An estimated 20,000 protesters gathered in Moldova’s capital of Chisinau for the eighth consecutive day Sunday to rally for an investigation into a fraud scheme that wiped $1.5 billion from three national banks. Protesters say the scandal, which amounted to around one-eighth of the country’s gross domestic product, has damaged living standards.
Hundreds of demonstrators have remained camped out in Chisinau’s central plaza since the protests organized by civic group Dignity and Truth began on Sept. 6. Many say they will stay until their demands are met. In addition to a bank probe, protesters are calling for the resignation of President Nicolae Timofti and early parliamentary elections in March as anger over endemic corruption in the impoverished former Soviet country hits its boiling point.
The alleged scam came to light in November as the National Bank of Moldova took three banks – the Savings Bank, Social Bank and Unibank – under special administration to cover the massive losses. A May audit by financial investigation firm Kroll reported that a chain of complex transactions by a network of companies and individuals tied to Ilan Shor, a 28-year-old businessman, contributed to the financial hemorrhage. Shor said he was not involved in any wrongdoing.
The bank fraud scheme has led prices to rise in Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe where families make an average of around $300 a month. Residents have seen electricity rates jump by some 35 percent, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The most recent wave of protests brought around 35,000 protesters to Chisinau last week, marking an even larger turnout than the 2009 demonstrations that led to the fall of the Communist government.
Members of Dignity and Truth met with Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet Sept. 10 to discuss their demands. Strelet said he was willing to negotiate the electricity rate hikes and an investigation into the bank fraud scheme, but dismissed their request for a dissolution of the government, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.