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The Romanian fight against corruption as Game of Thrones

The renewed attack against the chief of the anti-corruption prosecution Laura Kovesi and the recently appeared tendency for conditional liberation or conditional condemnation of people sentenced for corruption in Romania show that the system reacts to the changes in the external and the internal political balances

The chief prosecutor of DNA Laura Koveși (photo: YouTube CC-BY via Wikipedia Commons)

The Romanian fight against corruption reminds of the series “Game of Thrones”, where all the relations between the protagonists are those of power. They either kill one another, or practice war in the form of intimate relationships, but at the end of the day everything they do is to participate in the eternal fight for power. Anticorruption to the north of the Danube is often presented as a clash between good and evil. In fact it represents the current balance of forces between the participants in the political game.

The events of the last months show that perhaps there is an ongoing redefinition of the Romanian fight against corruption, through which it sets itself for the new external and internal political conditions of Romania. The process became more visible even in Bulgaria in the last weeks after different Bulgarian media discovered with a delay of one month that audio recordings have appeared in Romania, showing how the chief of the Romanian anti-corruption prosecution DNA Laura Kovesi “orders” a criminal investigation against the prime minister Sorin Grindeanu.

The Bulgarian private TV Channel 3 strengthened the feeling for a crisis in the Romanian anti-corruption, broadcasting interviews with the former DNA prosecutor Doru Țuluș and with skeptics towards what is going on in the Romanian justice at this moment: the member of the European parliament Norica Nicolai, the former president Traian Băsescu, jurnalists from the Antena 3 TV (which is close to the social democrats) and the anti-corruption expert from Transparency International Romania Victor Alistar. The common message in the interviews and the aired footage was that there is fear in Romania, because of the activity of the anti-corruption prosecution. It was hinted that due to her love of power Kovesi uses the institution for resolution of political conflicts.

Similiar claims have been made to the north of Danube for years. There have been a lot of scandals and attacks against DNA in Kovesi in Romania so far. Audio recordings were used in them. Israeli private spies had been invited to gather information about the chief of DNA. State institutions have tried to verify the activity of the specialised prosecution. In the summer of 2016 the Romanian Constitutional Court decided that the legislative texts for the abuse of public service be declared unconstitutional. The argumentation was that this decision will help avoid abuses by the judicial system. It is known that Romania is at the third place in the number of condamnations at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg in 2016.

In January 2017 the newly-elected government of the social democrats used the demands of the Constitutional court for changes in the texts for abuse of public service and of the ECHR for easing of the situation in prisons (that leads to complains in ECHR), in order to enact changes that were beneficial to leaders and regular voter of the Social Democratic Party. The February protests broke up and they were the most massive after December 1989. The changes were blocked. But those who try to follow the developments in Romania have remained with an unanswered question. Is it it true that there are two large camps in ”the deep state” with regard to the Romanian anti-corruption, that can’t reach an agreement and in order to find a new balance between themselves need to provoke hundreds of thousands people to protest? Or all the political conflicts that erupt periodically to the north of the Danube are like football games whose result is known in advance?

The events of the last two months confirm the impression that there is an ongoing change in the Romanian fight against corruption that inches forward. It is still early to say what is the direction that it will take, but various facts confirm it. The feeling for stagnation in DNA in the last times was confirmed by the recordings of Laura Kovesi, where she is heard to criticize her subordinates that they have to show results. Kovesi herself is convinced that the recordings are manipulated.

However there is no manipulation as far as the activity of the court is concerned. Dan Voiculescu – a media magnate, who was condemned to ten years imprisonment in 2014, because of criminal acts, connected with the privatization of the Institute for Food Research, was released on bail in July 2017. Given that he is known as the owner of the aforementioned Antena 3 TV, the right Romanians who support categorically the fight against corruption were celebrating the condemnation 3 years ago. The court decided that the damage done by Voiculescu is valued at 60 million euro. It was decided that the building of Antena 3 TV will be confiscated. The sentence promised to do justice against one of the dinosaurs of the transition, who are believed to have become rich through shady deals and through their proximity with the state. But it was revealed that at the moment of Voiculescu’s liberation the damage he was sentenced for had not been recovered by the Romanian state. The magnate paid for his acts with three years of his life, but, apparently, goes out of prison as rich as he entered it.

Again in July 2017 the former mayor of Constanța Radu Măzare was sentenced to four years imprisonment conditionally for the fact that he restituted illegally various terrains. Just as Voiculescu, Măzare was connected by many with clientelism and was considered one of the barons (a negative name of important local leaders) in the Social Democratic Party.

In the end of July the businessman Ioan Nicolae, who owns 1,7 billion euro, was released from prison on bail. Only in the first five months of his imprisonment in 2015, he writes five books, encouraged by the fact that for every written book his sentence will get a month shorter. This writing activity is often mocked at in the Romanian society and is characteristic for a lot of those who are sentenced for corruption. Nicolae was condemned in 2015 to 2,5 years imprisonment for the illegal financing of the 2009 presidential campaign of the candidate for president of the social democrats and former ambassador to USA Mircea Geoana.

Additionally, in June 2017 the Constitutional Court decided that the parliament has the right to summon the chief of DNA to meetings of the investigation commission for the presidential elections of 2009. Kovesi was unhappy with the decision and in July she rejected for a third time appearing before the commission.

The Constitutional Court’s decision was interpreted by some as an erosion of Kovesi’s power and accordingly to the fight against corruption. Protests against the Constitutional Court took place on 23 July 2017. On its Facebook page the organisers of the protest from the group “Corruption kills” declared that “The Constitutional Court has become the enemy of the democratic values”, that it is connected with the social democratic leader Liviu Dragnea and that this court is not what these demonstrators want.

