As the war that Russia launched against Ukraine continues to dominate the headlines, the Jewish Voice recently had the distinct honor of interviewing an esteemed legal mind and superlative jurist from the Republic of Moldova, which neighbors Russia and Ukraine. Stanislav Pavlovschi, 68, is one of the founders of the Dignity and Truth Platform Party in Moldova and was an active participant in the social and political life of the country as he consistently advocated for the protection of human rights and Moldova’s adherence to the rule of law.
Between 1980 and 1985, Mr. Pavlovschi was a senior investigator at the Criuleni district prosecutor’s office. From 1985 to 2001, he worked as a senior investigator on exceptional cases and became the deputy head of the investigation department for exceptional cases. Subsequently, he held the position of deputy chief of the Criminal Prosecutor’s Office of the Prosecutor General’s Office.
From 1996 to 2001, Mr. Pavlovschi was a member of the Multidisciplinary Anti-corruption Group, established by the Council of Europe, where he participated in the elaboration of the Civil and Criminal Conventions against corruption.
For most of the first decade of the 21st century, Mr. Pavlovschi served as a Judge at the European Court of Human Rights.
In 2019, he resigned as deputy chairman of the “Dignity and Truth Platform Political Party” and announced his retirement from politics.
Mr. Pavlovschi was generous enough to share his time with the Jewish Voice for this interview, which was conducted prior to his attendance at a conference in Paris.
Q: Moldova has been in the news a lot recently. What can you tell us about what is going on in the country?
A: Moldova is a tiny former Soviet republic, squeezed between Romania and Ukraine, which for more than 30 years has been struggling to find its place in our ever-changing and challenging world. Sometimes these efforts are more successful. Other times, they are less so. Our country faces many various and very complex problems: corruption, organized crime, and nepotism are just some of them. The rule of law is practically non-existent, and very often, a banal arbitrariness prevails over fairness in the judiciary. Economic chaos practically led Moldova to depopulation.
People prefer to leave their motherland for other, more prosperous countries to pursue a better life. As a result, we have a situation where the number of pensioners is comparable with the number of employed persons. All this creates an excessive burden on the government, which instead of investing in the national economy and developing its real sector, prefers to live on grants and loans generously offered by other states and international institutions. The problem of professional incompetence in governance also is widely discussed in Moldovan society.
Q: You served as a minister of Justice in the current Government – what was your experience of that?
A: I was a minister of justice in the Government of Maya Sandu, but for a very short period, approximately 21 days. At that time, I was one of the founders and vice-President of Moldova’s major opposition political party called the Dignity and Truth Platform. I received the offer to become minister of justice from the President of our party, Mr. Andrei Nastase, just half an hour before the government had to be voted. Before that, nobody had ever discussed with me such a possibility. After the government had been formed and I started working on the plan of action, I identified several incompatibilities, which according to the Constitution, made my activity as a minister impossible. To avoid any misinterpretation and speculation, I will provide readers with a small explanation that will make my action easier to understand.
Being a lawyer specializing in human rights protection, I lodged several applications with the European Court of Human Rights. When I became minister of justice, I identified that several of the applications I lodged had been communicated to the Government of Moldova, but several were at the stage of enforcement of judgment delivered by the Court. As the minister of justice, I had to deal with the applications lodged against the Republic of Moldova and the judgments delivered by the European Court of Human Rights, including the cases where I was representing my clients as their lawyer.
I thought and still think this would have run counter to the basic principles of professional ethics. And this is why I decided to step down. I am sure that was the only correct step. Of course, another option was to leave my clients without my support, but it would mean betraying those who entrusted me with their faith. It would have been unacceptable to me.
Q: The Moldovan judicial system has been heavily criticized for corruption and political interference for many years, including by the US state department and the Council of Europe – what are the main issues with the judicial system in Moldova?
