Can a prominent politician get a fair trial? – The Washington Times

Imagine a wildly successful businessman who moonlights as a politician. Imagine that same man is elected to office and serves one tumultuous four-year term, perpetually under suspicion of wrongdoing amid apparent Russian connections. Picture this same politician constantly clashing with the media and with the political party in charge.

Eventually, this man is taken to court for a variety of charges, some connected to his wealth, some for alleged political misdeeds. He continually and publicly asks whether or not he can receive a fair trial.

Now for the shocker. The subject of this story is not former President Donald Trump.

Ilan Shor is an Israel-born Moldovan politician. In 2015, he was elected mayor of the small city of Orhei in a landslide, receiving 62% of the vote. He was elected despite being under house arrest at the time. He became the president of his political party, the Șor Party, and became a constant thorn in the side of Moldova’s controlling party. In 2017, while serving as both mayor of his city and president of his party, Shor was sentenced to 7½ years in prison for fraud. He lived under house arrest.

Was he a corrupt politician? The public didn’t seem to buy it. According to polls from 2019, as Shorconcluded his term as mayor, he was ranked as the third-most trusted politician in Moldova, behind only then-Moldovan President Igor Dodon and Zinaida Greceanii, who became President of the Moldovan Parliament immediately after the poll was taken.

Once Shor left office, he appealed his prison sentence. He also skipped out on house arrest and fled the country. He did not, however, abandon his country. On the contrary, despite his geographic absence and in the midst of the legal chaos, Shor was elected in 2019 to Moldova‘s Parliament. He was reelected in the 2021 parliamentary election as one of six members of the Sor Party.

The public, it seems, wasn’t so confident in the verdict of the Moldovan court.

The court would not be deterred, however. This past April, the appeals court not only upheld Shor’s conviction for money laundering, breach of trust and fraud, but also doubled his prison sentence to 15 years. After his conviction and unsuccessful appeal, Shor was removed as a member of Parliament.

Was it merely a case of the law catching up with a corrupt politician? One might think so, except for the overzealous hammer with which the sitting government systematically came down on Shor’s party in the immediate aftermath.

In May, the Sor Party’s vice president, Marina Tauber, was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office on charges of illegally funding the party.

In June, the Sor Party itself was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Moldova.

At the end of July, the Moldovan Parliament voted to ban the leaders of the dissolved Sor Party — including Ilan Shor — from standing in elections for a period of five years.

In Shor’s case, the sitting government controlling Moldova wasn’t alone. Shor is unabashedly pro-Russian, which does not earn him much popularity in the West. Last October, he was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control as a specially designated National under the Global Magnitsky Act over his association with the Russian government.

This human rights accountability law was created by Congress in 2016. It allows the U.S. government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world. This past May, the European Union imposed similar sanctions against Shor, due to his association with the Russian government.

The question isn’t whether Shor is an angel nor if his positions are helpful in any way to the United States. Neither appears to be the case. What is a reasonable question, however, is whether he has been or can get fair legal treatment in Moldova as part of the opposition to the political apparatus in control.

Banning a convicted criminal who lives halfway around the world and outlawing his political party certainly makes it seem that the powers that be in Moldova were worried. They took it a step further, however. In December, six TV channels in Moldova linked to Shor were temporarily suspended, allegedly in the name of preserving the truth.

Sound familiar? Information outlets being told what side of a story they can and cannot report? It isn’t just Moldova.

The bottom line is whether a high-profile, sometimes belligerent politician who battles with the party in power and with the media itself can get a fair trial for his alleged transgressions.

William Bowring is a professor of law at Birkbeck College at the University of London and a barrister since 1974. He is recognized as an expert on legal systems in the former Soviet Union, of which Moldova was a part. He has given expert evidence for 20 years, on more than 100 occasions, in a variety of proceedings concerning several countries of the former Soviet Union.

Professor Bowring has issued a report raising serious concerns in relation to the legal case against the Israeli-Moldovan businessman and politician. In answering the question of whether the judicial system in Moldova could guarantee Shor the right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Mr. Bowring is clear.

“My own conclusion,” he says in his report, “supported cumulatively by all these reports, is that Mr Shor would have faced (as would any person of his prominence and unpopularity with the regime) a real risk and danger of prejudice in the criminal proceedings against him in Moldova, of an unfair trial, and of grave violations of his rights under the ECHR.”

His conclusions are illustrated by the fact that between 1997, when Moldova ratified the ECHR, and 2020, the European Court of Human Rights delivered over 470 judgments on Moldovan cases, 90% of which identify violations by Moldovan courts. Ouch.

The professor Bow’s report came out just days after the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an order against a Moldovan national and former employee of the International Monetary Fund, holding him in conditional civil contempt for failing to comply with two subpoenas.

Shor had asked the D.C. court to grant a deposition with a Moldovan national and former employee of the IMF, Matei Dohotaru, in relation to Shor’s criminal proceedings in Moldova.

Dohotaru was a key witness against Shor in the Moldovan bank fraud case, which is still pending in Moldovan courts. He provided evidence against Shor in 2017 and then immediately left the country. His credibility has been called into question. The U.S. court agreed that it was fair and reasonable that Shor be able to question Dohotaru.

Mr. Dohotaru, however, never appeared for his depositions in Washington and has been held in conditional civil contempt for failing to comply with two subpoenas. The court issued daily fines of $500 and $1,000 against him and ordered him to pay Shor’s legal costs.

Refusing to comply with a federal subpoena is a serious offense in the United States. Shor’s team describes the court win in the U.S. as a “breakthrough” that should be helpful in his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Why does it matter? Basic human rights determine that justice should be fair, regardless of where on earth you live or what your station in life is. Even if someone is brash, rude or self-centered, justice needs to be wrapped only in truth. Whether someone is rich or poor, likable or offensive, politically popular or a societal pariah, justice must be blind and carry a balanced scale.

That’s true in Moldova for Ilan Shor. It’s also true in the United States for Donald Trump.

Politics has no legitimate place in the courtroom.

This article first appeared in The Washington Times.

By Tim Constantine

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