors are permitted to buy land for industrial and residential purposes, with the exception of land designated for agriculture and forests. Investors can also rent land for 99 years. Investment incentives include non-payment of income tax for three years for investments of $2 million and upwards; and a 50% reduction in income tax for five years for investments in excess of $250,000. Of particular interest to Moldova where investment is concerned, Miculet asserts - after confirming the details on her computer - are the fields of energy, information technology and software, electronics and electronic equipment, pharmaceuticals, metal and plastics processing and construction materials. "But we need investments in all segments of our economy," she stresses, citing organic foods as an example. Moldova recently ventured into projects related to organic food products, a field in which Israel has a great deal of experience, she notes, and it could be mutually beneficial for Israeli investors to bring capital and know-how to Moldova in this area. Moldova and Israel have established an inter-governmental commission on economic relations which held its first meeting in Israel in November, 2004. A second meeting scheduled for the end of this year in Kishinev is now in the planning stage, and will deal with all aspects of bilateral economic relations. Where cultural cooperation is concerned, in addition to exchanges of dance troupes, musicians, writers and artists, Miculet hopes to build a bridge between Israel Radio and Radio Moldova so that listeners in both countries can learn more about each other. From a personal as well as diplomatic perspective, she wants to broaden contacts within Israel's Justice Ministry and in the law faculties of Israel's universities - contacts she had already begun to develop as head of the International Cooperation and European Integration Department. She is very keen on bringing judges, prosecutors and other leading Moldovan law enforcement officials to Israel to exchange views with their Israeli counterparts, and then to arrange for reciprocal visits for the Israelis in Moldova. MICULET SAYS she has adjusted easily to Israel, though initially it was a little difficult for her to get used to the climate. "I came from minus 18 degrees to plus 15 degrees," she points out, adding that it is not only the temperature that is warm in this country. She has been pleasantly surprised by the people, whom she describes as "so open, so warm and so kind" - something she believes "will contribute to the success of my mission."