Romanian PM moves office to Defense Ministry to evade phone interceptions

Romanian PM moves office to Defense Ministry to evade phone interceptions


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

Romanian PM Victor Ponta made a shocking announcement last night saying he would relocate his office from the government seat to the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense in order to avoid what he called being “set up” following a spate of anti-corruption operations against his party’s leading members, in which the PM’s name also surfaced.

“I have moved my office starting today; I have one at the Ministry of Defense. It is a military base, better guarded. Anyone who comes to me is registered. I am expecting more set-ups on the part of Traian Basescu and his people. I want such set-ups to be foiled until November”, Ponta said last night in a TV talk-show.

The “set-up” he mentioned referred to a corruption case launched against Adrian Duicu, head of a county council in SW Romania. In some of the transcripts of phone interceptions made by the anti-corruption prosecutors, Duicu alleges he is in the rime-minister’s office to arrange the promotion of the county chief of police. Ponta denied he had witnessed or directly arranged such arrangements.

“I went and asked: Duicu was not in my office, he didn’t talk to me, he didn’t talk to the chief of police (who is said to have been summoned by Ponta to take care of the promotion Duicu was seeking); where did you have this information that this happened in my office? In my office came the director of the CIA along the head of SRI (the Romanian home intelligence service), about 20 prime-ministers have come so far, in my office has come not only ministers, but also heads of large corporations” Ponta added.

It is a first in post-communist Romania that an acting prime-minister moves his office outside the seat of government. The reasons invoked by the prime-minister concerning a better protection inside the Ministry of Defense are groundless since the seat of government is the second most heavily guarded building among the state institutions. By relocating his office, the prime-minister is expected to have a more cumbersome communication with his subordinates, which may hinder his activity.

Reacting to Ponta’s surprising announcement, President Traian Basescu said that the PM “must have had a nervous breakdown”. “This is unique in Europe, both in terms of attitude and solution. I have not heard over the past 25 years since the (anti-communist) revolution of a prime-minister withdrawing in a bunker. He has a mental problem” Basescu, Ponta’s political rival, said.

The opposition also criticized Ponta’s decision. “We are not at war” Vasile Blaga, head of the democrat-liberal party, said. “Mr Ponta has lost control, he announced he would take refuge in a military unit, which is unheard of so far” Crin Antonescu, the liberal leader and former ally of Ponta, also reacted. But Ponta’s decision highlights the intensity of the political turmoil in Bucharest and marks a new stage in the ongoing dispute between him and President Basescu before the presidential elections in November where Ponta is favored by the current polls. His popularity is on the wane though especially after introducing a controversial fuel tax, which raised prices.