Justice

The assets declared by judges: houses and cars at negligible costs

Author: Julieta Saviţchi
22/10/2015 16670

Most judges undervalue their movable and immovable property which they officially declare to own. The reporters of the Center for Investigative Journalismarrived to this conclusion after having examined more than 400 declarations of income and assets, submitted by magistrates for 2014.

The legislation requires that in declaration of assets is indicated the cadastral estimate of the property, which in almost all cases is far below market value. For cars, the price is quoted from the contract of sale, which is also, in many cases, lower than the real one. Experts say it is a vicious practice and blame it on the lack of morality and integrity of judges who use legal loopholes to conceal the real value of their assets.

Lilia Lupasco with a 500 euro Mercedes

Lilia Lupasco from Riscani Court, Chisinau, who has had the mandate of a judge since 2008, owns two cars. One is a Chevrolet Captiva (year of make 2011), worth 456,250 lei, bought in leasing in 2013. A second car, a Mercedes-Benz E220, manufactured in 2008, appears in the declaration of assets as purchased in 2012 with only 10,000 lei. On the car market such a vehicle can now be found at a price of 10,000 euros, and in 2012 it would have cost even more. Her colleague from the same court, Aliona Miron, indicated in the declaration of assets that she owns a similar car, only produced in 2004, for which she paid 8,000 euros.

Court magistrate, Diana Cristina from Straseni, indicated in the declaration of assets that she owns a Nissan Almira Tino (manufactured in 2006), which she purchased in 2012 with only 5,000 lei. On a Moldovan car sales site we’ve found a car of this model produced in 2005 at a price of 4,700 euros.

Judge Ludmila Holevitcaia has been working in the system since 2008, and last year was transferred from the Comrat Court to Riscani Court in Chisinau. The magistrate declared to have bought in 2013 a Mazda 6 (produced in 2003), for which she would have paid only 10,000 lei. In 2009 she bought a BMW 525 d (2001), for which she would have paid even less - 3,000 lei. Currently, a Mazda 6, produced in 2003, in the best case,can be purchased on the car market in Moldova for 3,500 euros and a BMW 525 d 2001 costs at least 5,000 euros.

Ludmila Gradinaru, working since 2011 in Floresti Court, owns a Honda Jazz (year of manufacture 2006). In the declaration of assets and income she said she had bought the car in 2014 with 10,000 lei. The market price for a 9-year old car of this model is about 4,000 euros.

Magistrates with cars worth 10 000 lei

Ghenadie Matu, a judge from Soroca since 2003, declared in his income and assets statement a Hyundai Tucson bought in 2012 (year of make 2008) with only 10, 000 lei. A similar car, only older one, from 2005, is being sold for 9500 euros on a Moldovan website.

Aureliu Postica from Riscani court, Chisinau also claims to have paid only 10,000 lei for a Toyota Yaris (year of make 2004), registered under his wife’s name. The market cost of such vehicle varies between 3,000 and 4,500 euros.

Alexander Spoiala from Ciocana Court, Chisinau declared that he had paid only 500 euros in 2010 for his Renault Megane (manufactured in 2006). Currentl,  sucha car costs at least 3,000 euros more than the magistrate had allegedly paid five years ago.

Zinaida Talpalaru, Chairman of the Commercial Court ofChisinau, also indicated in the declaration of assets prices that by farare not corresponding to reality. She claims that her Citroën C3 (manufactured in 2002), bought in 2009 would have cost her 12,824 lei, and her Mercedes Benz S320 (from 2002) would have cost 15,115 lei in 2006. I found asimilar Mercedeson the car market, only four years older and in poor condition, which is being sold for 3,500 euros. While the market price for a Citroën C3 of 2002 is no less than 2,000 euros.

The practice of undervaluation of owned movables is also common for Supreme Court magistrates.  Thus, the judge, Sveatoslav Moldovan, who has been working in the high court since 2003, like many of his colleagues in the lower courts, writes in his income and assets statement that his Toyota Avensis, purchased in 2008, cost him 10,000 lei. On the Moldovanmarket such a car is estimated to be at least 7,500 euro.

