Former Romanian MEP jailed for land exchange deals

Gigi Becali.jpg

Former Romanian MEP George (Gigi) Becali has been sentenced to three years in prison for abuse of power in connection with a land exchange deal with the Romanian Defence Ministry 15 years ago.

Romania’s highest court on Monday (20 May) handed down the sentence to Becali, the owner of Steaua Bucharest, Romania’s most popular football club. Becali last year won a seat in the national parliament for the ruling Social-Liberal alliance.

Becali was convicted along with Victor Babiuc, a former defense minister, and Dumitru Cioflina, former armed forces chief of staff, who were sentenced to two years in prison. The two officials have been accused of handing Becali two plots of farmland, totaling 29 hectares, in exchange for less valuable land, costing the state €700,000.

In a statement following the ruling, Becali said his conviction was orchestrated by Romanian secret service to get the country out of European Commission Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (see background) and allow its accession to the EU's borderless Schengen area.

Becali ran for the elections for the European Parliament, which were held in November 2007, following the country’s EU accession. However, his party (PNG-CD) won just under the 5% threshold. At the June 2009 European elections, Becali won an MEP seat by running ran on a ticket of Corneliu Vadim Tudor’s Great Romania nationalist party.  

In December 2012 Becali was elected member of the Romanian Parliament and left the European Parliament. He also ran for president in 2009, winning less thatn 2% of the vote.

Becali’s political views are extreme nationalistic; he declared himself a follower of the fascist pre-war Romanian Legionnaire Movement. Homosexuals are a favourite target, threatening to "finish" them if he is given the power.

Becali was arrested and imprisoned on 3 April 2009 after a gang stole his car, and he sent armed bodyguards to recover it. They attacked the thieves and took them to Becali, who then carried his own inquiries. This attempt at private justice led to a three-year suspended sentence.

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 most recent CVM report.

The 18 July report 2012 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.

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