The Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE), the pan-European party of which the Tories are a founder member, has long been notorious for embracing some of the continent’s more extreme nationalists.
The choice of its newest ally, however, raises some rather different questions. In June, ACRE welcomed Moldova’s Shor Party to its ranks.
Not only that but – as reported in the UK’s satirical magazine Private Eye – ACRE chief executive Richard Milsom turned up on a campaign platform with party leader Ilan Shor in the Moldovan capital Chisinau in August.
Then in mid-October, ACRE held its second annual Liberty Summit in Moldova. The event featured Shor as keynote speaker and included a day trip to Orhei, the city of which he is mayor.
Also on the speakers roster – along with Tory MEP Rupert Matthews and Fleur Butler, the deputy head of the Conservative Women’s Organization – were three senior Shor Party members and the head of Avia Invest, the company owned by the Shor family that manages Chisinau Airport.
So, who is Shor, and why is ACRE so keen to provide him and his party with a platform? The former question is perhaps easier to answer than the latter.
Until 2015, Shor was best known as the owner of a lucrative duty-free franchise, which he inherited from his father, and the husband of Russian pop singer Jasmin.
In April of that year, however, he gained international notoriety when US investigators Kroll named him as the prime mover in the fraud that saw $1 billion disappear from Moldova’s three largest banks in November 2014.
At the time of the fraud, the 27-year-old Shor was chairman of Banca de Economii (BEM), the Moldovan market leader. He also owned substantial stakes in BEM and the other lenders involved – all of which were subsequently shut down.
Following the publication of the Kroll report, Shor was arrested and, in June last year, sentenced to seven and half years in jail for stealing $300 million from BEM. He was released from prison pending the outcome of an appeal against the sentence.
The criminal proceedings against Shor have coincided with his move into politics. In June 2015, he managed to get elected as mayor of Orhei despite being under house arrest – a result that was widely attributed to his readiness to disburse financial largesse in a poverty-stricken area.
This lavish spending has continued during the past three years as Shor has geared up for a run at parliament. As well as paying for public infrastructure, he has set up “social stores” where goods are sold at a discount and offered cash bonuses to Orhei emigrants who return home.
To ACRE’s Milsom, this is clearly the work of a well-meaning – if perhaps slightly confused – free-marketeer. Speaking to Euromoney, he waxed lyrical about Shor’s efforts in Orhei: “When was the last time you heard of a private guy building public roads?”
There has to be a presumption of innocence. He hasn’t been convicted of anything. If he were, we wouldn’t go anywhere near him- Richard Milsom, ACRE
To many in Moldova, of course, Shor’s munificence looks less like a bold libertarian social experiment and more like an attempt to whitewash his reputation, not to mention avoid jail by securing parliamentary immunity.
Milsom, however, is determined to keep an open mind.
“There has to be a presumption of innocence,” he said. “He hasn’t been convicted of anything. If he were, we wouldn’t go anywhere near him.”
When it was pointed out that Shor had, in fact, been found guilty of massive fraud, Milsom responded: “If the conviction is sound, shouldn’t he be in jail? I’m afraid I can’t help on technicalities. I’m not a lawyer.”
Asked about the findings of the Kroll report, he replied: “It’s not legally binding. They’re just forensic accountants.”
Your correspondent was keen to attend the Liberty Summit in person and put a few questions on the subject to Shor himself, as well as to the various UK politicians in attendance.
Tickets were on sale on ACRE’s website, so Euromoney duly purchased one and packed its bags – but alas, it was not to be. Five days later, Milsom texted to say the event was invitation-only and that, by implication, we were not invited. The ticket price would be refunded.
Luckier delegates were able to enjoy three nights in the Radisson Blu Chisinau and not one but two gala dinners – all for the bargain price of €200, with return flights thrown in. ACRE council members weren’t even required to pay that much.
So, who was making up the shortfall? Asked if it was the Shor Party, Milsom replied: “We receive EU funds … but our local partners help out.”
Euromoney tried to contact Tory attendees Butler and Matthews to ask about the funding of their trip to Chisinau and whether they were aware of Shor’s involvement in the Moldovan bank fraud, but to no avail.
The Conservatives – who have recently been making political capital from promises to tackle global corruption – also failed to respond to repeated requests for a comment on ACRE’s association with the Shor Party, as did their Cotswolds MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, vice-president of ACRE.