Top 10 corruption scandals from Romania

Corruption is an issue around the world but especially in the eastern and southeastern part of the Europe, South America, Asia and the African continent. Former Soviet Union and communist countries that transitioned to nomocracy (i.e. rule of law nations) are still more likely than western nations to be affected by this type of white collar crime.

According to a report published by Transparancy.org in 2015, Romania, a former communist country located in Eastern Europe, nowadays a member of the European Union is perceived together with Greece, Italy and Bulgaria as one of the most corrupt country of this union (LINK 1). Many officials as well as public figures have been accused of corruption by both prosecutors and ordinary citizens. Although, unless proven so by a court after a fair trial, it is fair to ask if it is not dangerous to pass judgment just on rumor and suspicion.

Since their accession to the European Union in 2007, Romania alongside with Bulgaria are monitored by the European Commission through the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism which monitors the progress made by these two countries in the judicial field (LINK 2). So, what are the corruption scandals that shook the Romanian society and what progress has so far the judicial system achieved?

NOTE: The names are written in the Eastern Order, according to the custom of the country they come from, except for the names that established themselves in popular culture in the Western Order. Also, for easier reading, the first time a family name will be mentioned, it will be written in uppercase.

  1. The Quality Trophy

Corruption troubles Romania in almost every area: education, court, law enforcement and the public sector. Even the highest offices like that of the prime minister makes no exception. On April 9th 2008 the National Anticorruption Directorate – shortly known as DNA – announced that former Prime Minister Adrian NĂSTASE is investigated for abuse of power as a leader of a ruling party in obtaining undue benefits (LINK 3). According to the prosecution, he disguised the funds raised for his presidential candidacy in 2004 by organizing a contest entitled “The Quality Trophy in construction” through a state agency subordinated to the government and coordinated by a state councilor of the prime minister, whose purpose is to monitor the quality of public constructions. The fees paid by the participating entities – over 1.6 million euros in total – were directly collected by four firms all owned by the same business couple – husband and wife – that further signed fictitious contracts with another firm they owned. Through different money laundering operations, half of it ended in canvassing materials (flyers, calendars, shirts, comforters and lighters personalized with the photo and name of the defendant). On January 20th 2009 he was sent for trial and after 3 years and 5 months a court found him guilty, sending him to prison for 2 years. (LINK 4) After being conditionally released on March 18th 2013, he was again sent to prison for blackmail and bribery on January 6th 2014, this time for 4 years. The court also ordered the seizure of 1,824,303.72 RON (more than 400,000 euros) from him and his wife (LINK 5). (LINK 6, 7)

  1. The Sausage (Caltaboșul)

On October 10th, 2007 the state owned national TV station released a video recording of a transaction between then acting Minister of Agriculture REMEȘ Decebal Traian and former Minister of Agriculture MUREȘAN Ioan Avram. The latter intermediated a transaction between Remeș and business man CIORBA Gheorghe, trading alimentary products consisting of sausage and țuică (plum brandy) worth 1500 RON (approx. 450 euros), an Audi Q7 worth 65000 euros and 15000 euros to steer contracts at public bids organized by his department (LINK 8, 9). On January 28th 2008, the DNA agency starts investigating Decebal Traian Remeș on the basis of influence peddling. Half a year later his case is sent before a judge. (LINK 10) On February 14th, 2012 Remeș Decebal Traian and Mureșan Ioan Avram are both found guilty. Consequently they were convicted to three years in prison each. (LINK 11) After almost two years, Remeș is conditionally released.

  1. Strategic privatizations

NAGY Zsolt, was the Minister for Communications and Information Technology from December 2004 until July 2007. He was revoked from office due to a criminal investigation started on behalf of his name regarding privatizations connected to espionage and treason conducted by him and others while in office. The prosecutors accused him and former Ministry of Economy and Commerce, ȘEREȘ Ioan Codruț for granting insider confidential information to Bulgarian consultant STAMEN Teodorov Stantchev. It was argued that this information facilitated the consultant a favorable position in the privatization of power distributor Electrica South Muntenia, the 8% holding of the Romanian Government in Petrom Oil Company along with other government held companies that were planned for privatization or restructuration (LINK 12, 13). On January 24th 2014, Nagy Zsolt was sentenced to 4 years of suspended sentence for corruption (LINK 14) that one year later was converted to time in prison. Șereș Ioan Codruț was imprisoned to 4 years and 8 months, on the accusations of joining an organized crime group, espionage, treason and leaking confidential information regarding the privatization of state-owned companies (LINK 15, 16).

