By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest
Victor Ponta, the head of the social-democrat government in Bucharest, is said to have directly or indirectly used his influence to arrange the nomination of a police chief for a high ranking job in the ministry of Interior upon pressure exerted by an influential so-called “local baron” now behind the bars in a corruption affair, prosecutors have revealed.
Last week, Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors arrested Adrian Duicu, head of the Mehedinti County Council and an influential local politician belonging to the social-democrat ruling party. Duicu is one of the eight county council heads in the country under criminal investigation for corruption. Last night, Radu Mazare, since 2000 the mayor of Constanta, the second largest city in Romania, and a powerful figure in the same party, was detained for 24 hours by the National Anti-corruption Department (DNA) in a corruption file where he is accused of receiving a 175,000 Euros bribe to maneuver a social housing contract.
In the Mehedinti case, DNA also arrested Stefan Ponea, the county police chief who was a close aide of Duicu. Yesterday, the anti-corruption prosecutors disclosed the preliminary report in the corruption file opened against Duicu. The document shows that the head of the Mehedinti County Council used his influence to secure a promotion for Ponea in the Ministry of Interior. Thus, in June 2013, Duicu went to the seat of the government to handle the issue in person. “Here, in the PM’s office, Duicu called Ponea to tell him that the minister of was also present. Later, Duicu texted Ponea to inform him that the PM summoned the chief of police, Petre Toba.
Toba went to the government seat where Duicu asked him to keep Ponea in the position of chief of Mehedinti County Police, but later to promote him as deputy director of Public Order Department within the Ministry of Interior which Toba agreed to. Moreover, DNA showed that Duicu was also pulling strings to secure a job at the General Prosecutor’s Office for Ponea’s wife, a prosecutor. “We spoke about your family for 15 minutes in the oval office” Duicu informed Ponea later, according to a DNA intercepted phone conversation.
In his conversation to Ponea, Duicu used the appellative “big boss”. During his interrogation, Duicu said “the big boss” was not PM Ponta, but his chief of cabinet. He also said he doesn’t know who, Ponta or his chief of cabinet, summoned Toba to make the respective arrangements. Still, in one of the intercepted phone calls Duicu says “I am going to the prime-minister tomorrow morning”.
“I don’t think so” Ponta briefly replied when asked if he summoned the chief of national police to fix Ponea’s promotion. He said he would publish his own transcripts of the meeting. DNA’s report corners Pontea in a moment when his party’s local barons put a lot of pressure on him to stop the anti-corruption offensive against them. Even if Ponta didn’t attend the discussion in June 2013, it is highly unlikely he wasn’t informed about it by his chief of cabinet. The PM is yet to react to the scandal in a more convincing manner, before calls for his resignation, already heard in the public space, take a firmer shape.