According to the income and assets statement, Vladimir Timofti, magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice, has three cars. In the case of two of them seems to be the case of undervaluation. Timofti claims that he purchased in 2012 a Rover 25 (year of make- 2001) with 5,000 lei, and a Hyundai Santa Fe (manufactured in 2007) last year for 28,000 lei. A Rover 25 2001 is sold on the domestic car market for some 2,500 euros and the second car costs at least 10,000 euros.

The fact that magistrates undervalue their cars in the statements of income and assets is also confirmed by the estimates made at our request by an auto expert, Andrei Tabuica,

Andrei Tabuica, chief editor at AutoExpert.md: “Car prices vary greatly depending on equipment, mileage, condition and type of engine. Some models were not officially available on the market, being imported by individuals from other countries.Fora Mercedes-Benz E220, manufactured in 2008, the average price variesbetween 9.500-11.500 euro; a Nissan Almira Tino, manufactured in 2006: 5.000-6.000 euro; Mazda 6, manufactured in 2003: 3.500-5.500 euro (depending on the generation), BMW 525 d, manufacturedin 2001: 5.000-7.000 euro; Honda Jazz, manufacturedin 2006: 4.000-4.700 euro; Hyundai Tucson from 2008: 6.000-7.000 euro; Toyota Yaris from 2004: 3.500-4.000 euro; Renault Megane, manufactured in 2006: 3.000-4.000 euro; Citroën C3, manufactured in 2002: 2.500-3.500 euro; Mercedes Benz S320, year of make 2002: 8.000-10.000 euro; Toyota Avensis, manufactured in 2008: 7.500-8.500 euro; Rover 25, year of make- 2001: 2.000-2.500 euro; Hyundai Santa Fe, manufactured in2007: 10.000-12.000 euro.”

Places to live up to 2 thousand euro

In the case of real estate magistrates are also not embarrassed to reduce prices in the statements of income and assets. The law requires indicating the cadastral value, which however, often does not correspond to the market value. Using this, and other legislative gaps, some judges declare imaginary prices. For example, Iurie Sceastlivii, who has been workingat Ialoveni Court since 1993, states that the apartment registered to his wife, with an area of 60.8 square meters, costs no more than 16.645 lei.

Aliona Donos from Balti Court declares in her income and assets statement a house with an area of 79.8 square meters worth 39,625 lei, acquired by inheritance in 2014.

A relevant case is that of Aliona Miron from Riscani Court of the Capital, who owns several real estate objects. Among other things, she declares a house with an area of 141.7 square meters, with related land and annexes, worth 46,875 lei, received as donation in 2011, and another house of 131 square meters, with annexes and land of 0.2587 ha, amounting to only 14 069 lei, received as inheritance in 2010.

 

The house of judge Aliona Miron

No home, no car

If one is to believe the information in the income and assets statements of magistrates, at least 25% of them would be poor and would not own - neither them nor their families - any home or car. For instance, the investigating judge Constantin Damaschin from Botanica Court in Chisinau, although claiming that he had obtained a plot of land for construction back on 31st  December 2005 (just three months after receiving his judge mandate), officially, he doesn’t have a home. The press wrote about Svetlana Filincova, judge from the Supreme Court, and Sergiu Arnaut, judge at the Court of Appeal, living in luxury homes that are not indicated however, in their income and assets statements.

Judging by his income and assets statement,Vladimir Braşoveanu,also appears to be poor.Tthe magistrate who has worked many years at the Center Court of Chisinau and on 7 August 2015, by a presidential decree, was appointed judge at the Chisinau Court of Appeal. In fact, Vladimir Braşoveanu lives in a luxury villa on the Ialoveni street  fromChisinau.

 

The house of judge Vladimir Brasoveanu

Also, according to the statement of assets, Ion Plesca, chairman of the Court of Appeal, does not own any means of transport - neither he nor his wife, however owninga multi-million real estate.