A: In 43 years of my professional activity as a specialist in law, I used to hold various positions, which now help me better understand what is going on in the Moldovan justice sector. I was a criminal investigator in a district prosecutor’s office, and after that, I was appointed investigator on exceptional cases and senior investigator for exceptional cases. Since 1996, I was deputy head of the Department of Investigations on exceptional cases and deputy head of the Directorate of criminal prosecutions of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Moldova. From 2001 to 2008, I was a Judge of the European Court of Human Rights. Since 2008, I have been acting as a lawyer specializing in the protection of human rights. Simultaneously, from 1996 to 2001, I served as a member of the Multidisciplinary Group on Corruption, set up by the Council of Europe. All these activities allow me to professionally judge all the shortcomings and gaps in the Moldovan legal system, including corruption.
Coming back to your question, I have to confess that there are many credible reports produced by various NGOs and international organizations, which claim extremely high levels of judicial corruption in Moldova, as well as illegal interference with judicial activity, which also includes political interference. It would not be a mistake to say that all political forces that have governed Moldova in one way or another have used law enforcement, prosecution, and the judiciary as very effective tools in their political struggle. Of course, they did not do it openly, but in a clandestine manner, and to prove all these allegations without special investigations is simply impossible.
In 2019, when pro-EU forces took state power in Moldova, we witnessed a lot of promises to have such investigations conducted to punish those who breached the law. Unfortunately, these promises have remained just at the level of words. Accordingly, the law did not fulfill its preventive function, and the temptation to continue using law enforcement, prosecution, and the judiciary as a tool in political struggle still exists.
The dysfunctionalities of the Moldovan law sector, combined with the miscarriage of justice and lack of an effective system of checks and balances, have created fertile soil for corruption. Of course, it would not be fair to say that the Moldovan authorities do not understand the gravity of the problems or that they do not wish to dismantle corruption. During the last few years, they tried to improve the situation, but, unfortunately, without any plausible results. In its Fourth Evaluation Round Interim Compliance Report, the GRECO – a specialized anti-corruption mechanism set up by the Council of Europe – mentioned that the Republic of Moldova has implemented satisfactorily or dealt with in a satisfactory manner only six of the eighteen recommendations.
The GRECO concluded that the current low level of compliance with the recommendations remains “globally unsatisfactory.” The reason for the Government’s failure can be explained by the lack of knowledge and experience in such a specific field of activity as combating corruption. Also, it cannot be excluded that the ruling political forces have decided simply to head up various corrupt schemes created by the previous regime. Of course, this supposition can be just speculation. Time will show how sincere the Moldovan authorities are when they proclaimed their anti-corruption plans and intentions.
Q: Is the judicial system still tainted by corruption and political interference?
A: I consider that it would be correct to say that the judicial system of Moldova has been seriously infiltrated by corruption. But, the problem of corruption is not just the problem of impunity of those involved in corrupt activity. Corruption cannot be combated by means of a penal code only. Corruption is deeply rooted in education, psychology, traditions of implementation of law, and many other not less important issues. So, the state shall take a multidisciplinary approach to this problem. And only by applying a multidisciplinary approach can the Moldovan authorities succeed in their struggle against corruption. Of course, if they wish to succeed.
Q: How much interference comes from the government in the judicial process?
A: Political interference with judicial activity is a secret deal. Nobody does it publicly. Accordingly, it is impossible to precisely evaluate the exact level of political or other illegal forms of interference with judicial activity. On the other hand, it would be ridiculous if I started denying political interference with judicial and prosecutorial activities. Moldovan media contains many publications which discover high-level officials’ addresses and messages in which they demand criminal convictions of their political opponents. Of course, they invoke (and cover their wishes and demands) by the need to punish “criminals,” but in my view, whatever the justification is, politicians shall display wisdom and patiently wait till the prosecutorial and judicial authorities comply with their procedural duties. Otherwise, high-level officials send wrong signals to society and create very bad appearances, which manifest professional impotence of Moldovan prosecutors and judges, who cannot do their job without “priceless” indications on the side of the President or the Prime minister or other political figures. So, I guess it would be more correct if Moldovan political leaders displayed more discretion when speaking and acting in their official capacity.
