CHISINAU — U.S. officials say that Vlad Plahotniuc, a powerful Moldovan oligarch and political figure linked to a massive bank theft, is in the United States despite being subject to a visa ban earlier this year.
Officials confirmed earlier reporting by RFE/RL that said Plahotniuc was in the country, and said they were preparing to deport him.
The confirmation adds further questions to the circumstances surrounding his travels to the country, and the visa ban in particular, which was imposed in January on him and his family.
“We understand that Vladimir Plahotniuc is present in the United States, but is currently in administrative removal proceedings,” the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau said in a statement on March 19.
“Such proceedings, including permissible avenues of judicial review, often can take significant time,” it added.
The embassy and the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. declined to provide any further details, including when Plahotniuc arrived in the country, when he might be deported, and whether he was in U.S. law enforcement custody.
Plahotnuic could not be immediately located for comment.
One individual with knowledge of the situation said Plahtoniuc had entered the United States prior to the visa restrictions being imposed, and it was unclear what kind of visa he had used to enter the country initially.
In announcing the measures on Plahotniuc and his family on January 13, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo specifically cited the oligarch’s “corrupt actions.”
“Vladimir Plahotniuc’s corrupt actions undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Moldova,” Pompeo tweeted. “The U.S. stands with Moldova in its fight against corruption.”
Earlier, U.S. and Moldovan officials told RFE/RL that Plahotniuc had been in the country despite the restrictions. One individual told RFE/RL that Plahotniuc had been attending a lavish dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Miami, Florida, in late January.
Another individual who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity said the law under which Plahotniuc was targeted concerned prospective — or future — visas, and that it could not be used to cancel an existing visa.
A longtime behind-the-scenes power broker, Plahotniuc fled Moldova in June 2019 after being pushed out of parliament as part of a government shakeup brokered by Russia, the United States, and other European partners.
He dropped out of public view afterward, reportedly traveling under one or more assumed names and alternate passports.
He’s been linked to the disappearance of more than $1 billion — totaling nearly one-eighth of Moldova’s GDP — from the country’s biggest banks between 2012 and 2014.