Stained epaulets ... at senior level
by Irina Codrean and Vitalie Calugareanu
MOTTO: “There is a tacit agreement between the judiciary and the power: The Government
allows the judges to take bribe, while the judges help mafiot governors to escape prison.”
Vitalie Nagacevschi, lawyer
The anomalies penetrated deep into the administrative system during the
harshest police regime Moldova ever seen – the 2001-2009 Communist regime.
The organized criminal groups have been liquidated, but this did not relax the
society. Why so? The surveys conducted by the Public Policy Institute
(http://ipp.md/) show the people do not trust the police and the legal system.
The society perceives these state institutions designed to ensure safety as
repressive and corrupt instruments that one should avoid. In fact, there
appeared one group ... but a large one, with one command center, where
settling of accounts took place sporadically.
Alexandru Covali, alias “Shalun”, who was the head of a network of trafficking in women and
minors, worked in the police force of the Soviet Union. From 2001 until 2006, he made a fortune
through a human trafficking network that worked with the tacit consent of some of his former
colleagues. Former police officer Oleg Bolboceanu, who was convicted of trafficking in women
to the United Arab Emirates, was amnestied. Marin Strungaru, another former policeman and
one of the few Moldovans sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in organs, says he serves
someone else‟s sentence. Three former police officers, three stories shrouded in mystery,
protectionism and corruption:
The “Shalun” case
The police knew that Alexandru Covali was one of the most prolific traffickers of women in
Moldova long before his arrest in June 2006. But they avoided dealing with him, saying they
“did not have evidence”. It seems yet there was another reason. While he worked in the Soviet
police, Covali made many friends holding high-ranking positions at the Ministry of the Interior.
Though this friendship was „costly‟, it kept him away from prison for a long time.
The prosecutors have proofs that “Shalun” created a human trafficking network in 2001. For
over five years, it worked in Moldova, Romania and Ukraine. In 2001, the Communists came to
power in Moldova and their leader Vladimir Voronin declared war on the organized criminal
groups. In the autumn of 2002, Vladimir Botnari, former police commissioner of Falesti district
and commander of the Special Police Brigade “Fulger”, was named Deputy Minister of the
CASSETTE (picture of Botnari)
In 2006, he left the post of Deputy Minister of the Interior. Later, he was employed as division
head at the Agency for Construction and Territorial Development. Afterward, by a Government
decision, he was named Deputy Minister of Transport. On November 25, 2008, he became the
commissioner of Chisinau municipality. On October 16, 2009, he resigned. Minister of the
Interior Victor Catana said “the created situation does not permit that Botnari holds this post”.
Catana referred to the maltreatment of the young people in the Chisinau police commissariats
after the violent protests ofApril 2009.
The materials collected while carrying out this journalistic investigation aroused the suspicion
that Botnari might have protected “Shalun”‟s business. At a certain moment, the investigation
team felt the need to discuss this with “Shalun”, but the prisoner sent us a letter through the
Department of Penitentiary Institutions, informing that he sold the right to give interviews to a
“well-known production company” that is making a film about him. Why did we want to talk to
Covali? Because we were curious to know why “Shalun” was imprisoned after Botnari left the
post of Deputy Minister of the Interior and who helped him develop freely his criminal network
during five years. We have reasons to think that “Shalun” would have told us if he hadn‟t had
that agreement with the company that would make a film about his life, as he said.
“Shalun” puts police in the picture
“Shalun”‟s dangerous links with the police were confirmed by the former Minister of the Interior
Gheorghe Papuc, who shortly after Covali‟s arrest said that “certain persons erect obstacles in
order to postpone the prosecution on different pretexts”. On July 31, 2006, the legal case was
sent to the Anticorruption Prosecutor‟s Office by order of the Prosecutor General “as police
employees were involved in the case.”
Two days later, Alexandru Covali started to speak. From an answer to an application sent to the
Prosecutor‟s Office, we understood that “Shalun” exposed the former deputy director of the
Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons Ion Bejan and his inferiors. The answer suggests
that “Shalun” admitted to periodically bribing the given employees of the Interior Ministry so
that they helped him in his „business‟. Inexplicably, the second day after he made confessions,
the Buiucani Court released Covali on 80 000 lei bail. “Shalun” did not get to enjoy his freedom
as he was arrested by officers of the Anticorruption Prosecutor‟s Office several hours later. We
can presume that “Shalun” made a bargain... A question thus appears: Why was he arrested
again? Both the prosecutors who convinced “Shalun” to tell on Bejan and Alexandru Covali
himself refused to answer this question.
The public opinion found out whom Covali exposed on August 18. Deputy Minister of the
Interior Valentin Zubic said three employees of the Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons
- I. Bejan, V. Carlatean and S. Sibov – were dismissed from posts amid suspicions that they
cooperated with “Shalun”. Zubic said Covali “has many contacts in the police, the Prosecutor’s
Office and courts of law.”
Afterward, the Ministry of the Interior and the Prosecutor‟s Office revealed no more details. The
prosecutor to whom Covali confessed, Veaceslav Balan, was fired, while the “Shalun” case
abandoned. Why? We tried to find out the reasons from Balan, but he refused to speak about the
Covali-Bejan case. Sources in the police say the investigation was suspended because Bejan had
a friendly relationship with the former Prosecutor General Valeriu Gurbulea and former Deputy
Prime Minister Valentin Mejinski.
The roads of the three crossed in the middle of the 1990s. During 1992-1998, Gurbulea was
senior assistant and then deputy prosecutor of Chisinau‟s Centru district. Mejinski was inspector,
senior inspector, deputy head and then head of the Economic Police Division of the Centru
Police Commissariat, while Ion Bejan was a colleague of Mejinski. Is it a coincidence?
