CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova’s prime minister resigned on Friday after state prosecutors, whom he has accused of moving slowly over the disappearance of $1 billion from the country’s banks, questioned him over his school certificates.
“I am tendering my resignation because I don’t want to take part in political games ... I am a manager and not a politician and I thought very carefully about my decision,” Chiril Gaburici told journalists.
The departure of the 38-year-old pro-Europe businessman Gaburici after just over 100 days in office comes as the tiny ex-Soviet country, one of Europe’s poorest, seethes with resentment over the missing cash, equivalent to around one-eighth of annual GDP.
The country of 3.5 million lying between Ukraine and Romania has been ruled since 2009 by pro-Western parties which have negotiated a political and free trade deal with the European Union and are dedicated to taking it into mainstream Europe.
But economic mismanagement, trade pressure from Russia and the failure of successive governments to tackle corruption mean nostalgia for Soviet times and traditional links with Moscow remains high among large sections of the population.
The European Commission said Gaburici’s resignation had come at a critical time, when political action was still needed to push through reforms and “redress the dire economic situation of the country”.
“It is crucial that a new stable government is swiftly formed which is empowered to take bold steps ... the massive lost funds need to be recovered and those responsible held accountable,” Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic added.
Popular anger generated by the banking scandal may be reflected in local elections this weekend which many analysts say might show a swing to pro-Moscow parties against Gaburici’s minority coalition government, which is supported by two pro-European parties.
Moldova’s future has come more into focus since Russia seized neighboring Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula last year. Russian troops are stationed in a strip of Moldova since the breakup of the Soviet Union, protecting a self-proclaimed independent statelet called Transdniestria which is loyal to Moscow.
Gaburici’s resignation has to be formally accepted by President Nicolae Timofti. The latter on Friday began to canvas party leaders for candidates for the prime minister’s post, indicating he would accept Gaburici’s departure.
State prosecutors have now opened a case against him over the forgery of school documents to gain entry to higher educational establishments.
Though these charges against Gaburici have long lurked in the background, the prosecutors appear to have brought things to a head after he called last Monday for them to resign because of their inability to track down the embezzlers involved in the banking swindle. He also asked for the resignation of the central bank chief.
Gaburici last Monday denied he had been involved in falsifying his school diplomas - the charges allege a forged signature and official stamp - and said on Friday he would cooperate with the investigation against him.
Though only in power a short time, Gaburici, who formerly ran Moldovan mobile telephone company Moldcell, has been identified with a loss of spending power for the national currency the leu which has lost 35 percent in value against the dollar this year.
Moldova’s economy grew 4.6 percent in 2014 but may contract 2 percent this year, according to a government forecast.
Russia, the main supplier of energy, has banned imports of wine, vegetables and meat from Moldova in retaliation for its westwards moves, though Moscow’s food quality supervisory body on Friday said it would ease restrictions on imports of some fruit from Transdniestria and the Gagaauza area, both regions which support close links with Russia.
Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels, Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Heavens