A Ukrainian judge suspected of corruption fled from justice in Kiev in 2016 and found shelter in Chisinau, where he still stays, seeking for political asylum.
Classified documents which RISE Moldova obtained in a team work with journalists at Slidstvo.info show that the magistrate did not actually ran away from Ukraine – he was quietly extracted in an operation organized by elite forces from both sides of the border.
RISE Moldova presents for the first time a move about the evacuation of the Ukrainian judge and reveals the names of people behind this operation. Some of them are in the top of power, either in Ukraine or in Moldova.
It is 11 July 2019. Maia Sandu, who just took over as prime minister in an alliance with the Socialists – overthrowing the ruling Democrats led by oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc – meets in Kiev with Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky. Among a number of topics of national or regional significance – such as economic cooperation or energy issues – the two officials discussed one particular topic that didn’t look to fit in the context.
Volodimir ZELENSKY: I [also] addressed the extradition of the former controversial judge Mykola Chaus. Our partners [in Moldova] have promised their support in this regard.
WHO IS MYKOLA CHAUS?
The ex-judge who drew the attention of top officials in both countries is a true star in Ukraine. Back on 9 August 2016, detectives from Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) caught the magistrate red-handed while split-hiding a bribe of 150,000 US dollars in two jars.
Mr. Chaus could not be arrested immediately thanks to his immunity, which was removed by the Supreme Rada (parliament in Kiev) a month later. By then, he skipped two subpoenas from prosecutors and made himself invisible. The authorities launched a national and later an international manhunt. The magistrate meanwhile left Ukraine and set himself comfortable in the Moldovan capital.
And yet, how did he succeed to cross the border of two countries without being identified?
TUESDAY, 16 August 2016, 7 days after the flagrant exposure.
Ukraine launches a national manhunt for Mykola Chaus for the latter’s failure to show up before the law-enforcement agency for questioning. According to Kiev operatives, Mr. Chaus was hiding in a residential block near the heart of the Ukrainian capital.
Various politicians in Kiev have repeatedly referred to Mykola Chaus as a judge serving the team of former President Petro Poroshenko. If arrested, he could leak evidence about the pressure of the Poroshenko administration on the justice system – citing a former Ukrainian police officer who talked to RISE Moldova.
And while the magistrate was hiding from questioning over corruption allegations in the Kiev downtown, Poroshenko’s men, on one side, and agents on behalf of Moldovan oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, who was the de factor ruler of Moldova at that time, on the other side, were planning Chaus’ extraction.
The choice for Moldova as a refuge country was an obvious solution, according to a shared opinion of law-enforcement officials in Kiev and Chisinau, who spoke off-the-record. Mr. Poroshenko and Mr. Plahotniuc were not just business partners in the past, but also old buddies, as one of them admitted later in public.
SUNDAY, 21 August 2016, 12 days after the flagrant exposure.
According to NABU, the judge wanted for corruption was transferred from the care of an official at the Principal Information Department of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry into the protection of a high ranking official in Poroshenko’s security service.
MONDAY, 22 August 2016, 13 days after the flagrant exposure.
„In the morning, an employee of the Presidential Security Service [RISE has his name but won’t publish it for safety reasons] received orders from the head of the Ukrainian Security Service to meet foreigners at the Kiev airport (Zhuliany),” an NABU report says.
The two foreigners turned out to be Moldovan nationals: Dorin Damir and Veaceslav Turcu.
◾ Dorin DAMIR (49 years old) – a former police officer, now a businessman in the security services industry, chairman of the FEA Moldova Fighting Association and the god-son of oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc.
Turcu and Damir landed in Kiev with a charter flight, arriving aboard a Mustang 510 YR-TRQ business jet, Ukrainian investigators learned. A round-trip flight between Chisinau and Kiev aboard such aircraft costs around 10,000 euros.
From the airport to the city the two Moldovans were ferried inside a car of a presidential security service official, according to NABU [RISE has his name but won’t publish it for safety reasons].
Later, the official “passed to Chaus the Moldovan passport of V.Turcu, and then M.Chaus and D.Damir crossed the Ukrainian border without being searched or checked out by the border police […]. Replacing Turcu for Chaus was possible because the two look very much alike,” police records say.
„THEY USED ME…”
Speaking to RISE Moldova, both Damir and Turcu denied any participation in the extraction of Mr. Chaus, but agree with the conclusions of Ukrainian investigators: Mr. Turcu had not returned to Chisinau – he remained in Kiev.
