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Moldova’s justice ministry seeks temporary ban on pro-Russian party’s activities

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) -Moldova’s Justice Ministry asked a Chisinau court on Wednesday to place restrictions on political activities by the pro-Russian Chance party, which opposes the government’s drive for the ex-Soviet state to join the European Union by 2030.

The ministry said the decision was taken after an audit of the party revealed that the Chance leadership failed to comply with the Central Election Commission’s requirements and did not provide complete data on its activities.

The party is linked to fugitive business magnate Ilan Shor, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in absentia last year on charges in connection with the disappearance of $1 billion from the Moldovan banking system in 2014.

Shor lives in Israel and Moldova has repeatedly sought his extradition.

Chance favors Moldova, which lies between Ukraine and Romania, joining the Eurasian Economic Union, a Russia-led regional group, and a strategic partnership with Russia.

The court could suspend most of the party’s political activities and prevent it from campaigning in a presidential election and a referendum on EU membership, expected to be held simultaneously in October.

President Maia Sandu, who sees EU membership as the cornerstone of Moldova’s sovereignty, is seeking reelection.

Chance Chairman Alexei Lungu said the legal action meant authorities were determined to hobble his party.

“Ahead of the election, all the masks are now off — they want to knock Chance out of the campaign at any price,” he said in a statement.

“They should not anticipate a defeat on our part,” Lungu later told Reuters. “We will not give in. We are continuing our fight against this regime.”

While under the restrictions, the party could be prevented from setting up media groups, organizing meetings, rallies or pickets and using its bank accounts, with some exceptions.

Moldovan authorities barred the party last year from taking part in local elections, citing national security concerns.

Chance, and its patron Shor, are the main driving force behind the pro-Russian “Victory” electoral bloc, whose creation was announced last month in Moscow.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing Anastasiia Malenko; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Ron Popeski)

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