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Moldova's Mysterious Magnate

Moldovan millionaire Ilan Shor has already accumulated a vast fortune in his young life.
Moldovan millionaire Ilan Shor has already accumulated a vast fortune in his young life.

His holdings appear vast, though his public profile is low.

The Israeli-born, Moldovan businessman Ilan Shor may have a fleet of hot cars, a football club, TV stations, and even a Russian pop-star wife, but until now he's managed mostly to escape public scrutiny.

These days, however, his name is on everyone's lips. The 28-year-old Shor, who apparently made a fortune selling duty-free goods at Chisinau International Airport, is now a main suspect in the disappearance of around $1 billion from three Moldovan banks late last year.

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

Shor was placed under temporary house arrest on May 6. Earlier, he said he would cooperate with the investigation and provide all necessary documents.

The missing money, which translated into roughly an eighth of Moldova's total gross domestic product (GDP) at the time of the theft (around a fifth of GDP at current exchange rates), has been dubbed the "heist of the century."

Public Fury

It's not clear from the report, which has no formal legal standing, whether Shor himself bears personal responsibility for the missing money. But Moldovans, understandably, are furious.

"A big majority of Moldovans are very, very angry with this case," says Alina Radu, director of the Chisinau-based investigative newspaper Ziarul de Garda. First, she says, people are angry with the government for failing to prevent the theft. "But they're also angry [with Shor], as the banker, and his family as well."

Though Shor's Russian wife, the pop singer Jasmine, is a fixture on social-media websites and glamor magazines, not much was publicly known about Shor himself or his businesses until the Kroll report was leaked this week.

"He's a very rich person, and very obscure, and very young, so actually he doesn't communicate very much with journalists," Radu says.

Shor's holdings appear to be vast for such a young person, especially given his lack of experience or education in the various sectors his businesses operate in.

In addition to serving as president of the Banca de Economii, one of the three banks involved in the scandal, Shor is best-known as the director of Dufremol, the country's biggest seller of duty-free goods. Dufremol was founded by Shor's father, the late Miron Shor, in 1994.

The Kroll report ties him to several other companies as part of the "Shor Group." These included Danmira, Davema, Caritas Group, Contrade, and Voximar.

Shor also serves on the board of Avia-Invest, the company that manages Chisinau International Airport.

Radu says controversy has surrounded the airport's management and the awarding of concessions to sell duty-free goods such as perfumes, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco.

"There were other businesses who wanted to have duty free in the airport," she says. "And there were a lot of obstacles. It was like a decision from above that only Ilan Shor could have this."

In September 2014, Shor acquired two local TV stations, EuroTV and AltTV. He owns the soccer club FC Milsami Orhei, and the Klassika Insurance company.

Like Father, Like Son

Much of Shor's early wealth doubtless came from his father, who died in 2005. In the few published interviews Shor has given over the years, he identifies his father as a strong influence in his life.

"My dad was with me throughout childhood," he told Moldova's VIP magazine in 2010. "All my so-called problems until 2005 had the same result -- I talked with my father and we found the solution together."

Ilan Shor as a child with his father, Miron
Ilan Shor as a child with his father, Miron

Miron Shor enjoyed a long career as a businessman and Jewish benefactor abroad. It was Miron who brought the family to Moldova from Israel when Ilan was two years old.

Published accounts, at least, speak of Miron as a generous entrepreneur who did much to support Jewish humanitarian causes in Moldova.

It was Miron who in 2002 established the national Moldovan office of the Jewish philanthropy, ORT, which promotes education and vocational training. That position is now headed by Ilan.

I [Heart] Moscow

In the same interview with VIP, Ilan Shor says his favorite city is Moscow -- possibly a diplomatic answer for a man with a Russian wife.

Moldovans appear to have divided feelings about Jasmine's music -- ticket sales for recent performances have not been particularly brisk. And some things about the couple, particularly their wedding in 2011, still rub many the wrong way.

Ilan Shor with his wife Jasmine at their wedding in 2011
Ilan Shor with his wife Jasmine at their wedding in 2011

For a start, the wedding party was held in the former Moldovan parliament building, which -- symbolically at least -- lends the feeling that anything in the country can be bought. "If [Shor] wanted today to hold a wedding in the presidential hall, I think [he could] manage it, because I think he can just get whatever he wants," Radu says.

Shor's recent troubles may be wearing on both the marriage and Jasmine's career -- at least in Moldova. Earlier this year, the pop singer was forced to scratch a planned concert in Chisinau. The cancellation was widely chalked up to her husband's legal woes.

Diana Railean of RFE/RL's Moldovan Service contributed to this report
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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.