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Moldova's Ex-PM Detained After Parliament Lifts His Immunity

Prime Minister of Moldova Vlad Filat speaks during a press conference prior to attending a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels in June 2012.

Moldovan authorities have detained former Prime Minister Vlad Filat, a leader of the ruling pro-European coalition, in connection with the purported theft of some $1 billion from the banking system that jolted the ex-Soviet country's political and economic life.

Television footage showed masked officials with Moldova's anticorruption bureau handcuffing Filat on October 15, just hours after parliament voted to lift the politician's parliamentary immunity so that an investigation into corruption allegations can be launched against him.

Filat, who leads Moldova's Liberal Democratic Party, was set to be held for questioning until October 18 but could remain in pretrial detention longer if a court issues an arrest warrant against him.

Prosecutor Corneliu Gurin alleges that Filat took bribes totaling about $250 million from a businessman and indirectly gave him control of one of three Moldovan banks from which $1.5 billion went missing ahead of the country's November 2014 parliamentary elections.

Gurin told lawmakers there was "conclusive evidence that Filat committed fraud worth hundreds of millions of euros at the Savings Bank."

The businessman allegedly involved in the disappearance of funds, Ilan Shor, was chairman of the board at Savings Bank from April to November 28, 2014.

The other banks with missing funds are Social Bank and Unibank.

A confidential report by the U.S. investigative consultancy Kroll that was leaked to the public in May documents in detail how companies tied to Shor gradually took control of the banks and then allegedly issued massive loans to Shor-connected companies during a three-day period in November.

Filat, who served as prime minister from 2009 to 2013, has denied wrongdoing and says the allegations against him are politically motivated.

"This is just a cheap show. I can prove my innocence in court," he told reporters on October 15.

The apparent theft of nearly one-fifth of Moldova's annual gross domestic product rocked the country in the wake of the leaked report.

Moldova's central bank was forced to issue the three banks about 16 billion lei ($870 million) in emergency loans to keep the economy from collapsing.

Demonstrators have staged ongoing protests in central Chisinau since early September to demand an investigation into the missing money and criticize the pro-Western governing coalition's failure to tackle graft in the ex-Soviet country.

A protest leader, Renato Usatii, vowed to purchase a Mercedes vehicle for any policeman who handcuffed Filat inside the parliamentary chamber.

Usatii, the millionaire head of the relatively new Patria (Homeland) party, says that he wants to run for president.

Moldova's main opposition party, the Socialist Party headed by Igor Dodon, has also supported the protests.

Both Patria and the Socialist Party openly advocate for Moldova to turn toward Moscow by joining the Russian-led Eurasia Economic Union.

A total of 79 of the Moldovan parliament's 101 members -- from both the opposition and two governing coalition parties -- voted to strip Filat of immunity from prosecution on October 15.

Filat's fellow Liberal Democrats, however, walked out in a show of solidarity with their leader.

The current prime minister of Moldova, Liberal Democrat Valeriu Strelet, said he would not resign from office, despite the vote by his coalition partners.

Strelet said the government "will continue its activity," and that his resignation would "give satisfaction to those who wish ill on Moldova."

With reporting by AP and Reuters