  1. The Transformer case

On July 12th 2013, Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, FENECHIU Relu set a premiere in judicial and political history of Romania, becoming the first governmental official to be convicted by a court of a criminal offence while in office (LINK 17). The investigation on behalf of his name, his brother’s FENECHIU Lucian and business man DAMIAN Mihai Bogdan began in 2007; since then, this investigation did not stopped him from holding multiple public offices in the Romanian Parliament and even receiving a parliamentary vote of confidence as a member of the Romanian Government in December 2012. Back then, the prosecutors form national counter corruption (DNA) agency accused them of selling 30 years old refurbished power transformers built from disused components, painted and sold as new to SISEE Electrica Moldova, an electric power company, for 2.8 million EURO during years 2002-2004 in absence of a public bid. The prosecution report concluded that the transformers were bought by Electrica Moldova without even being evaluated. The SISEE Electrica Moldova managers that allowed the transaction were convicted to even more years in prison than the defendants mentioned before, but the latter were compelled to pay 6,327 million RON (approximately 1.4 million EURO) as refund that the State budget suffered (LINK 18). Currently, Relu Fenechiu and his brother are imprisoned in a 5 years prison sentence after the High Court of Cassation and Justice on January 30th 2014 dismissed their appeal (LINK 19). (LINK 20, 21)

  1. Dan Voiculescu and the privatization of the Institute of Food Research

On December 4th, 2008, the national counter corruption agency announced that business man and politician Dan VOICULESCU along with 12 other individuals were sent for trial being accused for the fraudulent privatization of the state owned Institute of Food Research to Grivco, a company held by Voiculescu. Besides that, he has also been accused of using his political influence in 2003 as a leader of a ruling party in obtaining for himself or others undue benefits by buying the state holding in the institute at an undervalued price of about 105000 EUR –  approximately 75 times less than evaluated (LINK 22). Until 2010, the trial was postponed seven times. And then again until 2013, the trial has been six more times postponed trough different methods the defendant made use of, including two resignations from the Romanian Parliament legislature 2008 and 2012, where he was elected as Senator, thus moving the judging jurisdiction between the High Court of Cassation and Justice and Tribunalul București (LINK 23). On the appeal on August 8th, 2014 he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison for money laundering (LINK 24, 25), before the appeal, one year earlier, being sentenced to only 5 years in prison. It was rumored that the prescription was in December 2014 (LINK 26). (LINK 27, 28)

  1. The football players transfer case

From 2007 until 2014, a corruption scandal surfaced in Romania involving football (soccer) club owners, whereby they or impresarios declared to the state lower transfer fees for their players. Thus they avoided to pay the taxes at their full extent. The activities were conducted through various off-shore companies; this brought a detriment to the state budget of 1.5 million dollar and of 10 million dollar to the football clubs in Liga 1 (LINK 29, 30) which the professional league for men’s association football clubs. On March 4th 2014, the Appeal Court in Bucharest, sentenced the 8 defendants to various prison time, from as low as 3 years, one month and ten days up to 6 years and 4 months; they were also compelled to pay compensations to the injured parties. Indicted and condemned were also Gheorghe COPOS, a Romanian politician and business man convicted one more time later in another corruption case and Gheorghe “Gică” POPESCU (LINK 30, 31), former player in FC Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and in the Romanian National Football Team, whose conviction generated a campaign to ask the Romanian President for a clemency backed even by notorious politicians like Victor PONTA – former Prime Minister and Valeriu ZGONEA – former President of the Chamber of Deputies of Romania (LINK 32, 33).

  1. Civil apartment located companies and the National Youth Day 2009

On June 16th 2009, the country’s largest sports-related publication reported that the Ministry of Youth and Sport of Romania represented by Minister IACOB-RIDZI Monica, spent more than 600.000 euros without a public bid by organizing cultural manifestations on May 2nd 2009 – the National Youth Day – through three intermediary firms. Two of them had common shareholders and had the main office in the same civil apartment. (LINK 35). A few weeks later, the Deputy Chamber decided to investigate the allegations (LINK 36), decision that led to the resignation of the Minister and the launching of a criminal investigation led by the prosecutors of national counter corruption agency (LINK 37). After the investigation ends in the spring of 2011, she is sent for trial and on January 27th 2014 found guilty of abuse of power by the High Court of Cassation and Justice (LINK 38). On February 16th 2015, the Supreme Court upholds the verdict of the former court (LINK 39). On December 3rd 2015, the President of Romania Klaus Werner IOHANNIS rejects her pardon plea (LINK 40, 41).

