Vladimir Plahotniuc and Victor Topa, who have conducted a tough media campaign to denigrate each other, used to be business partners and to support each other for many years. However, the decline of the communist government brought a serious misunderstanding between the two comrades. Ultimately, Plahotniuc used the Prosecutor’s Office, which he gradually subdued, to convict Victor Topa to a prison sentence and Topa, in his turn, established first, the Anti-mafia Movement, then the Dignity and Truth Platform (DA), political formations, sponsored by him and aimed to overthrow Plahotniuc. Through his schemes, Plahotniuc also becomes a party leader. He assures stability and prosperity, while Topa promises restoration of democracy and establishment of rule of law. In reality, it seems to be a life and death struggle between the two oligarchs, driven by the idea of revenge and thirst for power, a struggle, which, nolens volens involves the citizens.
Victor Topa and Vladimir Plahotniuc have very similar biographies and careers. Being both from Nisporeni and practically of the same age, they took full advantage of the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, accumulating their first capitals from dirty businesses.
Vladimir Plahotniuc. Source: evz.ro
Victor Țopa. Source foto: jurnal.md
Victor Topa managed to take the bull by the horns first, holding important positions in civil aviation, while Plahotniuc had to work hard, showing video in student dorms, involving in human trafficking and doing dirty business in Macedonia.
The fact is that by 2000, the two of them, being in their thirties, were already fully-fledged businessmen with fat bank accounts and solid relationships.
How did the "friendship" between Topa and Plahotniuc begin?
Topa and Plahotniuc started to interact in 2001, when the Communists, headed by Vladimir Voronin, seized the power in the country. That year, Victor Topa became the Minister of Transport in the government led by Tarlev, while Plahotniuc was commercial director and then director of the oil company Petrom Moldova. At that time, Plahotniuc became closer to the communist government, particularly due to his friendship with Oleg Voronin, son of the communist leader, who during his father's rule, became one of the most prosperous businessmen in Moldova. Plahotniuc acknowledged in an interview his friendship with Oleg Voronin and having given him some business advice.
Both Victor Topa and Vladimir Plahotniuc are sparing when it comes to talking about their relations and businesses they had in the communist time. Victor Topa was the first to break the silence. In the interview, given on 2 September 2016 for Jurnal TV, the TV station that he is funding, Victor Topa admitted he had business relations with Plahotniuc. "We were co-shareholders of Victoribank, since 2004-2005 we started working together. I didn’t know this man. Later, if you work with him, you see him, you feel him, and you get to know him. Somewhere in 2006-2007, I was upset and very stressed. I couldn’t believe there was such a man on earth! That such an evil person could exist. And I started to consult specialists, psychologists, people who know the human nature and they told me very clearly: this guy is a sociopath."
Further, Topa communicates some piquant details, "There were two very important events. At a certain point, besides the fact that Slopac (Eugen Slopac, former director of ASITO) came and offered me to buy his shares in ASITO, Plahotniuc said "Let's strip Slopac". I said, "Vlad, you're crazy, he came to me and offered to buy his shares at a good price, he offered me a deal." The second event occurred somewhere in 2007 when I said, "Plahotniuc, we should pay Proidisvet (Galina Proidisvet, former shareholder of Victoribank), we had an agreement with this lady." He said, "No, no, no, we won’t pay. What, are you crazy? "And at this moment, I clearly understood that we cannot be shareholders in the same bank. Moreover, I understood that we cannot be shareholders in different banks, we cannot work together in the financial system and, I think, it was even difficult for me to live in the same country with him. We sat and talked it over in 2010. He said, "If you give me this and this, I agree to sell my shares." We had an agreement and I went to Germany. However, when I was in Germany I received the information that one night that Plahotniuc robbed and stripped us of all our shares.”
Plahotniuc also makes it clear that he conducted business with Topa, "Approaching Topa brothers (Victor and Viorel Topa) did me a disservice."
Victor Turcan, who founded and was president of Victoribank, declared in 2005, "Plahotniuc was sometimes represented by Viorel Topa and Victor Topa."
Victor Țurcan. Source: vipmagazin.md
The Victoriabank epic
Coincidentally or not, but Victor Topa and Vladimir Plahotniuc become Victoriabank’s shareholders at the same time. Victor Topa said in an interview that they became co-shareholders of Victoribank in 2004-2005, when he didn’t know "what kind of person Plahotniuc was ".
In 2004, the so-called raider attack on the bank occurred. In February 2005, the Board of Directors of the Bank had three new shareholders, who initially held 28.6 % of the shares and then by applying pressure on other shareholders, acquired another 4.5 % of shares.