Dorin DAMIR: Veaceslav Turcu is my pal. Yes, he was with me on the flight from Chisinau to Kiev, that’s because he lives in Ukraine […] and he remained there while I returned [to Chisinau, the same day].
However, records from the Moldovan Border Police show that Dorin Damir and Veaceslav Turcu flew together aboard the same plane both ways, a four-hours click.
Dorin DAMIR: Ukrainian representatives asked the same questions over the phone. I did not accompany anyone anywhere. […] I do not know him [Chaus] in person. […] Why should anyone get me into this trouble? Perhaps because of my relationships with certain men. You know well who I am talking about. He [Vladimir Plahotniuc] is my god-father, […] but I never worked for Plahotniuc.
Mr. Turcu, too, said he didn’t know the Ukrainian judge and claimed he was not aware how his passport had been used to extract Mr. Chaus from Ukraine.
Veaceslav TURCU: I gave my passport to know one and I wasn’t part of that story. […] I learned of this a year later, when NABU started questioning me. I’ve had a number of experiences: testimonies, polygraph testing. […] I don’t mean I am a lamb now who was framed up and used. But in fact this is what happened. It happened, they used me.
Interestingly, a week after the extraction of Mykola Chaus into Moldova, Ukrainian police extradited a controversial businessman, Veaceslav Platon, to Chisinau. Mr. Platon had had a number of business encounters with Vladimir Plahotniuc and at that time of his apprehension the two were hostile to each other.
NABU, IN CHISINAU
After his incognito arrival in Chisinau, Ukrainian magistrate Mykola Chaus stayed in a hideout for half a year. In other words, there was no official evidence of his presence in Moldova during that period. On 28 february 2017, the judge came out and surrendered to Moldovan police. An international arrest warrant on his name had been already in effect and Ukraine was looking for him via the Interpol.
A few key moments had preceded Chaus’ surrender. The Ukrainian authorities already knew he was hiding in Moldova and on 18 January 2017 formally asked Moldovans to apprehend the fugitive judge and turn him over to Kiev. Two days later, an NABU team arrived in Chisinau and sided by Moldovan police in a search for the suspect. In spite of this effort they could not find him.
After his emergence from the hiding and surrender, NABU filed for his extradition to Ukraine. The request was received in March 2017 and a court of law is due to issue a ruling. Concretely, it is handled by Moldovan judge Andrei Niculcea at the Chisinau Court of Buiucani District, with no progress in sight ever since. This was possible because most of the 36 sessions over the past four years have been postponed, mainly because the sides failed to show for deliberations or because one of the sides asked for reschedule.
Chaus’ lawyer Iulian Balan has declined to comment on the suit in which Ukraine seeks to get his client back home.
CRIMINAL CASE AND ASYLUM APPLICATION
Chaus’ surrender served as a legal ground for Moldovan police to investigate his “illicit crossing of the state border,” but the case was closed shortly thanks to constitutional guarantees for asylum seekers and victims of trafficking, as says Article 362 from the Moldovan Penal Code.
On the day Mykola Chaus surrendered – 28 February 2017 – the presidential administration in Chisinau received an application for political asylum from the fugitive judge. President Igor Dodon refused to grant Chaus political asylum, therefore the Ukrainian magistrate went to defend his application with Moldovan counterparts.
No luck until now, given that Mr Chaus lost the case in the lower court and in the appeals court. The Supreme Court of Justice is the only left to pronounce the final verdict and the session on this topic is slated for 28 April 2021, according to court schedule.
It is not clear however how Mykola Chaus supported himself all these four years in Moldova and where exactly he lived. We tried to challenge him for an interview, via his lawyer Iulian Balan, but he declined.
In the meanwhile, the son of Mykola Chaus has moved to Moldova and often posts pictures of his life in Chisinau. We learned this way that he has graduated from a high school and enrolled in a university. The junior also published pictures of himself inside the Moldovan presidential administration – it’s the same institution that had refused to grant political asylum to his father.
Autor: Vladimir THORIK
Contributions: Yevheniia MOTOREVSKA, Vasyl BIDUN (Slidstvo.info)
Fact-checking: Inna CÎVÎRJIC
Editing and adaptation: Nicolae CUȘCHEVICI