However high requirements for integrity were not applied towards the president Klaus Iohannis, who is considered to be a supporter of the fight against corruption. In February 2017 the Romanian head of the state lost definitively a real estate in Sibiu, where he was mayor between 2000 and 2014. The court has decided that the real estate has been acquired on the basis of a false document. The act has been prepared by a municipal officer, whose cheating was found by the prosecution in 2003. The administrator was condemned to year and a half in prison. Afterwards the family Iohannis has known that it receives rents for a real estate that has been acquired by way of an illegal document. For the 14-years period until 2015 it accumulates rents of 320 000 euro. As a result of long judicial fights with another interested party Iohannis loses finally the control over the real estate in February 2017. In the spirit of “Game of Thrones” media wrote a lot about the case through the years, but it didn’t attract the attention of the prosecution…

How should we read the events of June and July – on one hand the increased attacks against Laura Kovesi and the accusation she creates fear in her own institution, and on the other hand the fact that important prisoners, condemned thanks to DNA, have ben released?

Possible explanations could be found both in the international and in the national context of Romania. So far the Western countries – with the USA and Germany as the most important representatives, have supported unconditionally the fight against corruption in Romania. It can be seen also in the figure of the president Klaus Iohannis, who is considered “as one of theirs” by the Romanian supporters of anti-corruption. Anticorruption has brought about a certain cleansing of the political elite of the country from the dinosaurs of transition, who have been related in media with the former security services, with Russia, or have been described simply as local “thrusters”. Thus, space for new politicians and new elite has been opened. It has found expression in the appearance of the the political party Union “Save Romania”, which gathered cadres and voters with various convictions, but, apparently, supporters of the fight against corruption.

However since Donald Trump has come in the White House, it looks like the transatlantic relation with the EU is being redefined and the roads of Washington and Berlin go different ways. Would that have its effect in Romania too? One of the most serious analysts of international relations – the director of the Institute for Political Sciences and International Relations at the Romanian Academy – Dan Dungaciu, asked rhetorically in the beginning of July: “Would that moment come when Romania would have to choose between its father and its mother?”. Apparently, he considered Trump to play the male role and Angela Merkel – the female one. The rearrangemens of the balances in Romania between these two important lobbies, that support the fight against corruption, is a possible explanation for the ongoing processes in it.

Another answer could be hidden in the internal political balances. In the autumn of 2015 the tragedy in the club “Colectiv” took tens of thousands of young people on the street. Only a few days of protests were enough for the prime minister Victor Ponta to resign. He was connected by the protesters with corruption, and it was considered to be the main cause for the fire in the club.

But in February 2016 similar demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of people didn’t shake the government. Only the minister of justice Florin Iordache resigned, as he accepted responsibility for the legal acts of the cabinet in the field of anti-corruption. A possible reason for this low effectivity of the protests is that in December 2016 social democrats received 45% of the votes at the parliamentary elections. They also have the support of smaller parties in the parliament. The Romanian society apparently trusts the program of Liviu Dragnea’s men, which promises raises of salaries and stimuli for the business in an attempt to increase the Romanian economy’s dynamics. At the same time the Romanian right parties seem to be depleted as far as ideas and leaders are concerned.

In these changing internal and external balances, the Romanian fight against corruption continues to move on. However it may be redefined so that it could be in pace with the actual conditions. The Judicial Inspection started verifications of the managerial effectivity of DNA and the General Prosecution on 10 July 2017, and the results are going to be announced on 11 August 2017.

A lot of opponents of the anti-corruption prosecution would probably be happy to see Laura Kovesi dismissed from the DNA lead position, but this would create a new wave of protests, similar to the one in February. It is more logical that the investigation over DNA and the attacks against Kovesi might bring about something else – finding a new balance between the various lobbies that either lead the fight against corruption, or are objects of its investigations.

In order to present a richer picture, one should note that the fights around anti-corruption in Romania are often internal clashes of the Romanian security institutions. To a large extent the “uncoverings” against Kovesi come from the România TV, owned by the businessman Sebastian Ghița. At this moment he is in a ”preventive arrest” in Serbia, after he run away from Romania, where DNA accused him of bribe, traffic of influence, blackmail, driving without licence and accest to secret information. In the past Ghița has had close relations with the former chief of the internal intelligence Gheorghe Maior (at this moment ambassador to the USA), and with another former chief in the same security institution – Florian Coldea. During a scandal that took place parallel to the protests of the winter of 2017, it was established that Ghița was on a vacation respectively with Coldea and with Maior at the Seychelles Islands and in Toscana. In January 2017 Coldea left his position as deputy director of the internal intelligence after ”uncoverings” and a scandal, caused again by the Romania TV and by Ghița himself. Before that Romanian media have been writing for years that the fight against corruption in the country is realised by the duo Coldea-Koveși.

The Romanian fight against corruption, apparently, is both desired and is met with resistance both to the north and to the south of the Danube. What is interesting is whether  in the last times it looks like both its supporters and its opponents support to a larger extent contacts with the fellow thinkers on the other side of the river. While the lobbies that propagate their interpretation don’t present the context of the Romanian fight against corruption, there is a danger that the people fall into the trap of their emotions in support of or against one or the other camp. And then the anticorruption and the talk about it will become simpy another name for the political fight in the style of „Game of Thrones”…

Принтиране
Vladimir Mitev
Journalist with focus international news and analysis. He has worked for the Tema Magazine between 2008 and 2015. He has founded the bilingual Romanian-Bulgarian blog ”The Bridge of Friendship”. His articles and translations have been published by the BGNES agency, the magazines of A-specto and Economy, the blog of ”Solidary Bulgaria” and others. He has published also in the Romanian magazines of Decât o Revista și Q Magazine, and in the Romanian left-wing portal Critic Atac.

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