Case opened as a blind
On April 18, 2008, Bejan obtained the annulment of the order to dismiss him as deputy director
of the Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons by court. However, he was not reinstated in
the post. During two years, the Prosecutor‟s Office postponed signing the ordinance to start the
examination of the Bejan case. Only due to the indirect pressure exerted by the U.S. Department
of State, a legal case was opened against the policemen over passive corruption on June 11,
2008. In order to show the foreign partners that the case was not abandoned, the prosecutors
checked if the accusations made by Covali against Bejan and his inferiors were true. For
example: Covali said that he gave an Audi 100 to a member of the Bejan family and that he
bribed the police officers so as to have access to the materials of the investigation. The
prosecutors said: “Covali’s statements have not been confirmed”. That‟s all!
The prosecutors told us that in June 2008, being interrogated as a witness, Alexandru Covali,
“refused to make additional statements”. Anticorruption prosecutor Boris Poiata told us that
“they do not have proofs to charge the suspect police officers.” Nevertheless, the Prosecutor‟s
Office refuses to close the case, but tries in continuation “to objectively and toughly investigate
the case.” The only result achieved by the prosecutors: on March 13, 2009, Ion Bejan was
discharged from the internal affairs bodies, but “on grounds of age.”
Criminal law experts consider the Bejan case could have been solved if it had been scrupulously
investigated immediately after Alexandru Covali made the disclosures. Now it is too late! The
most important proofs, if they existed, had been destroyed long ago. On the other hand, Bejan‟s
lawyer Veaceslav Turcan told the reporters that it is not excluded that the case was started by
order and his client is not guilty.
The Bolboceanu case
Late in 2004, Moldovan citizen Oleg Bolboceanu was arrested in Dubai on suspicion of
involvement in trafficking in women to the United Arab Emirates. Dozens of Moldovan women
who escaped sex slavery with difficulty told the police that namely Bolboceanu „looked after
them‟ in Dubai. The former police officer was extradited to Moldova and placed under arrest for
a 30-day period. The police opened several cases against him. If he had been found guilty,
Bolcoceanu would have faced a long jail term.
But the investigation took an unexpected turn. After the 30-day period of arrest expired, the
prosecutors did not insist that the suspect be investigated under arrest. The victims‟ lawyers told
then the press that after released from arrest, Bolboceanu tried to influence the witnesses and the
victims. Some of them even refused to give testimony. Moreover, attempts were made to change
the accusations against Bolboceanu from trafficking in human beings into procuring, the
punishment for which is much lenient.
On September 18, 2006, the Chisinau Tribunal found Oleg Bolboceanu guilty of procuring under
article 220, paragraph 1 of the Penal Code. He was sentenced to five years in jail. According to
the Prosecutor General‟s Office, the former policeman was amnestied in connection with the
tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova.
Prosecutor Mircea Rosioru told us that the Prosecutor‟s Office appealed to the Chisinau Court of
Appeals, but unsuccessfully. According to police sources, Bolboceanu remained at large owing
to prosecutor‟s negligence as they made the appeal much later than required by law. Was it
The Strungaru case
Marin Strungaru, another former policeman, is one of the few Moldovans who was imprisoned
for trafficking in organs. In 2005, the prosecutors announced triumphantly that for the first time
they caught the head of an organ trafficking network. Later, the court found Strungaru guilty of
“recruiting and transporting a person for taking her organs or tissues for transplant,”
sentencing him to eight years in prison.
Four years later, Marin Strungaru agreed to speak. We met him in the penitentiary. Strungaru
told us that in fact he was a victim of trafficking in organs, not trafficker in organs. “I don’t have
one kidney. I sold it in Turkey in 2002 for US$10 000. When I returned to Moldova, I told a
friend of mine who helped me leave for Istanbul. I did not even think that she, and later a
relative of hers, will sell their organs, helped by the same persons. For reasons that I do not
know, both of them filed complains to the police against me in 2005. They said I recruited
them and helped them to sell their organs. Why did I keep silent? The real traffickers
promised me US$10 000 and a more lenient sentence if I took the blame on me. I accepted, but
regret it now. I am in prison and have no leu in my pockets,” Strungaru told us.
The former police officer told us he got to Turkey through the agency of a criminal group headed
by doctor Mihail Zis, who is now judged for trafficking in organs in Ukraine. Strungaru said it
was Zis and his accomplices who trafficked the two citizens that made statements against him.
The man hopes his case will be retried.
Prosecutor Eduard Bulat told us that that a legal case was indeed opened in Moldova against
Mihail Zis over trafficking of 13 persons for taking their organs or tissues for transplant. ”I knew
that in Ukraine Zis was judged for the same offense. We asked that Zis be extradited to
Moldova, but we received a refusal. After he was convicted, Marin Strungaru said that he also
was a victim of Zis. The investigation is not yet over and I cannot give you more details,”
Eduard Bulat said.
We tried to discuss with Marin Strungaru‟s victims. Boris… died in suspect circumstances
shortly after he filed a complaint to the police. Angela Iacovlev is working in Ukraine. We
managed to speak with her. She confirmed unconvincingly that it was Strungaru who helped her
sell her kidney.
P.S. The Government of Moldova received millions of dollars in foreign assistance, especially
from the U.S., to fight and prevent trafficking in human beings. The Ministry of the Interior
received most of the cash injections. Paradoxically, but former and current employees of the
Ministry are involved in the most resounding legal cases opened over trafficking in human
The journalistic investigation was financed as part of the SCOOP project (through the
Danish Association of Investigative Journalism – FUJ).