By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest
Romanian PM Victor Ponta has raised eyebrows after a series of statements which many have labeled as pressure on the justice system amid a tax evasion investigation against a Lukoil operated refinery in Romania which prosecutors had placed under distraint, prompting the head of government to voice concern about the jobs at the oil complex.
Ponta seemed to be discontent with the distraint and pointed out saving the 3.500 jobs at the refinery should be the priority of the authorities. “The prosecutor I think is not even interested in the fact Lukoil has 3.500 employees”, Ponta said when asked about the investigation at Petrotel, following tax evasion and money laundry claims concerning 230,000 Euros. Production was halted and assets frozen last week at the refinery in Ploiesti, a city some 70 kilometers north of Bucharest.
Pointing out he doesn’t want to interfere with the investigation, the PM went on to highlight he hopes for “the wisdom and responsibility of the investigators to find a legal solution” in this case which involves “economic interests of extremely important companies”. He also said that, if the 3.500 employees of Petrotel lost their jobs, they would all be marching in front of the government the following day.
Ponta, who rejected any political connotation related to this investigation, drew the ire of some Romanian politicians. „Ponta’s statements were direct threats against prosecutors” Monica Macovei, former Justice Minister and a candidate in next month’s presidential elections, reacted. “Anyone wishing the top job in the country should understand justice is justice, economy is economy and politics are politics” she added, referring to Ponta who is the favorite in the presidential race. Romania’s Superior Magistrates Council also announced it would analyze Ponta’s statements and see if they require further steps.
The distraint was then partially lifted, but judges in Ploiesti argued today the measure is not the result of the political statements. They further said the partial lift of the distraint was aimed at helping the employees, but also the company whose profit will be channeled towards covering the 230 M Euros damages.
Renewing his pledge to support an independent justice, Ponta added today that, as head of government, he has to “take care of the Romanians who turn an honest penny, who have a salary and have to lead the day to day life in difficult conditions”. His criticism of the manner the prosecutor deployed the investigation sounded even more surprising since Ponta himself used to be a prosecutor before turning to politics.