CHISINAU: Moldova's justice minister resigned on Monday after a leaked telephone conversation appeared to show him chatting in 2015 with a man later convicted of what is known in the country as the "theft of the century".
Jurnal TV broadcast the conversation between Alexandru Tanase and businessman Veaceslav Platon, who is serving a jail sentence for money-laundering and fraud linked to the disappearance of US$1 billion from Moldova's banking system.
In the recording, Platon asks Tanase, who was then head of the Constitutional Court, why no progress had been made with the investigation into the fraud.
Tanase replies: "in Moldova, as in African countries, laws are not respected."
In a Facebook post on Monday, Tanase did not confirm or deny the authenticity of the recording, but said he would resign and called the release of the recording politically motivated.
"I have to leave, having become the target of a smear campaign," he said.
Multiple attempts to reach Tanase for further comment were unsuccessful.
The bank fraud saw an eighth of the impoverished former Soviet republic's gross domestic product stolen from three of its largest banks between 2012-2014.
Prime Minister Pavel Filip, who has not yet accepted Tanase's resignation, defended the minister.
"Tanase is a professional in his field. In a short space of time he has managed to achieve a lot, in particular to start judicial reforms," he said in a cabinet meeting.
Tanase was appointed justice minister in December 2017. The pro-Western government has been under pressure from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to speed up reforms, whose delayed implementation held up EU loans in October.
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Matthias Williams and Robin Pomeroy)