Calls are growing for an investigation into the Open Dialog Foundation and its links to serious fraud in Moldova and Kazakhstan.
The vice-president of the European Parliament’s committee on foreign affairs has requested an investigation into the funding of the think-tank the Open Dialog Foundation (ODF). Romanian MEP Andi Cristea says the organization needs to face questions about its funding by billionaire fraudsters Veaceaslav Platon and Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Far from being a human rights advocate, Cristea says the true aim of the ODF appears to be to provide an “image-washing” service for high-profile criminals.
“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 run by Lyudmyla Kozlovska, a Ukrainian political activist. Kozlovska was officially deported from the European Union two months ago, after suspicions were raised by the Polish government. When Kozlovska flew to Brussels on 13 August she was held for questioning before being put on a return flight to her homeland the following day.
Poland’s Internal Security Agency has confirmed that Kozlovska was deported from Poland and the EU due to “serious doubts regarding the funding of the Open Dialog Foundation”.
Kozlovska’s supporters claim the deportation is politically motivated, citing her Polish husband’s criticism of his government. Bartosz Kramek has called for civil disobedience to protest at what he sees as the Polish government’s efforts to undermine democracy.
Claiming to be cut off from her life in the EU – including her family and husband – Kozlovska did manage to secure a temporary visa from the German government to address a debate at the Bundestag in September.
She says her deportation came after more than a year of harassment by Polish authorities, and was sparked by a Facebook post by Kramek. This called for demonstrations, strikes and non-payment of taxes, as well as the creation of tent cities, the blocking of politicians’ homes and offices, and immunity for opposition members of parliament.
However, Kozlovska’s deportation has put the ODF under the spotlight, leading to calls for greater transparency around its funding.
One of the think-tank’s benefactors is apparently George Soros, the billionaire financier and high-profile critic of president Putin. However, many are concerned that the ODF is operating as a frontman for criminals who’ve donated large sums to the organization.
Among the most notorious fraudsters linked to the ODF are the Moldovan Veaceaslav Platon and the Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov.
“The latter is certainly a controversial figure,” says Cristea, who was elected to the European Parliament in 2014, representing the PSD – Romania’s Social Democratic Party. “The image-washing operation that the Foundation led for Ablyazov is not a secret to officials in Brussels.”
Indeed, the ODF has been campaigning on behalf of Ablyazov for many years, referring to him as a political refugee. However, he is considered a fugitive from justice in the UK, where he’s been sentenced to 22 months in prison by the high court for “serious” and “brazen” contempt. Ablyazov had been in court facing accusations of embezzling £34 million in creditors’ assets from BTA, the Kazakh bank where he was chairman between 2005 and 2009. He fled to France before the sentence could start.
BTA was nationalised after claims that Ablyazov siphoned off more than $5 billion during his time in charge, using a network of companies under his ownership. He denies the charges, claiming the Kazakh government is politically motivated – a view that the ODF has enthusiastically endorsed.
Although wanted for questioning by various countries, Ablyazov has been a guest at a number of ODF events, including one it co-hosted with Bernd Fabritius, a politician and deputy in the Bundestag from 2013 to 2017.
Cristea is also interested in the ODF’s connection to another fraudster, Moldovan Veaceaslav Platon. Since 2016, when he was extradited from Ukraine back to his home country, the organization has been campaigning vigorously for Platon, members of his family and key associates.
There have been ODF seminars and visits to European institutions, always presented as impartial debate on the scaling back of democracy in Moldova and the corruption of its judicial system.
Platon’s lawyer, Ana Ursachi, is a key contact of Kozlovska, and spoke at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in April 2017, during a seminar called “Interpol’s Red Notices: How to Implement the Recommendations of PACE Legal Committee”. This was co-hosted by the ODF and Bernd Fabritius.
In the same month, after the disappearance of $1 billion from Moldova’s banking system, a court in the country sentenced Platon to 18 years in jail for his part in the money-laundering and fraud. The crime represented more than ten per cent of Moldova’s gross domestic product stolen from several of its largest lenders over the two years from 2012. Unsurprisingly, the media in the impoverished former Soviet republic dubbed the scandal “the theft of the century”.
Platon was found guilty of misappropriating some of the money that disappeared – around 800 million lei ($42 million) – from the Banca de Economii, which went bankrupt following the fraud.
Platon’s version of events – in which he is entirely innocent, the victim of a “witch-hunt” and a “political show trial” – has been championed by the ODF.
Andi Cristea has a clear warning, relating to both the Moldovan and Kazakh connections. “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.”