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Analysis 15 Jun 17

Top Romanian Politicians Facing Justice

Former President Ion Iliescu and former Prime Minister Petre Roman -both charged with crimes against humanity – are just the latest top politicians to be hauled before the courts in Romania.

Ana Maria Touma
Former President Ion Iliescu and former PM Petre Roman in December 1989. Photo: Daniel Mazilu/Wikimedia Commons.

Ion Iliescu and Petre Roman - both indicted on Tuesday for crimes against humanity for their role in deaths of four anti-government protesters in 1990 - have joined a roll call of top politicians in Romania that have faced, or are facing trial for alleged crimes committed while in office.

Hundreds of politicians, senior public servants, MPs and local officials have now gone before the courts for graft-related offences in the past decade since the country joined the European Union.

Under pressure from Brussels to tackle high-level corruption, Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate, DNA, has become a powerful national institution.

Together with Bulgaria, Romania is still under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, a monitoring tool that the European Commission uses to assess their progress towards a truly independent justice system.

However, prosecutors in Romania have not only targeted graft-related offences.

A new investigation into the revolution of 1989 is also underway, along with an indictment into the 1990 “Mineriad” case, which was submitted on Tuesday.

Balkan Insight looks at the most high-profile cases of politicians who are or have been on trial.

Ion Iliescu and Petre Roman

Iliescu who served a first term as President between 1989 and 1996 and his second from 2000 to 2004, and Roman, who was Prime Minister from 1989 to 1991, have both been indicted for crimes against humanity before the Supreme Court in relation to the “Minieriad” case.

This concerned a rampage by miners in Bucharest on June 11-15, 1990, which resulted in four deaths and the wounding of over 1,000 people.

Prosecutors say the two accused coordinated a systematic attack on anti-government protesters in Bucharest’s University Square.

Allegedly, they ordered the police and gendarmerie to intervene in force, and also summoned 10,000 miners from different areas to march on Bucharest and crack down on protesters led by the National Liberal Party and the Christian-Democrat National Peasants Party.

Roman went on to become President of the Senate, the upper chamber of parliament, between 1996 and 2000 as well as being foreign minister from 1999 to 2000.

Neither of the accused has made a statement to the media on the investigation.

Liviu Dragnea

PSD leader Liviu Dragnea. Photo: PSD.ro

Another high-profile case concerns the current leader of the governing Social Democratic Party, PSD, Liviu Dragnea.

Since July 2016he has been on trial for abuse of office while heading the Teleorman County Council betweenJuly 2006 and December 2012, when heallegedly had the local child protection agency hire two women who were working for the local PSD branch.

Dragnea has pleaded not guilty to this charge.

However, he already has a two-year suspended jail sentence for attempting to rig a referendum in 2012, when the PSD tried to impeach the then president, Traian Basescu.

Dragnea lost his post as Prime Minister in January because of his graft sentence.

Traian Basescu

Former President Traian Basescu (left) and former PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu, both on trial in retrocession cases. Photo: Guv.ro

On June 13, the Supreme Court reopened a corruption case against the former President of Romania from 2004 to 2014.

However, Basescu will also stand trial in a fraud case involving 40,000 hectares of state land in the north of Bucharest that he gave away in 2003 to a former MP to build a shopping mall.

The MP had filed for the retrocession of land that had been confiscated during the communist regime.

Instead of getting the parcel he had sought in the Bucharest suburbs, however, he allegedly convinced Basescu, then Mayor of Bucharest, to hand over the real estate in northern Bucharest.

Basescu has responded to the charges, claiming he was being targeted by his political foes.

“I’ve been investigated in eight cases since my mandate [as head of state] ended. All the charges were dropped. This is major harassment. But that’s life,” he said.  

Calin Popescu Tariceanu

Calin Popescu Tariceanu, now President of the Senate and former Prime Minister from 2004 to 2008 has been on trial since last July before the Supreme Court for perjury and for aiding and abetting a perpetrator.He is accused of having lied under oath over the retrocession of Snagov Forest and Baneasa Farm [a former royal property] in the north of Bucharest to a member of the former royal family, Prince Paul of Romania.

In April 2016, he maintained that he knew nothing about the affair, but his testimony was later contradicted by his former wife, a public notary, who had sealed the deal.

Elena Udrea

Former Minister of Development and Tourism Elena Udrea. Photo: European People's Party.

