Moldova nears crisis as ministers probed for corruption

The ex-Soviet state of Moldova was heading for a new political crisis Wednesday after the authorities launched criminal probes against three ministers implicated in corruption scandals.

The probes have raised tensions within the pro-EU ruling coalition created when a leading businessman was accidentally shot dead earlier this year on a hunting trip with top officials.

The crisis represents a huge test for Prime Minister Vlad Filat whose three-way coalition of Democrats, Liberal Democrats and Liberals has ruled Moldova since 2009 after years of Communist rule.

Finance Minister Veaceslav Negruta is being investigated over the payment of 400,000 euros compensation to a businessman named Petru Sandulchai after a court decision went against him, national anti-corruption centre spokeswoman Angela Starinschi told AFP.

Culture Minister Boris Focsa is being investigated for the illegal privatisation of a historic building in the capital Chisinau, she added.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Andrei Usatii is under investigation for using a hospital as collateral for a bank credit. All could face several years in jail if found guilty.

Moldova, an impoverished Romanian-speaking state that borders Romania and Ukraine, has battled for stability since the fall of the USSR and also does not control the breakaway Russian-speaking region of Transdniestr.

Its current crisis was precipitated by a New Year's hunting incident where the businessman Sorin Paciu was accidentally shot dead while on a trip with top officials, prosecutors and judges.

The circumstances were hushed up for two weeks as one of the participants, prosecutor general Valeriu Zubco, tried to conceal the accidental killing. He has since resigned.

Analysts believe that splits within the coalition about how to handle the scandal prompted one faction close to the anti-corruption centre to start a campaign against government ministers.