High profile Romanian arrest bodes well ahead of monitoring report

Alina Bica

The high-profile arrest at the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism is expected to influence an upcoming monitoring report, which may open the doors to Romania’s Schengen accession. EURACTIV Romania reports.

The Romanian justice system took a hit last week, as Alina Bica, the chief prosecutor of the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT), was detained by anti-corruption prosecutors.

Bica is being charged with malfeasance in office for actions committed during her tenure in the Central Commission for Establishing Compensations, where she represented the Ministry of Justice. The former chief-prosecutor is being accused of approving an overvalued compensation for a land plot in favour of businessman Stelian Gheorghe that produced damages worth €62 million.

The chief prosecutor has been suspended as a magistrate, and will stay in custody for 30 days pending further judicial decisions.

Among former members of the Commission, the National Anticorruption Directorate has also detained the former chief of the National Authority for Property Restitution (ANRP), Crinu?a Dumitrean, and has requested approval to arrest the liberal deputy, Florin Teodorescu.

Alina Bica was appointed aa the head of DIICOT in 2013 by Prime Minister Victor Ponta. At the beginning of this week, President Traian B?sescu approved her resignation, and the Superior Council of the Magistracy (CSM) suspended her from the judiciary.

CVM consequences

It is highly likely that the Romanian scandal is seen in Brussels in a positive light. Like Bulgaria, Romania is monitored under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), put in place to help the two countries mend deficiencies in their law enforcement systems (see background).

Unlike Bulgaria, Romania has been able to effectively jail several high officials, including former Prime Minister Adrian N?stase. More recently, Viorel Hrebenciuc, vice-president of parliament’s lower house, and a member of the ruling Social Democrats, resigned from Parliament, after it became known that he is being investigated for corruption.

From among the former members of the Commission, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) has also detained the former chief of the National Authority for Property Restitution (ANRP), Crinu?a Dumitrean, and has requested approval to arrest the liberal deputy, Florin Teodorescu. DNA has seized the assets of several former members of the Commission, including those of the former chief prosecutor. 

Last month, anticorruption prosecutors started a large investigation against several former ministers, including a current Romanian MEP – Dan Nica -, for taking bribes and facilitating illegal contracts with the aim of leasing Microsoft licenses at over-inflated prices. In sum, the latest cases under the focus of DNA involve police officials, prosecutors and politicians and aim at recovering millions of Euros. The Romanian authorities asked the European Parliament to lift Dan Nica’s immunity.

>> Read: Senior Romanian politician resigns in corruption scandal

Additionally, incoming Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is spearheading a crackdown on corruption.

>> Read: Incoming Romanian president pushes crackdown on corruption

Experts at the European Commission visited Romania at the end of September. They met with high officials, and discussed the progress made with regards to the reform of the justice system and the fight against corruption. According to the Minister of Justice, Robert Cazanciuc, a final visit of the Commission is scheduled to take place in December, before next report is released.

Mina Andreeva, deputy spokesperson to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said on 24 November that the next CVM report will be made public “in the beginning of next year” and that the monitoring on Romania and Bulgaria will continue with yearly reports.

Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes, the French ambassador to Bulgaria was quoted as saying on 20 November by Dnevnik, the EURACTIV partner in Bulgaria, that the monitoring on Bulgaria could be strenghtened.

Meglena Kuneva, Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister, responsible for European policies and for CVM, said on 24 November that Bulgaria was running the risk of being separated from Romania under the CVM, and that Romania could be allowed to join the EU’s border-free Schengen space.

Both Bulgaria and Romania are technically ready to join Schengen, but several old member states link their accession to progress under CVM. The Barroso Commission repeatedly confirmed that Bulgaria and Romania are ready to join the EU’s borderless space, and has insisted that Schengen and CVM are unrelated issues.

When Bulgaria and Romania 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. Seven years after their accession, the CVM is still ongoing and will continue under the next EU Commission. 

Lately, the Commission reported under CVM every year with reports on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organised crime. The last report on Romania was largely seen as positive.

>> Read: Commission issues positive monitoring report on Romania

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