Romanian MEP faces corruption trial in cash-for-influence scandal
Romanian MEP Adrian Severin will stand trial in his country for allegedly agreeing to take money from fake lobbyists more than two years ago in return for introducing amendments to draft EU laws in the European Parliament, the Romanian press reported yesterday (11 September).
Romania's anti-corruption agency, DNA, charged Adrian Severin with corruption over the allegations, which led Severin to being expelled from the Parliament's Socialists & Democrats (S&D) political group more than two years ago.
"In his MEP capacity, [Severin] accepted, between December 2010 and March 2011, the promise of two people to give him €100,000 annually, in exchange for introducing favourable amendments and voting against amendments, according to the interests of the company they said they represented."
In addition, according to the prosecution, Severin had accepted a proposed €4,000 fee for each working day spent pushing amendments or opposing them. During the same period, Severin had requested €12,000 in payment, and sent an invoice for this amount by email to his so-called 'employers'.
Severin's trial in Romania appears as a belated development to a case which involved two other MEPs, one of whom – an Austrian – was eventually sent to jail.
Severin, a heavyweight of the S&D group at that time, was trapped with two other MEPs - Austrian Ernst Strasser of the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) and Zorah Thaler of Slovenia, another Socialist – by journalists from the Sunday Times who were posing as lobbyists.
The arrangements took place between December 2010 and March 2011, when journalists from the British newspaper contacted some 60 MEPs to test their ethics. The reporters said they wanted to verify allegations that some politicians were prepared "to sell their services" to push through specific amendments to EU legislation in exchange for remuneration.
All the MEPs refused the cash, except those three. Following the revelations, Strasser and Thaler resigned, but Severin, a former deputy prime minister of Romania, vowed to stay on as an MEP in order to clear his name, despite being expelled from his political group. Later, Strasser was sentenced to a four-year prison term, while Severin remained a member of the European Parliament.
Severin protested his innocence but said he was not sure whether he would win the case, the Romanian press reported on Wednesday. In previous statements, Severin, who had nurtured ambitions for the job of EU foreign policy chief, which eventually went to Catherine Ashton, explained that there was nothing wrong if his “consultancy services” were remunerated.
Severin, who is a lawyer and runs a law office in Bucharest, said he did not understand on what basis he was being accused. He insisted that he had not tabled a single amendment and had not received any money.
“I trust the justice of history, I trust that justice will be made sometime in the future. Human justice is not perfect, even less is the Romanian justice,” Severin reportedly said.
Since it joined the EU in 2004, Romania was placed under scrutiny by the European Commission over weaknesses in its judiciary system. A Commission report under the so-called “Cooperation and Verification Mechanism” in December will assess how much progress Romania has made to reform its judiciary (see background).
When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In the case of Bulgaria, problems also remained regarding the fight against organised crime.
A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was set up to assist both countries with judiciary matters after their EU accession.
The European Commission expressed concern about the ongoing political infighting in Romania in its 18 July report which questioned the country’s ability to comply with the EU's fundamental principles and the sustainability and irreversibility of reform. Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that the political feuds in Romania had "shaken EU's trust" in the country.
The latest report, dated 30 January, appeared to turn the page of an extremely difficult 2012 year for EU-Romania relations.