Weekly review: an oligarch goes to prison

Weekly review: an oligarch goes to prison

 

By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

After nine years, the imprisonment of Dan Voiculescu, media tycoon and powerful politician, goes down in history as probably the most important trial in post-communist Romania due to its duration and media exposure, marking at the same time a turning point for the Romania justice so beset by political attacks and launching a serious warning to all those still deeming themselves above the law.

Voiculescu, the owner of the Intact media group, received ten years in prison for fraud in a case which started all the way back in 2005 and which caused the Romanian state damages of up to 60 million Euros. He was charged with illegal land swaps with the Institute of Food Research whose former director was also sentenced to eight years in prison. Already sentenced to five years in prison, the mogul had only one appeal left to make, but judiciary sources had warned his file will be prescribed at the end of the year. As a consequence, easy to understand, the oligarch did whatever he can to postpone the appeal and finally get the prescription of his corruption crimes. But late last year, a new panel of judges was instituted to try Voiculescu’s case after the latter managed to delay hearings by means of various legal loopholes. Of two judges in the previous panel, one was arrested for corruption while the second asked for retirement, in a move seen as Voiculescu’s hand.

He finally got a sentence double to the one received in the first verdict. The judges also ordered his accounts are frozen and paved under restraint several companies and his mansion in downtown Bucharest for the Romanian state to recover the damages. Last night, he was taken to the Rahova correctional facility. He may end up doing only a third of his sentence because of his age. Last night, Antena 3, his news TV station staged a drama in which their employer is the victim of a political vendetta and called on people to take to the streets to show their support for Dan Voiculescu, to little effect though.

Voiculescu’s imprisonment has sent shock-waves across the political spectrum and, along the trial of former PM Adrian Nastase, now in prison for the second time, this case is one of the most important in Romania’s post-communist judiciary. Many say the verdict yesterday marks a break up of the judiciary from political influence and opens a new era in an area which has been under constant monitoring from the European Commission since Romania joined the EU in 2007. The merit also goes to the judges of the new generation who stood up against judicial tricks and served justice in the end, despite being trampled upon on Voiculescu’s TV stations.

But who is Dan Voiculescu whose dealings started all the way back in the communist regime? Founder and now a behind the scenes leader of the Conservative Party which managed to enter the Romanian Parliament only by allying with the social-democrats, Voiculescu has been for a decade the man who pulled the strings in the Romanian politics. Very influential thanks to his large media empire, he uses his TV stations to launch scathing attacks against his political rivals. He is feared by politicians who seek to make him an ally rather than end up being devoured by his media. Journalists who dared criticize him were literally lynched by Voiculescu’s propaganda apparatus.

His biggest rival of all time has been President Traian Basescu whose two time impeachment, in 2007 and 2012, is said to have been orchestrated by Voiculescu. The severe political crisis of 2012, the worst in post-communist Romania and which many point to as a coup, threw Romania back in time years and left the country’s strategic projects, such as the Schengen accession, hanging by a thread.  The oligarch’s fall would mark a huge step forward for the Romanian democracy, prove the judiciary has finally frown to be independent from any political intrusion and might finally lead to a resetting of political parties, analysts say. His imprisonment may also change tactics before presidential elections his fall in which his media empire was to support PM Victor Ponta. But Ponta unable to pass a law on amnesty so to save Voiculescu’s skin, his TV stations may start a campaign to politically denigrate the prime-minister. Unless Voiculescu hopes Ponta becomes the next president of Romania who will then pardon him, quite unlikely.