"Fake newspapers" network dismantled in Moldova

VIENNA -- Moldovan police have identified a network of communication specialists, translators and printers who produced and distributed fake newspapers.

Gheorghe Malic, head of the criminal investigation team that worked on the case, identified two Ukrainian communication specialists as the main implementers of the scheme, the Vienna-based regional media organization SEEMO said.

According to Malic, the goal was to manipulate public opinion ahead of local elections planned for 5 June 2011. The police refused to divulge the name of the political party suspected of having designed the scheme. The naming of names, the police said, would occur at the end of the election campaign.

The case came to light two weeks ago when Moldovan households received fake copies of the country´s leading newspapers Ziarul de Garda and Timpul. Although the front page logos and layout were identical to those of Ziarul de Garda and Timpul, the tone and content just didn't seem right. In one case, articles contained attacks on the pro-Western ruling coalition and praised the mayor of Chisinau, country´s capital; another fake copy argued the opposite, criticising the mayor and eulogising the government.

"It would be like a comedy if it were not serious," said Alina Radu, director of Ziarul de Garda, in a conversation with SEEMO. "Initially, we thought it might be a joke but we soon realized that it was serious," she added. When the second fake paper was produced and distributed, the issue became public. Radu feared that the next step might be to use journalists' bylines for articles they had not written. Her concern appeared to have been well-founded: when police entered an apartment in Chisinau rented by the two Ukrainian communication specialists, they discovered another, ready-to-distribute fake issue of Ziarul de Garda including a fake editorial signed by Alina Radu.

Radu is urging the police to reveal the name of the political party allegedly behind the sophisticated campaign - which has damaged the media.

SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujoviś said: "The Moldovan police must reveal the names of those who allegedly used fake newspapers, thereby violating copyright, to strike political points. In protecting their names, the police appear to be more interested in protecting politicians than the media."