Dateline: 17 July 2017
My host, a woman of 28 who is fluent in five languages and comes from Moldova, is speaking into my voice recorder.
“When I was 21, still at university, I was arrested and taken to jail. I was charged with trafficking minors for sex. I was not allowed to see a lawyer for two days. My cellmate, a Russian woman, had been arrested and charged for smuggling uranium into Moldova”
Earlier, before this conversation took place, and as I approached the border, I realised I didn’t know much about Moldova
Previously part of the Soviet Union, I had assumed the Nation would speak Russian; in fact, Romanian is the official language.
Corruption is and was endemic in Eastern Europe and I learned very quickly it is alive and well in Moldova.
I handed my passport and bike documents to a customs official. An overfed and uniformed woman returned with the document. “No Green Card. Big trouble”.
Few English travellers have Green card insurance as British insurance companies do not sell it. When I travel, I buy the worthless insurance at the border to avoid fines and bribes to be paid if stopped by traffic police.
I told her this, but she said “Return to Bucharest. Buy it there.” And she walked off. Moments later another uniformed guard arrived. He was mid 30’s, blonde, handsome with a crease in his trousers and a shine on his shoes. He repeated my problem and added, “You cannot buy insurance in Moldova, must be bought in Romania”.
This conversation is in a dark corner next to the customs building, a temporary metal office now made permanent. Over his shoulder I can see two things: a poster denouncing corruption with a telephone number to call; and further, about 30 metres inside his country border, a line of portacabin offices with the sign “Assigura – Insurance” above them.
I am English, I am indignant, I am pretty much fucked by this petty official. I also know that any bribe is split with him and his superiors. To complain means I will be denied entrance to the country. I am banned from entering Kazakhstan for refusal to pay bribes at the border to simply leave the country.
And being English, and assumed to have money, I am asked how much money I have. I say, “I have nothing except one hundred Romanian Lei”
He replied, “Lay 100 Lei in your passport, hand me the passport and I will see what I can do about your big problem” I am easily drawn into the corruption. One hundred lei is 20 Euros. I could be stuck here for hours or trying to return to a Romanian city and the dark is gathering.
The principle swallowed, money and passport handed over. In ten minutes, I am fast tracked to the head of the queue, stamped and motioned through the barriers no stop.
I buy fifteen days insurance for three euros to avoid questions from policemen on the road. And head toward the Capital.
Of human trafficking, high level corruption and scamming - there will be more. Later.
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