Q: Do you think that the system is independent?
A: No, of course not. Independence is a very complex political and legal issue. Both the Moldovan Constitution and the European Convention on human rights provide for a fair trial, one of the most important elements of this notion being the independence of the judiciary as a separate branch of the state power, as well as the independence of judges and prosecutors in the fulfillment of their judicial functions. Moldovan legislation contains certain elements meant to ensure the independence of those involved in the process of judicial decision-making, but these elements are not sufficient and require further substantial improvements.
Q: Moldova has also spoken about banning political parties. What do you think of that, and did you encounter that in the EU court?
A: Banning political parties is a very serious and delicate matter. To be banned, a political party must commit certain illegal acts which are attributable to the whole party as a political entity. If several members of a party commit illegal acts in their capacity, and these illegal acts have not been authorized by the party as an entity, this party cannot be held liable and, accordingly, banned. This is the standard that is to be applied. All of us remember the unrest and riots that followed the last presidential election in the United States, but American authorities have never suggested banning the Republican party. This is the only correct approach. Everybody shall respond for their own acts.
Unfortunately, the Moldovan judicial authorities preferred to take a different approach. Being a committed democrat, I look very skeptically at all types of bans, limitations, and restrictions on political activity and consider that they can only be applied when the application of other forms of legal deterrence, like, for instance, individual liability, is clearly impossible. Excessive use by a state of various restrictions and limitations in exercising political rights would mean that that state has serious problems with democracy.
Q: Ilan Shor is a Jewish/Moldovan individual who has recently made headlines. What can you tell us about his legal battle against the Moldovan government?
A: Very interesting question. I would say that Mr. Shor is not just a politician or a businessman. To some extent, Mr. Shor is a phenomenon of Moldovan politics. He appeared on the Moldovan political horizon suddenly, and immediately occupied a niche that nobody had ever occupied. He encouraged massive support for the socially vulnerable part of the population, and here I speak first of all about pensioners.
Also, having been elected the mayor of Orhei, Mr. Shor started the modernization of that town, as well as several villages of the Orhei region. Of course, ordinary people immediately noticed the difference. Dozens of thousands of Moldovans have expressed their support.
As a result, the rating of Mr. Shor and the political party he led was constantly growing. Practically, the political party led by Mr. Shor has occupied the second row in the list of Moldovan political parties. This situation provoked irritation among other politicians and high-level dignitaries. They have started perceiving Mr. Shor as their enemy, who threatens their political well-being. All the power of the state institutions has been directed against him and the “Shor” political party led by him. In the eyes of society, both Mr. Shor and his party were presented as a kind of “public enemies.”
So, every effort was made to destroy him and his party. And now we see that Mr. Shor has left Moldova, and the party has been banned. I do not know whether Mr. Shor has or has not committed any crime, because I have never had a chance to study his criminal file, but I am sure that a political party cannot and shall not be banned because of the individual activity of one of its members. A party is a live mechanism composed of dozens of thousands of members who have never had any involvement in any criminal activity, and by definition, they cannot be held liable for the activities about which they did not know. In short, it would not be wrong to say that Mr. Shor is a hostage to the success and success of his party.
At the same time, it is worth mentioning that the origins of Mr. Shor’s money caused debates in Moldovan society. There are opinions that his money comes from various fraud schemes. The Moldovan authorities have investigated criminal allegations against Mr. Shor, but to the best of my knowledge, not all versions have been tried. For instance, Mr. Shor’s lawyers have requested financial-accounting expertise in order to determine if Mr. Shor has caused any damage by his actions. Unfortunately, such work has not been done, and now the issue of damage has not been cleared up. And there are other such doubts in Mr. Shor’s case that remain unclarified.
