Moldova central bank officials detained over $1 bln fraud

CHISINAU, March 5 (Reuters) - Moldova has detained two current and two former senior central bank officials on suspicion of involvement in a $1 billion theft in 2014-2015 that shook the nation, authorities said on Thursday.

The disappearance of that money from three banks - Banca de Economii, Banca Sociala and Unibank - plunged the impoverished former Soviet republic into economic and political crisis and was dubbed locally the “theft of the century”.

“In the morning, I sanctioned the ... detention of these individuals. These events have long been prepared,” Moldova’s Prosecutor General Alexander Stoeanoglo told reporters.

The four were named as central bank vice-presidents Aereliu Cincilei and Ion Sturzu, ex-bank president Dorin Dragutanu and ex-bank vice-president Emma Tabirta. Cincilei was taken in his office while Sturzu was on holiday, the bank said.

“We are confident that the NBM (National Bank of Moldova) was an institution that was directly involved in crimes related to the theft of $1 billion,” Stoeanoglo added.

Representatives for the four could not be immediately reached for comment.

With the scandal seeing the equivalent of an eighth of Moldova’s gross domestic product stolen, there were street protests, the International Monetary Fund and European Union froze aid, the leu currency plunged and inflation soared.

The central bank said in a statement that it had for years collaborated with investigators, making materials, documents and specialists available. “NBM will continue to cooperate fully,” it added.

In 2017, businessman Veaceslav Platon was sentenced to 18 years in prison for money-laundering and fraud linked to the scandal. Former Prime Minister Vlad Filat was also jailed in connection with the scam before being released last year. (Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)