Magistrate: „I never thought I could have any problems”

Contacted by phone, several judges concerned in the investigation avoided or refused to comment. The magistrate, Vladimir Timofti, told us that the car had been purchased by his wife and we should ask her why it cost so. Zinaida Talpalaru explained that the two cars had been purchased abroad by her husband and indicated in the declaration of assets the prices contained in the contracts of sale. "The law provides to indicate the price from official documents. I never thought that I could have any problems ", stressed the chairman of the Commercial Court.

National Integrity Commission does not check car prices

National Integrity Commission verified this year the declarations of assets of 17 judges. Only in three cases were found violations on the accuracy of the statements and Prosecutor General Office was notified. The violations regardedMihai Ciuntu, magistrate at Criuleni Court, Svetlana Filincova, judge at the Supreme Court and Sergiu Arnaut,judge at the Chisinau Court of Appeal. In the last two cases, NIC took action after the publication of investigation materials in the press. In the other 14 cases, the NIC suspended the inspectionon the grounds that the deviations "were not committed intentionally." Andrian Popenco, the Anticorruption Prosecutor's interim head, told us that all three cases were dismissed on the grounds of not meeting the elements of an offence.

Cristina Dumbravan, press officer at NIC, told us that the institution she represents is not checking car prices in the declarations of income and assets. "File a notification and NIC will check it" suggested Dumbravan.

Member of the Superior Council of Magistrates: “an offence under the Criminal Code”

Teodor Carnat, member of the Superior Council of Magistrates, believes that judges undervalue the prices for their real estate and vehicles in order to evade taxes. Another reason is that the value of goods on the declaration of assets has to match revenues. "This is forgery of public documents, an offense under the Criminal Code", said SCM member. The problem is that such offences are almost impossible to prove because the magistrates conclude contracts with the consent of sellers under which  prices for goods are reduced. Teodor Carnat believes that undervaluation of goods is a serious problem and for its settlement is necessary to involve the Customs Service and the State Enterprise "Cadastre".

What anticorruption experts say

Spinei Ioannina, expert at Transparency International-Moldova, argues that magistrates and other civil servants take advantage of a gap in the legislation. "The law provides that the declarations of assets are to indicate prices of contracts for sale. Intentionally lower prices are indicated, so assubsequently to pay lower taxes and goods are justifiable as purchased within legal income. It is clear that the legislation must be changed. But there is also a law of common sense, which many fail to comply with "the expert said.

Cristi Danilet, member of the Superior Council of Magistrates of Romania shares a similar view:

"Magistrates can have legal incomeonly. All income and assets must be declared. If someone purchases a property, its real value must be declared. Otherwise the act is an offence of forgery. I cannot understand why a magistrate who has nothing to hide, who is fair, would pass other amounts in acts of purchase of an asset, real estate or car. Integrity implies maximum fairness. Unfortunately, some still do not understand this concept. It requires transparency and positive pressure to change the current situation."

Olga Batca, President of the Anti-Corruption Alliance, explains the phenomenon by the fact that legal provisions have not been tailored so as to prevent corruption. "There are articles in the Criminal Code that need to demonstrate the intent to commit false statements.  Because intent cannot be proven, General Prosecutor dismisses the case. All efforts of the investigative media, NGOs in the field and NIC are reduced to zero, while people with doubtful integrity hold on to their posts, "said the expert.

According to Olga Batca, currently, a draft law is being developed on reforming the NIC. "It is the third package of draft laws with the purpose of unlocking the NIC activity and focusing on the corruption prevention aspect. The draft was blocked by formerGaburici Government. Do you expect a person that decreases ten times the value of the car or fails to mention it at all in the income and assets statement,to work exclusively for the public interest? "commented Mrs. Batca.

The investigation is carried out under the "Shining a Light on Corruption in Moldova" project conducted by the Center for Investigative Journalism and Freedom House, with the support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

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