Moldovan police stage raids to uncover plot aimed at blocking Interpol

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Police in Moldova, aided by French and U.S. colleagues, raided dozens of premises on Tuesday as part of an investigation into an alleged plot to block the actions of Interpol against fugitive criminals, a top prosecutor said.

Veronica Dragalin, the country's top anti-corruption prosecutor, told a news conference the operation was launched on the basis of information provided last month by France's financial prosecutor acting at the behest of Interpol.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation was also involved, as were British officials, she said.

Thirty-three premises were searched, Dragalin said, digital equipment seized and four people detained for 72 hours.

"This morning, anti-corruption prosecutors conducted searches as part of a joint investigation by Moldova and France, with assistance from the FBI in connection with a corruption scheme," Dragalin told reporters.

She said that evidence from the investigation showed that criminal groups with links in Russia, Ukraine and other countries allegedly bribed individuals in exchange for help in removing "red notices" from Interpol's data base.

Investigators, she said, believed that several million dollars were paid out to civil servants to prevent such notices being issued about individuals who may have taken refuge in Moldova or elsewhere.

The French financial prosecutor said it had launched its investigation in August 2023. French and Moldovan authorities clinched an agreement last month at the Dutch headquarters of the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation.

Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organisation with 196 members, issues a "Red Notice" as a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and detain a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action.

The notice is based on an arrest warrant or court order issued by the judicial authorities in the requesting country.

Pro-European Moldovan President Maia Sandu was elected by a landslide in 2020 on a platform of uprooting corruption and has made EU membership the cornerstone of her policies. She has called a referendum on joining the EU in October.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas, additional reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten, Editing by Ron Popeski and Marguerita Choy)