No matter how bad you think things may have gotten in the United States – between official corruption and white or blue collar crime – things could always be worse. And they certainly would be if you lived in Moldova. As if they didn’t have enough problems already with Vladimir Putin giving them the side-eye, they have to deal with a bank robber now. That probably doesn’t sound like all that big of a deal to most of you. After all, we have people robbing banks all the time in America. But this was a little different. The culprit in this case robbed the major banks of the nation in a sweeping play which wiped out roughly one eighth of the entire nation’s GDP.
KYIV, Ukraine — When thousands filled the streets of Moldova’s capital on Sunday, their complaint was pretty significant.
Late last year, about $1 billion disappeared in an apparent banking scandal that’s mystified Europe’s poorest country.
To put that sum into perspective, it’s an eighth of the country’s GDP. In United States terms, that portion of the economy would add up to more than $2 trillion
Under arrest is a local businessman, Ilan Shor, who used three Moldovan banks to issue huge loans to companies under his control. According to US private auditors who looked into the deal, those “loans” weren’t exactly on the up and up and the money disappeared. And according to CNN, he pulled this off in just three days. Strangely, it took months for the banks – at least one of which is state run – to catch on to the scheme. How does more than 12% of the nation’s wealth walk out the door and nobody even notices for weeks on end?
This country is probably viewed as ripe for a takeover by the Russians precisely because it’s been such a mess ever since the fall of the Soviet Union. There was talk for quite a while of bringing them into the European Union, but their own officials have pretty much given up on that idea. They need more economic aid from the EU, but the restrictions placed on the money have proven hard to achieve. What elections they have managed to hold have been held up as suspect both inside the country and in the eyes of international observers. Moldova simply doesn’t appear to be stabilizing.
Still, even in the midst of turmoil such as that, it’s rather shocking that somebody could electronically walk off with a billion dollars over a long weekend and not have anyone even notice for months. Exit question: am I totally crazy to think that Team Putin winds up at the bottom of this, assuming a thorough and competent investigation is ever completed? Not only is his regime famous for robberies on an epic scale, but unrest in this country is clearly in his interest if he’s thinking of moving in some day. And what better way to foment unrest without firing a shot than collapsing the banks?