Moldovan police have identified a network of communication specialists, translators and printers who produced and distributed fake newspapers. Gheorghe Malic, head of the criminal investigation team that worked on the case, identified two Ukrainian communication specialists as the main implementers of the scheme. According to Malic, the goal was to manipulate public opinion ahead of local elections planned for 5 June 2011. The police refused to divulge the name of the political party suspected of having designed the scheme. The naming of names, the police said, would occur at the end of the election campaign.
The case came to light two weeks ago when Moldovan households received fake copies of the country´s leading newspapers Ziarul de Garda and Timpul. Although the front page logos and layout were identical to those of Ziarul de Garda and Timpul, the tone and content just didn’t seem right. In one case, articles contained attacks on the pro-Western ruling coalition and praised the mayor of Chisinau, country´s capital; another fake copy argued the opposite, criticising the mayor and eulogising the government.
“It would be like a comedy if it were not serious,” said Alina Radu, director of Ziarul deGarda, in a conversation with SEEMO. “Initially, we thought it might be a joke but we soon realized that it was serious,” she added. When the second fake paper was produced and distributed, the issue became public. Radu feared that the next step might be to use journalists’ bylines for articles they had not written. Her concern appeared to have been well-founded: when police entered an apartment in Chisinau rented by the two Ukrainian communication specialists, they discovered another, ready-to-distribute fake issue of Ziarul de Garda including a fake editorial signed by Alina Radu.
Radu is urging the police to reveal the name of the political party allegedly behind the sophisticated campaign – which has damaged the media.
SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic said: “The Moldovan police must reveal the names of those who allegedly used fake newspapers, thereby violating copyright, to strike political points. In protecting their names, the police appear to be more interested in protecting politicians than the media.”
In an unrelated development, SEEMO welcomes the release, after one year of imprisonment, of independent journalist Ernest Vardanian. He was unconditionally released in Tirsapol, capital of the internationally unrecognized Transnistrian Moldavian Republic (PMR). In a telephone interview with SEEMO, Vardanian said that his release was due to the mediation of the Armenian and Russian patriarchs. Vardanian was arrested on the territory of the internationally unrecognized Transnistrian Moldovan Republic, accused of spying for Moldova proper and convicted of treason in a closed trial. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He denied the charges.
Prior to his arrest, Vardanian worked as a staff reporter and political analyst for the Chisinau-based newspaper Puls, freelanced for the Russian Internet news agency Novy Region, and contributed to Europa Libera – the Moldova and Romania service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
After his release, Vardanian moved to Moldova´s capital Chisinau and hopes to return to journalism.