Weekly review: the noose tightens

Weekly review: the noose tightens

Bucharest, March 14, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency

By Daniel Stroe

Last night, Finance minister Darius Valcov was leaving a TV station where he had been invited to talk about the new fiscal code. On his way out he was welcomed by what he least expected: the anti-corruption prosecutors, the nightmare of any politician in Romania who’s got something to hide. This very morning, one of the most powerful mayors in Bucharest, Marian Vanghelie, mayor of District 5, was arrested for 30 days for corruption.

Valcov is accused by the National Anti-Corruption Department (DNA) that, when he was mayor of Slatina (2204-2012), a town in southern Romania, he used his influence to channel some public contracts to certain companies in exchange for 20 per cent commissions amounting to a total 2 million Euros. Valcov left the DNA headquarters last night after a three hour interrogation while DNA said it would indict the minister for peddling o influence. This morning, in the same file, the current mayor of Slatina, Ninel Florin Pena, was detained for 24 hours by the DNA prosecutors.

But 2 million Euros seem to be pocket change in comparison to what DNA suspects Marian Vanghelie, mayor of Bucharest’s Dstrict 5, arrested this morning for 30 days on charges of corruption – peddling of influence, money laundry and bribe. Judicial sources disclosed Vanghelie is suspected of charging a 20% commission of the total value of the contracts his town hall has so far granted. The mayor secured the money by means of a network of firms, one of them managed by his companion, Oana Niculescu-Mizil, a lawmaker in the Romanian Parliament. She was interrogated today by anti-corruption prosecutors.

As a guarantee he would pay the 20% commission, one of the contractors ceded the ownership of one of the firms involved in contracts with the District 5 town hall to Vanghelie’s driver. The total value of the public contracts the mayor is deemed to have asked commissions for rises to 2 billion lei (450 million Euros). Vanghelie alone is suspected of receiving a staggering 90 million Euros in total bribe. Nonsense, Vanghelie replied through his lawyer.

What is more shocking in this case is that Vanghelie was intercepted by the DNA prosecutors boasting he could intervene by the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis through a TV anchor, Rares Bogdan, to bury a criminal investigation of his interlocutor. Vanghelie argued, according to the transcripts, Iohannis needed him in order to raise a new majority in the Romanian Parliament and thus oust PM Victor Ponta from power.

Vanghelie, mayor of District 5 since 2000 and an exotic Romanian politician who was often mocked for his Romanian language difficulties, was last year expelled from PM Victor Ponta’s social-democratic party after he asked Ponta to quit the party leadership and assume the defeat in November’s presidential elections where he lost to Iohannis. Vanghelie and another member, Mircea Geoana, former minister of Foreign Affairs and presidential finalist in 2009, formed a new party – the Romanian Social Party – early this month. Vanghelie alleges the anti-corruption investigation against him was ordered by Ponta, his now political rival.

“I am tonight going to talk to Rares Bogdan so he goes tomorrow morning, early, to Iohannis (…) because I am in contact with Iohannis through Rares Bogdan because he needs me to build a new majority in the Senate”, Vanghelie was quoted as saying.

But the anti-corruption drive this week doesn’t stop here: DNA is now asking for the Parliament’s approval on lifting the immunity of senator Dan Sova, an ally of PM Ponta and former minister of Transport. Sova is accused of destroying digital evidence of a legal counseling company he used to work for related to a file concerning a huge energetic complex in Romania, Turceni-Rovinari. Prosecutors say Dan Sova’s legal house and his accomplices deprived the state energetic complex of 71 million lei (about 16 million Euros) in just half a year. Sova was hired as lawyer but lost many trials the energetic complex was involved in. in return, Sova’s legal company earned a little less than 1 million Euros.

A vote will be scheduled to take place in the Romanian Senate, as the flawed procedure prevails. But this week, Romanian lawmakers again embarrassed themselves after rejecting DNA’s request to lift the immunity of Laszlo Brobely, former minister of Environment, on three counts of peddling of influence. The vote is another slap on the face of DNA and shows politicians, regardless of the political front, close ranks before anti-graft efforts. Reacting to the vote, the US Embassy in Bucharest reminded Romanian lawmakers that all men are equal before the law, while the Dutch Embassy asked politicians to stick to the recommendations made by the European Commission in its justice evaluation reports.