On May 24 it was revealed that Udrea, a former minister for development and tourism from 2009 to 2012, one of Basescu’s closest aides, and Basescu’s elder daughter, Ioana, a public notary, will stand trial for embezzling public funds.

They allegedly used the cash to finance the former president’s election campaign in 2009. Ioana Basescu’s boyfriend will also stand trial in the same case.

Anti-graft prosecutors said that a third investigation was underway, but the identity of the person involved could not be disclosed.

In March, Udrea was already jailed for six years for abuse of office and embezzlement of EU funds in organizing a boxing gala to promote Romania’s brand image.

After the sentence was pronounced, she called it an abuse because there had not been enough proof of her guilt, and she warned that “the war was not over”.

On June 6, however, she said there was no point in trying to defend herself because, she believed, she was being framed.

Sebastian Ghita

Former PSD MP Sebastian Ghita. Photo:Octav Ganea/AP

The former billionaire and Social Democrat MP from 2012 to 2016 has been called the most wanted man in Romania after the National Anti-Corruption Directorate in 2016 drafted no less than six cases against him, most for soliciting bribes from companies in order to mediate contracts with the state, for influence peddling and for blackmailing prosecutors to drop cases against his friends.

Faced with an arrest warrant, Ghita vanished in mid-December 2016 after an official dinner at the Romanian Intelligence Service.

He was arrested four months later in Serbia, where he was using fake Slovenian documents. He is under police supervision in Belgrade, awaiting extradition to Romania.

Since his arrest in Belgrade, Ghita has refused to speak to Romanian prosecutors and refused to testify in the trial of former Prime Minister Victor Ponta [see below].

Victor Ponta

Romania’s former Prime Minister from 2012 to 2015 is also on trial following his indictment in September 2016 in a case dubbed “Ponta-Blair”.

Ponta is accused of taking a bribe of 220,000 euros to have a candidate, Sebastian Ghita [see above], run for an eligible seat in parliament in the 2012 elections.

Ponta then allegedly used the money to bring former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Romania.

In May 2017, the DNA also indicted Ponta for tax evasion. Prosecutors say Ponta’s law firm issued several fake contracts in 2007-2008. He was the first Romanian Prime Minister to be investigated for graft-related charges during his mandate in 2015.

On Facebook, Ponta has dismissed the cases against him as fake, insisting he never sought bribes on any occasion and that Ghita did not need his help to win a seat in the election in 2012.

Lia Olguta Vasilescu

Minister of Labor Lia Olguta Vasilescu. Photo: psd.ro

Romania’s current Minister of Labour since January is also under investigation for graft.

Separately, she has been under fire recently for a wage hike bill that did not address all categories of public workers.

Last August, the DNA indicted Vasilescu, who was Mayor of Craiova until she was made Labour Minister, for allegedly soliciting bribes from companies engaged in contracts with the city hall in exchange for not delaying their payments.

The money was allegedly used for her election campaign. A Bucharest court in January sent the indictment back to the DNA for revision, however.

She has insisted that what she did does not qualify as corruption as she was merely requesting sponsorships to fund the rehabilitation of old residential buildings.

Cristian David

Romania’s former interior minister from 2007 to 2008 was indicted in July 2015 for bribery.

Prosecutors say that while in office in 2007, he sought 500,000 euros in exchange for issuing a property certificate over a 15-hectare parcel of land in Buzau in central Romania. David also allegedly traded in influence by pressuring the prefect to comply with this request.

He was arrested in January 2015 and pleaded not guilty. At a hearing in April 2016 he called the accusations fabricated and there was no proof that he ever sought any bribe.

Gabriel Oprea

Former MInister of Interior Gabriel Oprea. Photo: gov.ro

Romania’s former Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minster from 2014 to 2015 has been on trial since March 2017 for abuse of office and for using Interior Ministry resources for personal gain, together with several officials from the Ministry. 

He is also under investigation after a police officer in the minister’s official guard died while on assignment in a traffic accident on October 21, 2015.

After the accident, it surfaced that, as a minister, Oprea was not entitled to have a personal guard.

Although prosecutors indicted him, parliament rejected their request to suspend his immunity.

However, prosecutors restarted the investigation in 2017, when he was no longer in office.

Oprea has expressed regret over the death of the policeman but has not commented on the rest of the charges.

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