Any investigation into the Open Dialog Foundation will have to focus on its links to serious economic crimes in Moldova and Kazakhstan, say critics of the human rights organization, writes James Hipwell.
When Romanian MEP Andi Cristea (pictured) called for an investigation into the funding of controversial think-tank the Open Dialog Foundation (ODF) this month, he did so knowing that the organization has questions to answer about its relationship with notorious fraudsters Veaceaslav Platon and Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Cristea, who was elected to the European Parliament in 2014 on behalf of the PSD, Romania’s Social Democratic Party, and is vice-president of the European Parliament’s committee on foreign affairs, believes the ODF is nothing more than an “image-washing” service for high-profile criminals.
He told EU Reporter: “Considering the ODF’s efforts to defend one or more controversial characters, I believe that significant resources are needed to investigate in Brussels the transparency of the ODF’s funding and the correct recording of lobbying activities in the public register.”
The ODF, which has an office in Brussels, is headed by Lyudmyla Kozlovska, a political activist who was deported from the European Union last month after intervention from the Polish government. She was detained on 13 August after flying to Brussels, but then sent back to Ukraine the following day.
Poland’s Internal Security Agency revealed that Kozlovska was deported due to “serious doubts regarding the funding of the Open Dialog Foundation Ms Kozlovska is running”.
“As a result, Ms Kozlovska has been banned from entering the territory of Poland and the EU,” the agency wrote in a statement.
Kozlovska’s supporters say the deportation is politically motivated and point to the fact that she and her Polish husband, Bartosz Kramek, had criticized the government for what they see as its efforts to undermine the country’s democracy.
Now back in Ukraine, Kozlovska is completely cut off from her life on the other side of the border, including her family and husband. However, it has not stopped her being granted a temporary visa by the German government so that she could address a debate at the Bundestag earlier this month.
Kozlovska says her deportation did not come as a complete surprise.
She told the Washington Post she has lived through more than a year of harassment by the Polish government after her husband posted a statement on Facebook criticizing the democratic rollback in Poland and calling for civil disobedience.
His comment, which went viral, called for the non-payment of taxes, mass demonstrations and strikes, the creation of tent cities with the immunity of deputies from the opposition, and the blocking of the premises of politicians.
But if Kozlovska’s high-profile deportation has done anything, it has shone a light on the Open Dialog Foundation and how it is funded.
Although it has been reported that billionaire financier and noted Putin critic George Soros has donated money to the think-tank, there are now real concerns in Brussels that the ODF is little more than a mouthpiece for criminals prepared to fill its coffers.
There appears to be evidence that connects the ODF to several notorious criminals. It has campaigned for Moldovan fraudster Veaceaslav Platon, members of his family, and some of his key associates.
The ODF first published a communication on Platon’s case in October 2016, two months after he was extradited from Ukraine to Moldova. It has been vocally defending Platon and has organised conferences and visits to European institutions. These events were framed as discussions on the scaling back of the democratisation process in Moldova, and the corruption of the judicial system in the country.
For example, Platon’s lawyer, Ana Ursachi, a key contact of Kozlovska’s, spoke in April 2017 at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) as part of an event entitled “Interpol’s Red Notices: How to Implement the Recommendations of Pace Legal Committee” which was co-hosted by the ODF and German politican, Bernd Fabritius.
In April 2017, a Moldovan court sentenced Platon to 18 years in prison for money-laundering and fraud linked to the disappearance of $1 billion from Moldova’s banking system.
Described by newspapers in Moldova as the “theft of the century”, the scandal saw the equivalent of an eighth of the impoverished former Soviet republic’s gross domestic product stolen from three of its largest banks between 2012-2014.
The court found Platon guilty of embezzling some of the money that disappeared – around 800 million lei ($42 million) – from lender Banca de Economii, which subsequently went bankrupt.
Platon, who still maintains his innocence, said he was the victim of a “witch-hunt” and a “political show trial,” a view which the ODF has promoted.
Cristea also believes links between another convicted fraudster, Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, and the ODF need to be investigated.
“I have drawn attention to the recent discussions in the Republic of Moldova on the links between the ODF and the representatives of opposition parties [in Moldova], as well as the links between the Foundation and Mukhtar Ablyazov,” said Cristea.
“The latter is certainly a controversial figure, and the image-washing operation that the Foundation led for Ablyazov is not a secret to officials in Brussels.”
The Open Dialogue Foundation has been lobbying in support of Ablyazov for several years now, claiming he is a political refugee. In 2012, Ablyazov was sentenced to 22 months in jail by the UK high court for “serious” and “brazen” contempt of court in trying to hide more than £34 million of assets from creditors, who claim he stole billions of pounds from BTA, the Kazakh bank he chaired between 2005 and 2009. He fled to France before the prison sentence could start.
BTA is now owned by the Kazakh government, which claims that during his time as chairman, he siphoned off more than $5 billion through a network of companies that he owned. He denies the embezzlement charges and claims they are politically motivated. Again, it is a view that the ODF has been more than happy to endorse.
Despite being wanted in several countries, Ablyazov has appeared in person at various events organised by the ODF, including the one it co-hosted with Bernd Fabritius, a member of the German parliament between 2013 and 2017.
Andi Cristea says one of the lines of enquiry in any investigation must focus on the links between Ablyazov and the Republic of Moldova which, at present, “are not clear to me.”
“In relation to funding, the Open Dialog Foundation publishes annual reports on its sources of funding, according to the regulations in force. If these reports are not in line with reality, there will be legal consequences for the Foundation as well as consequences for its image and credibility.”