RISE Moldova Director Iurie Sanduta told Media-azi.md that journalists applied to the CEC for additional information about the candidates because they faced certain difficulties in documenting their investigations and had no answers to all questions about the candidates’ assets. ‘Certain party leaders’ declarations of income contain data about their connection to foreign companies. However, a verification showed that there are no such firms in the companies registers of the respective countries. That’s when we told ourselves that we should see the candidates’ original declarations at the CEC. This was the main purpose of requesting access to data’, says Iurie Sanduta.
The request for information was sent to the CEC on 16 January 2019. In its response to RISE on 22 January, CEC Chairperson Alina Russu said that physical access to original documents can be provided at CEC headquarters only, after signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement.
RISE journalists went to the CEC to conclude this agreement on 6 February 2019. There, however, they were told that they could not have access to the candidates’ original declarations since those contained personal data. The CEC Chairperson suggested them to take the case to the court. ‘CEC Chairman suggesting us to sue them after she had initially invited us to sign the non-disclosure agreement and examine the declarations of income, seemed somehow odd’, Iurie Sanduta told us.
He finds this case inexplicable because last year the CEC granted the RISE Moldova’s request to access the list of political parties’ donors. Journalists treated the data in compliance with the legislation on the protection of personal data. ‘We signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement at the CEC back then and they gave us access to the data’, says Iurie Sanduta.
The Association of Investigative Reporters and Editorial Security in Moldova has the status of data processing operator, while the information regarding the declarations of property of the election candidates are documents of public interest.
Previously the CIJM editorial office won the lawsuit against the Central Electoral Commission in the court of first instance in another case of Center for Investigative Journalism journalists against the CEC. The latter had restricted journalists’ access to the information of public interest during the election campaign. The court found the violation of the Center’s right to access the requested information: signature sheets submitted by the initiative groups for the registration of the candidates and financial reports of the election contestants. In that case magistrates ordered the CEC to provide the data the CIJM journalists requested access to.
The CEC published the first declarations of property of the electoral contestants in early January, but soon after it blocked the users’ access to them claiming there were unprocessed data. Subsequently, the access was unblocked, but some of the data that initially were available in certain declarations, were no longer there.