Subsequently, the scheme involved the controversial Adrian Nichifor, a fellow villager of Plahotniuc’s. In the spring of 2005, Nichifor was on the brink of reaching jail and Plahotniuc saved him using his personal relations. Subsequently, Nichifor was obliged to pay for Plahotniuc’s expenses. In October 2005, Nichifor complained to the Centre for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption (CCECC) that Turcan asked a bribe of 15 thousand dollars in exchange for a bank loan of 500 thousand dollars to a trader.
Victor Turcan pleaded not guilty, but he was arrested. Later, the European Court of Human Rights found that the banker had been kept in custody illegally. "Plahotniuc threatened to destroy the bank. He threatened me to plot drugs, briberies, smuggling of weapons, anything just to put me in jail, he said he would make me homeless. The representatives of the CCECC subsequently addressed the same questions that he had asked me in the meeting of the Board. It seems that the CCECC is hand in hand with Plahotniuc," Turcan said in an interview for Jurnal de Chisinau in 2005.
The newspaper Timpul (Time) published in late 2005, a part of Victor Turcan’s complaint, addressed in February to the Head of Information and Security Service (ISS), Ion Ursu. "Vladimir Plahotniuc, director of Petrom Moldova, came and said that he was the owner of that package. At the same time, he warned me that he intended to buy a stake of 51% of all the bank shares and I should not create any obstacles to him".
In 2011, however, Victor Turcan accused Topa of his misfortunes, "They fraudulently appropriated a 14% stake in Victoriabank. Currently, when the dispossessed owners regained their shares, they are not even listed as the bank's shareholders. The name of Vlad Plahotniuc appeared everywhere. During those years, however, examining the documents, I came to the conclusion that Victor and Viorel Topa used Plahotniuc’s name."
Victor Turcan returned to the presidency of Victoriabank in 2011.
In 2011, Victor Topa was charged and sentenced to imprisonment for having allegedly stripped of stakes, under the threat of death, Galina Proidisvet, shareholder of Victoriabank. Topa denied the accusations and said that Proidisvet had voluntarily sold him her shares, while the complaint had been lodged under the influence of Plahotniuc.
Please note that Proidisvet is a relative of Victor Turcan. She held a 15 % stake in Victoribank worth $ 9 million.
In 2011, Victor Topa was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment, and in 2012, his partner and brother, Viorel Topa, was sentenced to a prison term of 8 years.
The two have repeatedly stated that, in fact, Vladimir Plahotniuc dispossessed them of a 35 % stake in Victoriabank.
In 2010, in a response given to Ziarul de Garda, Plahotniuc accused Victor and Viorel Topa, "Not knowing the ins and outs of the scandalous change of Victoriabank’s shareholders in 2005, as a businessman interested in the banking business, I accepted the offer to involve in the bank management. I have always been a manager, engaged in various businesses that were subsequently successfully developed. It was a professional challenge to me to deal with a strong bank. Otherwise, common business with Topa brothers brought only unpleasant surprises to me. I later found out what criminal methods they had used to dispossess Galina Proidisvet, and perhaps others as well, of bank shares. I understand how they mocked the man who had made the first private banking institution in Moldova. And I realized that they had used my name and the names of other people, including from the government, to cover up. Since then, I have stopped any cooperation with them or with their entourage."
Links between Topa, Plahotniuc and Victor But
Coincidentally or not, but the relations between Topa and Plahotniuc got worse in 2008 after the arrest of Victor But, a former officer of the Russian army, accused and condemned by the American justice for having organized the largest world private network of weapons trafficking. In 2010, Thailand decided to extradite Victor But to the United States, where, in 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment. The hearings of But’s case, revealed several piquant moments, which place the Republic of Moldova on the world map of arms trafficking.
Investigations reveal that both Plahotniuc and Topa had been involved in But’s schemes in Moldova.
The German Junge Welt wrote in June 2016 that Victor Topa had made his first million by trafficking in arms, drugs and diamonds. The publication also claimed that Victor Topa made his second or third million from the sale of an airplane, which belonged to the German Chancellor and subsequently arrived in Iraq.
Victor But, who had visited Chisinau several times, implemented in Moldova some of his schemes, which brought him money from the arms trade. He managed to make this through Renan, Jet Line International and Aerocom. These companies are included in the reports of Amnesty International and Control Arms.
