CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Moldova's Parliament lifted the immunity of a former prime minister Thursday so he can be probed on suspicion of involvement in a bank fraud of up to $1.5 billion.
A total of 79 lawmakers out of 101 voted to lift the immunity of Vlad Filat, who was prime minister from 2009 to 2013, so he can be investigated for the money that went missing from three banks ahead of Nov. 2014 elections.
Filat, the most senior politician to ever have his immunity lifted, denies wrongdoing and says the probe is politically motivated.
Lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party that Filat leads did not vote Thursday.
General prosecutor Corneliu Gurin says Filat had taken bribes worth $260 million from a businessman and had indirectly given him control of one of the banks.
"We have conclusive evidence that Filat committed fraud worth hundreds of millions of euros at the Savings Bank," said Gurin. "It is a very serious crime, and involves the destruction of evidence."
The businessman, Ilan Shor, was chairman of the board at Savings Bank from April to Nov. 28, 2014. At the time, the state lost its majority stake in the bank to private shareholders who had made a capital increase. The shareholders' move was declared illegal on Dec. 1, 2014.
U.S. investigative company Kroll, which is probing the disappearance of the money, says some 13.5 billion lei, worth about $1 billion at the time, was transferred from the bank on Nov. 24-26, 2014.
The state resumed control of the bank on Dec. 1, 2014.
About 2,000 people gathered outside Parliament on Thursday, the latest in a string of protests over the missing money.
Money also disappeared from the the Social Bank and Unibank before last year's parliamentary ballot. All three banks were put under the central bank's administration in December and the losses covered by state reserves.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.