Weekly review: when the house of cards crumbles

Weekly review: when the house of cards crumbles

Bucharest, February 7, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency

By Daniel Stroe

The past week has been largely dominated by the corruption scandal which has Elena Udrea, the most famous lady of the Romanian politics, at the heart of it. Once a presidential candidate and a woman who represented hope for the rebirth of the Romanian political right, Udrea is merely two days away from the risk of being arrested, following a vote in the Romanian Parliament scheduled on Monday evening.

The National Anti-Corruption Department (DNA) has sent the Romanian Parliament two arrest requests for Udrea and the lawmakers will convene on Monday to analyze the documents. But the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, that Udrea is a member of, explained that the two requests also include requests for preventive arrest on Udrea’s behalf. This is a unique situation in the history of the Romanian Parliament, he explained. In the meantime, Udrea reported to a police station in Bucharest, a weekly obligation since she has been under judiciary control pending the request for her immunity to be lifted by the lawmakers.

A flurry of details has emerged in the two corruption cases Udrea is being investigated in – the Microsoft and the Gala Bute file. Udrea is charged with taking a 500,000 Euro bribe from a former Romanian tennis player, Dinu Pescariu, who is investigated in the large Microfost file in return for her alleged intervention to relieve the latter of his judiciary problems. She denies having taking bribe or having resorted to peddling of influence and blames the home intelligence service SRI of setting her up. But DNA prosecutors say that Pescariu has admitted and filed a written denunciation against Udrea.

But new details emerge about Udrea and her former husband, businessman Dorin Cocos, in another file, related to the electronic platform E-Romania which is a program of the Romanian Government which eyes digitalizing and inter-connecting all the country’s public services. The two are accused they asked for a 3 million Euros bribe in order to facilitate state payments to all the companies involved in this digital project for which the Romanian Government paid 12 million Euros.

In the other file, related to Gala Bute (an international boxing gala held in Bucharest in July 2011 and which was centered on Lucian Bute, a former Romanian middleweight champion), Udrea is accused of fraudulent use of state funds while she held the position of Regional Development minister. Several people, including Rudel Obreja, former head of the Romanian Boxing Federation, have been placed under arrest in the same file.

The details of all the anti-corruption files and the myriad of accusations brought against Udrea are hard to follow by the ordinary citizen. What stands out amid all this judiciary effervescence, which only comes to confirm an increased anti-corruption campaign which has seen dozens of politicians, businessmen and even magistrates sent behind bars or placed under criminal investigation, in an unprecedented drive to root out graft in Romania, is the silence kept by former President Traian Basescu. He is the one who propelled Elena Udrea on the Romanian male dominated political scene and last fall he even raised eyebrows when he called her the most honest of all the presidential candidates. Basescu, who finished his second consecutive presidential term in December, has ever since been silent, withdrawing from the public life, but is expected to return into the spotlight to protect his political protégée.

The Romanian media say that, most likely, lawmakers will on Monday vote to strip Udrea of immunity, given the amplitude of the files she is investigated in. Her arrest would send another shock wave across the political board, all the more Udrea, a very elegant lady, has largely embodied the untouchable Romanian politician. Her downfall sends the signal things in the Romanian politics will never be the same and that politicians are no longer the immune legal jugglers Romanians are used to seeing up to now.

Also this week, for the first time in post-communist Romania, a judge of the country’s Constitutional Court, resigned following an anti-corruption investigation. Grebla was initially charged with peddling of influence and the National Anti-Corruption Department (DNA) said it had started a criminal investigation against Grebla. It further explained Toni Grebla sought to help companies belonging to a relative of his to avoid the embargo imposed by Russia on EU food imports by exporting through Turkey. Grebla would have used his influence to obtain customs documents meant to facilitate exports to Russia in return for financial and material favors, the prosecutors explained. DNA said it had cooperated in this high profile file with the Ministry of Interior’s internal security service.

His case is just another proof of a graft ridden system all the way to the top. The anti-corruption drive also comes amid efforts of the National Liberal Party, current President Klaus Iohannis’s party, to raise a new majority in the Romanian Parliament. At odds with social-democrat PM Victor Ponta, who was Iohannis’s main challenger in last fall’s presidential elections, Iohannis has not hidden his intention to rule with his own government to streamline what he calls necessary reforms in the country. The next big thing in the Romanian politics will be appointing the heads of the two secret services – SRI and SIE – after resignations of the former directors.