Douglas Farah, a former journalist of Washington Post, wrote in his investigations about the involvement of Aerocom in Victor But’s network. In these articles, the Moldovan company is also accused of transporting cocaine. "Aerocom, a Moldovan company, which is related to But, obtained in 2004 a contract with the US military to carry 200,000 AK-47s and millions of rounds of ammunition from Bosnia to Iraq," Douglas Farah wrote.
Ziarul de Garda also wrote in 2006, "Aerocom had been involved in several activities, covered by contracts in Africa and Asia". The reports of international organizations accused Aerocom of cooperation with arms dealers, who made transactions with Al Qaeda.
Vlad Plahotniuc denied having any links with Aerocom. He denied the information only four years later, in 2010, in an interview to the newspaper Timpul. Moreover, on 13 September 2011, Vlad Plahotniuc, First Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, claimed in a press statement that, in fact, Aerocom is backed by Topa brothers".
"There is information about a series of investigations, aimed at the people concerned, regarding extremely serious issues: illegal arms trafficking, involving of Aerocom in the notorious case of Victor But, investigated by the CIA; kidnapping and death threats; cases monitored by the UN agencies; large-scale financial frauds, etc.", Plahotniuc stated in a statement delivered to the press.
Viorel Topa categorically denied that he or Victor Topa had anything to do with Aerocom. "It is a blatant lie of Plahotniuc’s brand," the businessman said.
It is curious but Aerocom is active even today. Its founders are Valentin and Victor Podarilov, who are father and son. It is interesting that while Victor Topa was director of AirMoldova, Valentin Podarilov was first deputy director of the State Administration of Civil Aviation.
In 1997, Podarilov resigned and founded the Aerocom Company, while Victor Topa took over as general director of the State Administration of Civil Aviation, a position he held until 2001, when he was appointed Minister of Transport in the Government led by Tarlev.
Jet Line International is another Moldovan aviation company that appeared in the UN reports for its complicity in weapons trafficking. The firm had allegedly collaborated with the Department for International Development (DFID) to ensure work in Iraq and was called by the US government an associate of Victor But. In February - May 2004, the Jet Line International transported cargo for arms smugglers in Libya.
Jet Line International, which is currently active, was founded in 2000 by Igor Bondarciuc and Leonid Dovjenco, and has the same legal address as Aerocom: 31 August 1989 Str., 129, Buiucani, Chisinau.
The latter two companies, along with Aerocom, are listed as founding companies of the Insurer Afes-M, whose manager is Victor Podarilov, Valentin Podarilov’s son.
Boris Salov, a veteran of Moldovan aviation, and a good friend of both Victor Topa and Vladimir Plahotniuc, is among invisible founders of these firms.
Boris Salov. Source: jc.md
On 2 August 2013, Boris Salov established Avia Invest LLC, and on 31 August 2013, Avia Invest LLC took into concession Chisinau International Airport for a period of 49 years, undertaking to invest in the development of the Airport infrastructure 244.2 million euros. In 2014, controversial businessman Illan Shor became chairman of the management Board of Avia Invest LLC.
What are the companies that in 2005 took over a significant package of shares in Victoriabank? According to an investigation, carried out by Jurnal de Chisinau, they are Atrium LTD (Belize), Victoria Invest LTD (UK), Program Invest and Repcor Com (Moldova), which had acquired the shares of Danube Fund.
Program Invest was established on 18 May 2004 by Nicolai Ambroskin (1% capital) and the Moldovan-Russian company Afes-M (99%). In its turn, the main shareholder of Afes-M is Eristal Prim (79%), consisting of Verelcom and Sapin Extrim. Two-thirds of the shares in Verelcom belonged to Victor Valentinovici Podarilov, director of Afes-M, and a third to Irina Podarilov. Other founders of Afes-M at that time were Air Moldova (5.3%), Renan (3%), and Aerocom (5.3).
Victoria Invest Ltd was the company that had direct connections to Plahotniuc. In the autumn of 2003, Victoria Invest Ltd bought a 35% stake in Petrom Moldova, Romanian society representation, controlled since 2001 by Vladimir Plahotniuc.
For two years or so, the war between the two oligarchs turned into a political one. Currently, the ball is on Plahotniuc’s pitch, who with the removal of Marian Lupu from the presidential race and Igor Dodon’s win in the presidential election of November 2016, came to the helm of the ruling party. However, Victor Topa from Germany doesn’t give in and fights fiercely through his godson, Andrei Nastase.
This war could come to an end in the autumn of 2018. Until then, we are sure to find out other piquant details about the businesses of the two comrades, Victor Topa and Vladimir Plahotniuc.