CHISINAU (Reuters) - A pro-Russian opposition leader in Moldova was arrested on Friday in connection with the tapping of telephone conversations that he has said prove corruption in high levels of government.
Renato Usatii, who is the head of Our Party but does not have a seat in parliament, has led anti-government protests triggered by the theft of $1 billion from the banking system, equivalent to one-eighth of the ex-Soviet country’s GDP.
Television footage showed him being arrested in Chisinau’s airport on arrival from Moscow. His lawyer, Anna Ursaki, confirmed that he had been detained and said it was linked to wiretapping.
On Tuesday, Usatii posted online telephone recordings that purported to show former prime minister Vlad Filat asking for bribes from a local businessman, Ilan Shor, who has been accused along with Filat of involvement in the $1 billion banking swindle. Both have denied any involvement.
At the time, Usatii said he had recorded their conversations and knowingly broke the law as it was in the public interest.
“I committed this violation in order to prove that Shor and Filat are partners in crime,” he said, adding that he also had recordings of other high-level politicians and businessmen.
Moldovans have camped out in Chisinau since early September, protesting against government corruption and demanding that those in power be held accountable for the banking fraud.
The case has held up the disbursement of budget support from international lenders and highlighted the corrosive rivalry between oligarch groups in Moldova that might yet derail the course it wants to chart towards European integration.
Parliament will vote on a no-confidence motion against the pro-Europe coalition government next week after opposition leaders submitted a request to parliament on Thursday.
Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Alison Williams