A former defense minister in ex-Soviet Moldova went on trial on Monday charged with abuse of power and defrauding the state in connection with the sale of 21 warplanes to the United States in 1997. Valery Pasat, now a senior manager at Russia's electricity giant Unified Energy System (UES), is accused of having sold 21 MiG-29s too cheaply at $40 million, causing a loss of $55 million to state coffers.
The judge agreed to a demand by prosecutors to conduct the proceedings behind closed doors on grounds that issues of national security were at stake in the country- one of Europe's poorest, wedged between Ukraine and Romania.
Defence lawyers said when Pasat was arrested that legal action was politically motivated and linked to his opposition to Moldova's Communist leadership.
President Vladimir Voronin's communists finished first in a general election in March on a platform of moving Moldova out of Russia's shadow and towards the West.
Pavel Smirnov, a UES board member, said the decision to conduct Pasat's trial behind closed doors was "incomprehensible... from a human standpoint".
A statement by the company's press service in Moscow quoted Smirnov as saying Moldovan prosecutors had twice previously decided against any legal action against Pasat since the 1997 deal and no new evidence was now being produced.
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