By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest
The Romanian President Traian Basescu has today decided not to pardon George Becali (photo), owner of FC Steaua Bucharest, Romania’s most notorious football club, who is serving a cumulative three years and a half prison sentence in three separate cases, the Romanian Presidency has announced today in a press release, ending a debate which peaked after Gica Popescu, a former football icon, was also sent to jail.
The President’s decision was sent to Becali, the text further reads. Basescu’s decision comes after the Ministry of Justice also rejected Becali’s pardon application. “I am thinking of this profoundly. He is a man in a difficult situation, but I am in an even more difficult situation. Because we are not discussing about pardoning a woman who left four children at home, we are not discussing about a 80 years old woman who moved a fence (a few years ago Basescu pardon an old lady who moved the fence delimiting a plot of land despite a final court’s decision at her expense and later convicted). This is not an easy decision” Basescu said mid-March in a talk show.
A day earlier, George Becali sent the President a public message from behind the bars. “I am calling on the President, if possible, if the law allows me and if he is available, to receive me, a poor convict, in an audience. He is doing good to a man who sat next to him during matches, shared the same table (…) How can I be conceited and not ask for pardon? I will ask for it a hundred times”, Becali said in his message.
But a poll done by the website Ziare.com showed that four in five Romanians disagreed with Becali being pardoned by the President. The debate flared up after the former international Gica Popescu was in early March sentenced to three years in prison for shady transfers, along seven other football bosses, club owners and managers, in a landmark trial. More than nine in ten Romanians also disagreed with Popescu being pardoned, polls showed, prompting the former football player to say in a message he is not interested in being pardoned and asked for an end to this debate.
Becali was sentenced in May last year to a three years and a half prison term in a case in which he was charged with illegal land swaps with the Ministry of Defense. The former minister of Defense, Victor Babiuc, was also jailed in this case, but was released in the meantime. Becali also got an extra six months jail terms in two other cases concerning the attempt to rig a match and illegal restraint. All his applications for temporary release, even on medical grounds, have been so far rejected by judges.
Becali has come into the spotlight after buying FC Steaua Bucharest and has been a regular on all the TV shows and news bulletins. He has made himself a reputation of philanthropist and became very popular. In 2000 he won a seat in the European Parliament for the far right Greater Romania party, soon after being released from arrest in the illegal restraint case, which finally brought him a prison term last May.