CHISINAU, April 20 A Moldovan court sentenced
businessman Veaceslav Platon to 18 years in prison on Thursday
for money-laundering and fraud linked to the disappearance of $1
billion from Moldova's banking system.
Known locally as the "theft of the century", the scandal saw
the equivalent of an eighth of the impoverished former Soviet
republic's gross domestic product stolen from three of its
largest banks between 2012-2014.
An investigation into the banking fraud has identified
around 40 people who either benefited from the scheme or
facilitated it, but most of them have yet to be publicly named.
The court found Platon guilty of embezzling some of the
money that disappeared - around 800 million lei ($42 million) -
from lender Banca de Economii, which subsequently went bankrupt.
According to the judge's ruling, he must repay the money and
serve 18 years in prison.
Platon, who maintains his innocence, said he was the victim
of a witch-hunt.
"Look into my eyes, gentlemen judges. Are you not ashamed?
This is not a verdict, it's a political show trial," he said
after the sentence was read out.
A former prime minister, Vlad Filat, has also been jailed in
connection with the scam, in which money was siphoned overseas
over years through dodgy loans, asset swaps and shareholder
The scandal triggered street protests, the International
Monetary Fund and the European Union froze aid, the leu currency
plunged to record lows and inflation climbed into double digits.
Many Moldovans believe other members of the pro-EU elite
apart from Filat were also involved, or at least complicit, in
Platon was detained in July 2016 and is separately suspected
of involvement in a Russian-led money laundering operation that
funnelled around $22 billion of Russian money through the
Moldovan financial system between 2011-2014. He also denies any
wrongdoing in that case.
He was denied the right to attend much of the trial because
of alleged bad behaviour that included insulting the judges.
His lawyer, Eduard Rudenko, said this and other restrictions
imposed on the defence amounted to a violation of his
($1 = 19.2200 Moldovan lei)
(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Gareth Jones)