Corruption is not an abstract thing in Romania

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The recent Commission report on corruption in the 29 member countries reveals a difference how older and newer EU member such as Romania deal with corruption, writes Sabina Iosub.

Sabina Iosub is a journalist and anchor of “Previziunile Zilei” (the Day’s Predictions) on Antena 3 television in Romania.

The power may corrupt! This statement is as old as politics is. Historians believe that the first corrupted politician was the leader of the prehistoric man tribe.

He was the first whom, in exchange of a better part of the food, allowed someone to stay closer to the fire or shared his weapons with those to supported him as  chief.

The habits are the same, only the object of trade has changed.

Nowadays, the old share of meat is represented by off-shore accounts or the stocks under different names, shady operating funds, while the place closer to the fire translates into important jobs on big company boards.

The European Commission Report on corruption has a chilling result: the European politicians are corrupted. After such a conclusion, the anti corruption lessons between the old and new European members have caught a ludic façade, not very convincing for anybody.  The commissioners need to adapt their position in front of such states as Romania or Bulgaria, the difference being made not by the corruption level, but by the determination of the anti-corruption mechanisms to track, investigate and sanction high-level corruption.

The Commission’s septic terminology in this respect is translated by the press in a vivid and determined take. The pages of the big daily and weekly newspapers show the temptation of power results. If you peruse the European press and you see the same problem everywhere. Allegations of bribe, onerous businesses (especially in shady transactions with energy or real estate), public money misuse, influence over justice or state institutions, tax evasions – the list can go on. The press investigations may fall on deaf ears, most of the time.

The difference between old and new Europeans is given by courage. The old Europeans are getting slower at hunting down corruption and deal with it when it involves political powers. On the other hand, the new Europeans deal with it on a theoretical level being gentle while part of it and aggressive after losing it.

Even the recently dignitary convictions in Romania –   the ex-liberal ministries Fenechiu

and Chiuariu, have been found guilty following investigations initiated long before USL, the alliance which includes the liberal party, won the elections in 2012. None of these convictions managed to persuade the public opinion of indubitable judicial evidence and left the door open for speculations about political retaliation.

In return, in the old Europe the mechanism works, take a look at the press. Christian Wuff has lost Germany’s presidency due to the investigation on his real-estate loan, while Ivo Sander was under radar during his second term as prime minister.

Spain’s royal family saw the prosecutors at their door, and friends of the Czech prime minister were investigated while being supported by the head of Government.

In Romania the anti corruption fight is theoretically with everybody and de facto with the opposition. The perception created here is that power means the president, beneficiary of a long double term, while the opposition is the rest of the world, including governmental parties.

The popular vote gets the politicians temporary immunity, not recognized by Constitution.

In his ten years tenure, the president appears not only the protector, but also the head of the anti corruption organisms. This led not only to an image dilemma for these institutions, but to an ethical one.

The Adrian Nastase case is the most eloquent example of how things may change after the mandate’s over .The immunity makes way to conviction, the legal evidence loses ground in the battle with the decision of setting an example. These practices harm the idea of Justice itself.

 De facto protection of a politician during his mandate gives him the possibility to destroy evidences against him, and a conviction with no clear proof only confirms the popular perception of retaliation.

The Romanian magistrate has not yet the courage to attack corruption at its highest level – during a politician‘s tenure. The investigation of a big sports gala (Gala Bute), under radar for waste of European money, began after the former minister in charge with this was no longer part of Government and after her party was in the opposition.

Investigating the president is not even a question. The chiefs of the anti corruption institutions prevail of an inaccurate article in the Constitution and avoid any comments on this subject.

This is how an important deal on Romanian soil was overlooked – the first step inside the European Union of the Russian oil & gas company Gazprom through an interesting affiliation: the notary office run by the President’s daughter.

The Russian company decided to enter the Romanian retail oil & gas market in 2012 by buying more than 100 gas stations via NIS Petroleum, a Serbian company which is a subsidiary of Gazprom.

All transactions made by NIS Petroleum/Gazprom were done through the same notary – Ioana Basescu.

Ironically, the President was a fierce opponent to Russian interests in Romania. The situation may be similar to that of President George Bush, who was vehemently against Osama bin Laden, but not against his brother, Shafiq bin Laden, on obvious reasons- his wealth.

Close to the Bush and Bin Laden’s story, the Russian oil & gas company Gazprom and the Presidents’ daughter were following the money trail, in spite of the President’s public statements.

According to existing documents, President Traian Basescu crossed paths with the Russian company more than once.

For instance, LUKOIL sponsored with €100,000 the President’s electoral campaign, while MARKO International – which owns the main aluminum plant in Romania – got important commercial benefits using the President’s signature.

Another notorious scandalous affair with suspicions of high-level corruption raises a lot of eyebrows on the legitimacy of the President’s acquisition of 291 hectares of bare land, through his daughter Ioana.

The first question is raised around the €1 million Euro loan taken from the state bank CEC.

This loan was approved by the State bank in a rush without all the guarantees requested by law. Moreover, Traian Basescu admitted the private acquisition was accomplished using the advice of the Presidential Counselor on agriculture.  On the other hand, another high- level state authority played a part: the Chief Prosecutor sent an official request to the National Authority for the Property Restitution to check if the transaction was good to go as far as the legal situation of the are was concerned.

Keeping it in the family, Ioana Basescu’s fiancé is under suspicion to have used his influence to buy the litigation rights for a large plot of land, thing which got him 10 million Euro as compensation from the State. At the origins of this transaction was a forged death certificate of a lady descending from a noble Romanian family who had been fighting for more than 10 years in the Court to obtain this compensation.

Unfortunately, corruption is not an abstract term in Romania.

The only chance for Romania is to start fighting corruption from ground zero.  But this requires information and mobilization of simple citizens – which is not simple at all.

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