  1. Favorable court decisions buyer cannot buy his own

One of the most influential and with most ties to powerful people in post-communist Romania, besides Dan VOICULESCU and Adrian NĂSTASE was politician VOICU Cătălin. He has been the advisor on national security problems of President Ion ILIESCU between 2000 and 2004 (LINK 42). He also served as a deputy during 2004-2008 and as a senator during the 2008-2012 legislature (LINK 43). He has for a long time been suspected to be involved in multiple controversial activities.

Activities for which he was prosecuted included claiming and receiving money from business people for favorable court decisions regarding civil or criminal offences. In December 11th 2009, while holding the office of vice-president of Defense Comity in the Romanian Senate, the national counter corruption agency accused him of two influence trafficking offences (LINK 43, 44). Judge CONSTINIU Florin and business men CĂŞUNEANU Costel and LOCIC Marius were also sent for trial together with Voicu (LINK 45). In June 1st 2012 Voicu was sentenced to 5 years in prison (LINK 46). After the appeal, the High Court of Cassation and Justice extended on April 22nd 2013 the penalty to 7 years in prison (LINK 47). On July 23rd 2014 a new corruption investigation was started on behalf of his name regarding abuse of power conducted as deputy (LINK 48).

  1. Dan Diaconescu

Although under corruption we generally understand “the misuse of public power by elected politician for personal gain” the definition covers also “the misuse of entrusted power for private gain”. This was also the case with Cristian-Dan DIACONESCU, a popular Romanian journalist, charismatic television presenter, politician and presidential candidate in the 2014 elections mostly known for the broadcasted Elodia-disappearing private investigation series (LINK 49). He was arrested on June 22nd 2010, being accused of blackmailing. The prosecution argued that he demanded money from various public individuals in exchange for not publishing compromising information about them on his talk show Dan Dianconescu Direct broadcasted on the television with national coverage – OTV – which he was also owned. One of the individuals he blackmailed was MOȚ Ion Florin, a small commune mayor in Arad County, by asking for 200,000 euros, who under threat sent through an intermediary approximately 20% (LINK 50). The prosecution also proved that in April 2005, directly and indirectly he threatened business man ŢÂRDEA Paul Petru on releasing compromising information about him in case he did not pay 100,000 euros of which Diaconescu received almost 5% (LINK 51). On December 18th 2013 he was found guilty and sent to prison for 3 years (LINK 52). He contested the decision to the Appeal Court of Bucharest, which on March 4th 2015 declines his appeal and extends the imprisonment by 2 more years and 6 months. In addition the court banned him from any journalistic activity written or by audiovisual means for 5 years as a complementary punishment after the imprisonment time (LINK 53). (LINK 54, 55, 56)

  1. George Becali

George “Gigi” BECALI, is a Romanian politician – presidential candidate in the 2004 and 2009 elections, elected member in the European Parliament in the 2007 and 2009 legislatures, elected deputy in the Romanian Parliament in the 2012 elections – business man mostly known for his nationalist populist speech and ownership of football club FC Steaua București. He is also considered one of the wealthiest persons in Romania. He has been involved in many controversies including verbal abuse on public national television, slander (LINK 57, 58), bribing of football players to lose a game (LINK 59, 60), fraud, abuse of power, kidnapping and other civil and criminal offences. On his behalf were open two criminal investigations; the first investigation started April 2nd 2009 when he was arrested on the accusation of kidnapping with the help from his bodyguards of the individuals that stole his car. On February 11th 2013, a court found him guilty and he received 3 years of suspended sentence (LINK 61, 62).

On November 3rd 2010, the national counter corruption agency, started an investigation on Becali’s name accusing him of abuse of power. The prosecution stated that from 1996 until 1999, the Ministry of National Defense through former Secretary of State CIOFLINĂ Dumitru and former Minister BABIUC Victor performed two domain exchanges of a total area of 3109694 ft² with George BECALI for a useless and much cheaper domain. The prosecution estimated that the state lost 892,758 US dollars (LINK 63). The High Court of Cassation and Justice found him guilty on May 20th 2013 of abuse of power and he was sentenced to 2 years in prison, but because he was already serving a 3 years of suspended sentence, the court merged the sentence and converted the suspended sentence to prison time, adding a complementary punishment of holding public office for 5 years after the imprisonment ends and compelled him, Cioflină and Babiuc to refund to the state the money plus the interest, the state budget lost (LINK 64). (LINK 65, 66)

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