Moldova turns to Russia to seek extradition of convicted politician

The state flag of Moldova flies outside the country's embassy in Moscow

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova is now seeking extradition from Russia of an opposition politician convicted of mass fraud after he moved there from exile in Israel, the country's justice minister said on Saturday.

Ilan Shor, a pro-Russian business magnate, was sentenced last year in absentia to 15 years in prison in connection with the disappearance from the banking system of $1 billion in 2014, dubbed Moldova's "theft of the century".

Shor has organised noisy street demonstrations against pro-European President Maia Sandu and urged Moldovans to vote "no" in a referendum authorities have called for October on joining the European Union by 2030.

Justice Minister Veronica-Mihailov Moraru said Moldova would redirect its extradition appeals to Moscow after Shor said he had moved to Russia and announced he had been granted Russian citizenship.

"The justice ministry has not been informed of this by the Russian authorities," she told TVR Moldova television.

"If we are advised officially that he holds Russian citizenship, we will analyse the circumstances and consider how to act in procedural terms."

Moldova, an ex-Soviet state lying between Ukraine and Romania, had repeatedly sought Shor's extradition from Israel.

After his conviction, a party bearing Shor's name was banned by the Constitutional Court and a new party, called "Chance", was formed in its place.

Shor is the driving force behind the "Victory" electoral bloc launched last month -- in Moscow -- to oppose the EU referendum and Sandu's bid for re-election at a poll to be held on the same date.

He said last week he wanted to become prime minister if a president favourable to his views would nominate him.

Sandu denounces Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and describes Russia and corruption as the biggest threats to her country.

The Victory bloc, made up of four parties, campaigns with the slogan "No to the EU" and calls for Moldova instead to join the Eurasian Economic Union -- a Russian-led regional grouping.

It has not yet decided on a candidate to run against Sandu. The opposition Socialists and Communists, also friendly to Moscow, oppose the pro-EU referendum but have shown little inclination to cooperate with Shor and the Victory bloc.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas, Editing by Ron Popeski and David Gregorio)