On December 5, 2020, the Moldovan Customs Service stopped a van at the Palanka-Maiaky checkpoint on the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. The vehicle was traveling from the Moldovan capital of Chisinau en route to the Russian capital of Moscow.
This was not just any ordinary van. It was a Moldovan government van.
The Moldovan Security and Intelligence Service had been waiting for the vehicle at the border checkpoint. The van carried diplomatic license plate. The intelligence agency knew the van was registered to the Moldovan Embassy in Moscow.
Of special interest to the intelligence officers was the cargo being transported. The van contained an extremely large shipment of anabolic steroids.
The exact amount turned out to be 350 kilograms or a little under 800 pounds. The steroid seizure reportedly had an estimated market value of 8 million Moldovan lei ($464,698).
The Moldovan Embassy in Russia appeared to be involved.
The incident promptly raised the specter of high-level government corruption. What in the world was an embassy van doing transporting commercial quantities of anabolic steroids across international borders under diplomatic cover?
Moldovan President Igor Dodon immediately recalled Moldovan Ambassador to Russia Andrei Neguta. The executive order relieved Neguta of his duties, effectively firing him.
The Moldovan Prosecutor General’s Office indicted Neguta a few days later. Prosecutors accused the former ambassador of conspiring to smuggle anabolic steroids from Moldova to Russia.
Neguta was taken into pretrial custody for 30 days following a three-hour closed-door court hearing on December 30, 2020. Neguta, prosecutors and a judge were the only people in attendance. Neguta denied involvement in any criminal wrongdoing during.
The Moldova-Russia steroid corridor.
Bodybuilders have long been aware of the nexus between Moldova and the production and distribution of anabolic steroids. While this may have been a closely-guarded secret on internet forums 10 to 20 years ago, it is now common knowledge among most law enforcement agencies around the world.
Law enforcement officials are also well aware of the huge pipeline of Moldovan-produced steroids being pumped out for Russian bodybuilders and athletes.
In 2017, Russia anti-drug investigators arrested five Moldovan individuals as part of a far-reaching steroid smuggling and distribution scheme.
Police video revealed the purported seizure of over 100 kilograms of finished oral and injectable steroids. Some of these products appeared to have been manufactured by Balkan Pharmaceutical and Vermodje. Both steroid companies were well-known at the time of having production facilities facilities in Moldova.
Two of the defendants were responsible for picking up steroids from the Moldovan manufacturers and then smuggling them across the Moldova-Russia border. Another defendant was responsible for receiving orders via an ecommerce website. A fourth defendant was responsible for the fulfillment and packaging of the orders. And the final defendant was responsible for transporting the packages to the post office for delivery.
High-level government corruption in the steroid trade.
In 2016, Mariana Rata, an investigative journalist with the Center for Investigative Journalism in Moldova, published the results of a lengthy investigation into international steroid trafficking. The investigation revealed extensive corruption within the Moldovan government.
The “Anabolics mafia: The clandestine road of steroids from Moldova to foreign sportspeople” exposed extensive details involving the highly lucrative and equally corrupt big business of steroids in Moldova.
“Nowadays, at least seven factories producing anabolics are operating in Moldova, four of which are clandestine laboratories,” according to Rata. “Legal manufacturers of anabolics allegedly get protection from a former Romanian senator, a prominent Moldovan businessman and a former president of the Federation of bodybuilding in Chisinau. Many of these anabolics get smuggled abroad in postal envelopes accepted and dispatched by the State Enterprise ‘Posta Moldovei’.” Anabolics mafia
The Anabolics Mafia journalist was awarded first prize in the category “Best Journalistic Investigations on Corruption Issues 2016” by the United Nations Development Program. She was also nominated to the shortlist for the “Investigative Reporting Award 2017” by the European Press Prize.
Steroid crackdown or business as usual?
The Moldovan government showed little interest in cracking down on the country’s steroid trade following the international attention given to government corruption in 2016 and 2017. Does the government’s recent arrest of a former Moldovan ambassador signal a change in direction?
Anti-corruption activists and anti-steroid crusaders are hopeful. However, such optimism may represent little more than wishful thinking.
Former Moldovan President Igor Dodon largely blamed his presidential election defeat on Moldovan Ambassador to Russia Andrei Neguta. Neguta should have done more to turn out the vote of Moldovans living in Russia according to Dodon.
The current steroid scandal may be more of a case of political payback than any real move towards cracking down on corruption or the steroid trade.