CHISINAU -- Moldovan prosecutors have charged Vlad Plahotniuc, a powerful oligarch and political figure, for his role in a massive bank theft, and will seek his extradition from the United States.
Prosecutor-General Alexandru Stoianoglo said on May 18 that Plahotniuc was being charged with forming an organized criminal group, extortion, and fraud.
As soon as the indictment is prepared and translated into English, Moldova will seek his extradition from the United States, Stoianoglo said.
The former head of the Democratic Party, Plahotniuc fled Moldova in June 2019 after being forced from parliament as part of a government shakeup brokered by Russia, the United States, and other European partners.
He has been linked to what is known as the "theft of the century," a scandal involving the disappearance of more than $1 billion -- totaling nearly one-eighth of Moldova's GDP -- from the country's biggest banks between 2012 and 2014.
The scandal plunged Europe's poorest state into turmoil and ultimately forced the government to bail out the three banks with a $870 million emergency loan.
RFE/RL reported in March that Plahotniuc was in the United States and authorities there were preparing to deport him after he was subject to an earlier visa ban.
In January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Plahotniuc's "corrupt actions undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Moldova."
The Prosecutor-General's Office in Moldova said the charges against Plahotniuc were based on "indisputable evidence" from a report by the U.S.-based international investigative firm Kroll.
The report documented how companies and individuals tied to a 28-year-old businessman took control of three major banks during the period of the scandal, in which money was funneled overseas through dubious loans, shell companies, asset swaps, and shareholder deals.
The businessman, Ilan Shor, then allegedly issued massive loans to his companies during a three-day period in November 2014, according to the report, which was later leaked and published by an opposition lawmaker.
Shor, who is currently believed to be in Israel, was charged in 2016 and later convicted of money laundering and embezzlement in connection with the theft.
Also in 2016, former Prime Minister Vlad Filat was found guilty of taking bribes related to the theft. He was released early in December 2019 after serving three years in prison.
Prosecutors said that through Shor, Plahotniuc allegedly withdrew $100 million from the former state bank Banca de Economii.
The funds were subsequently covered from the reserves of the National Bank to buy the insurance company Asito, a hotel, a fashion business, and a personal jet.