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Moldovan Court "Smears" U.S. Reputation

(Washington, D.C. -- February 8, 2006) Former U.S. diplomat E. Wayne Merry says that last month's decision by a Moldovan court to convict a former minister in secret proceedings has serious, negative and far-reaching implications for the U.S.-Moldova relationship. Merry, a Senior Associate with the American Foreign Policy Council told a RFE/RL audience last week that the "political trial," which ended with the conviction of former Moldovan defense minister Valeriu Pasat for doing harm to Moldova and a sentence of 10 years of hard labor needs to be investigated by the U.S. Congress.

Merry told the briefing audience how, as a U.S. foreign service officer assigned to the U.S. Department of Defense as Regional Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia (1995-1997), he began negotiations with the Moldovan government in early 1997 for the "purchase not to use" of MiG-29 aircraft left in Moldova after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to prevent them from falling into the hands of "a third party widely reported to be Iran." A previous Moldovan government had already sold "a reported four MiGs to Yemen," Merry said, and the U.S. government was concerned that the remaining 27 MiGs, found by U.S. technicians to be in "excellent combat condition" with "nuclear-dual" capabilities, not enter the black weapons market or fall "into the wrong hands."

Merry's negotiating partner was Pasat, who Merry said rejected the U.S. offer. It was Moldova's then-President, Petru Lucinschi who overruled Pasat and agreed to the "honorable transaction." The final agreement, concluded after Merry had moved on to another assignment, provided a much-needed infusion of direct foreign assistance to Moldova, Merry said, and made it possible for the U.S. to make the jets "non-usable." The offer, as accepted by Moldova, was reported in the media as being $40 million plus an unspecified amount of excess defense materials for 21 of the 27 MiGs; these details have not, however, been revealed by either government. The deal met "the asymmetric goals of both countries," Merry said, and saved Moldova from having severe sanctions applied against it "under U.S. law" if the jets had been sold to Iran, as the MiGs "had no legitimate market, only a black market value."

Since his arrest in March 2005, Pasat, whose health is reportedly failing, has only been allowed to see his mother. Merry said that he was concerned that Pasat may not live long enough to see his conviction be considered before the European the European Court on Human Rights. According to Merry, numerous violations of law occurred in the course of the secret Moldovan court proceedings against Pasat, during which the court refused evidence for the defense -- including depositions cleared by the State and Defense Departments by Merry himself and former U.S. Ambassador to Moldova John Todd Stewart, who was serving there at the time the agreement was concluded.

This January 17, 2006 decision by the court, Merry said, has implicated the U.S. government in the affair, because the finding of "fraud" by the Moldovan court involves the "use of American funds in an international transaction." According to Merry, the actions of the Moldovan Communist Party, which returned to power after the election of current President Vladimir Voronin in 2001, are a "manifestation that it has moved back to Leninist form." He believes that this should be of great concern to the U.S. government, even more so than the case of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khordokovsky. Merry predicted that, if an investigation in the United States were to take place, it will prove Pasat's innocence and the legitimacy of the deal. Merry suggested that Pasat's involvement in the opposition Moldova Democratic Block party and his employment with the Russian electric monopoly Unified Energy Systems may have made him a convenient political target of the Moldovan authorities.