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Moldova asks U.S. to extradite tycoon Plahotniuc over $1 billion theft

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CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova said on Tuesday it had asked the United States to extradite Vladimir Plahotniuc, a business tycoon charged in his native country with involvement in the theft of $1 billion from banks in 2014-2015.

Plahotniuc, one of Moldova’s richest people, was highly influential in politics, leading the Democratic Party and serving three times as a member of parliament, before moving to the United States last year after the party lost power in an election.

Last month, Prosecutor General Alexander Stoeanoglo said he had charged Plahotniuc with creation of an organised criminal group, extortion and fraud.

Representatives for Plahotniuc were unavailable for comment but his lawyers last year denied that he had been involved in an affair known locally as the “theft of the century”, in which the equivalent of an eighth of the impoverished country’s annual output was stolen from three of its largest banks.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Plahotniuc’s actions undermined the rule of law and “severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Moldova”.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman declined to comment on the extradition request.

Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; writing by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Kevin Liffey