Q: I understand you are not a supporter of Mr. Shor, but do you believe he received a fair and just judicial review in Moldova?
A: I used to be a politician, but in August 2019, disappointed with what was going on in Moldovan politics, I decided to cease my political activity and concentrate my efforts on professional and social work. Accordingly, I am not a supporter of any political party from Moldova. On the other hand, I am a convinced pro-European and frankly think that the cause of European integration is the only course of action available to the Republic of Moldova. As to your question about whether Mr. Shor had or had not had a fair trial, in my opinion, the answer is negative.
Far too many public officials made him a criminal in the eyes of our society, breaching the principle of the presumption of innocence. Far too many so-called “experts” expressed their opinions concerning his guilt that we could say that the judges in his case acted independently. Of course, judges live among us, and they can also be influenced by various TV programs and talk shows. And if, for years, people keep repeating that somebody is a criminal, judges involuntarily start believing it. That is why in the US, for instance, jurors are prohibited from watching TV while exercising their judicial functions. This is not the case in Moldova.
Q: Moldova has asked for the extradition of Ilan Shor from Israel. From a European human rights perspective, does Moldova live up to protecting the rights of people who are extradited?
A: From my experience as a Judge of the European Court of Human Rights, I would say that when a state decides on extradition of a defendant or a convicted person, that state must answer for itself on several questions. The first and most important question is whether a person will or will not be exposed to degrading and inhuman treatment after extradition. If the answer is positive, extradition shall not take place. This is the standard that should be applied to such situations.
If you look at the statistics of the European Court of Human Rights, you will see that breaches of Article 3 of the Convention of Human Rights are one of the most widespread types of violations found by the Court in the cases against Moldova. These statistics are generally accessible and can be seen at “echr.coe.int.” I do not want to interfere with the Israeli authority’s sovereign powers to decide on the fate of their citizens, but I am sure they will proceed fairly and according to the principles of the rule of law.
Q: Do you think Mr. Shor would receive fair and just treatment if extradited?
A: I hardly think so. Mr. Shor is far too irritating, and far too many influential persons are interested in his disappearance from the political horizon of Moldova. But I may be wrong. Let us wait and see. I recall one of James Bond’s movies when M. discussing with James Band, says “Sometimes justice triumphs.” And James Bond replied, “Sometimes- yes!” Maybe this will be the situation of Mr. Shor. Who knows?
Q: What would you like to see happen with the current political standoff in Moldova? How can it be resolved?
A: I would like to see stability in Moldova. I would like to see the triumph of democracy, and I would like to see an effectively functioning rule of law. I would like to see full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. I would like to see law enforcement fighting against crime and not against political opponents. Perhaps I am an irredeemable optimist, but I strongly believe in all these values and am sure that without them. Moldovan progress in European integration would simply be a “mission impossible.”
Q: What reforms specifically are most urgent for the judicial system?
A: Judicial reform in Moldova is a hot potato. The Council of Europe, the European Union, and other reputable international institutions have mentioned on many occasions that judicial reform and the fight against corruption are indispensable preconditions for the European integration of Moldova. During the last ten years, many specialists and experts tried to reform the Moldovan justice system, but they failed. Why? The answer is very simple. All these “reforms” had a chaotic character, without a serious screening and identification of real problems existing in the justice sector of Moldova. I would say that so-called reforms were “reforms for the sake of reforms,” and not for improving existing rather difficult situations. Unfortunately, beneficiaries of all these pseudo-reforms became those who worked in the system, while the beneficiary of them should have been the people of Moldova. This has not been the case. I could advise Moldovan authorities to reconsider their approach. They should not treat those who have other views and opinions as their enemies, and they have to learn how to use intellectual potential and human capital existing in the Republic of Moldova. There is no other path to progress!
The article: ‘Stanislav Pavlovschi - A Brilliant Legal Mind Stands Up to Moldovan Government Corruption’ was published in The Jewish Voice on July 11, 2023.