The fight against corruption in 2020 appears to be guided by the same principles as in 2019, namely, a continued dedication to Europeanism and the modernization of institutions and administrative procedures in general. However, on a declaratory level, the Justice Department aims to accomplish a lot, but in reality, it has only done a few important items while refocusing its efforts on combating organized and violent crime. Given the enormous influence of the COVID epidemic on all levels of society, the result is a general underachievement when compared to the results expected and presumed by heads of justice at a given point in time.
What can definitely be said is that the time when prosecutors requested the arrest of famous people (politicians or important business public figures) for various corruption or economic crimes has long passed, and the public has been left without (what has been dubbed the “handcuffs show” in the media) this year, especially after the relevant jurisprudence from the European Convention on Human Rights.
Nonetheless, in the midst of an election year (local elections in September and parliamentary elections in December), there have been some attempts to discredit some of the competitors, based on allegations of illegal activities formulated through criminal complaints filed with various legal institutions, primarily the National Anti-corruption Directorate. All of the claims, however, have remained in the public domain, and prosecutors did not meddle with the elections this year, with no important official contender for local office under investigation.
As a result, despite public resources remaining the same or increasing, the battle against corruption has yet to be re-launched, following a frenzy of acquittals that began in 2019 and extended into 2020, doubled by a significantly slower pace of investigations. However, public opinion and leadership want greater tangible outcomes, particularly in light of a slew of allegations that public monies were misappropriated in relation to infrastructure projects (in recent years) or COVID pandemic efforts.
The DNA has been relatively quiet this year in comparison to previous years, with the most notable case being the investigation of former Health Ministers Mrs Sorina Pintea and, more recently, Mr Nicolae Banicioiu, both accused of trafficking, influence peddling, or accepting a bribe while serving as ministers in previous governments.
In relation to the medicines, medical devices, and equipment purchased during the COVID pandemic, the DNA is currently investigating the case of the general manager of Unifarm (the government’s centralised purchasing structure), who is accused of requesting a bribe of EUR760,000 to conclude several medical product contracts.
Another notable case is that of Mr Marius Fleancu, a judicial police officer who requested EUR1.1 million from a businessman (receiving only part of it in an in flagrante operation) in order to use his influence among other police officers and a prosecutor to have the latter close the criminal investigation against him for tax evasion charges with a prejudice of EUR3 million.
Many star-investigations have been closed this year by prosecutors, such as the case of Mr Marian Vanghelie (an influential politician, former Mayor of Bucharest’s 5th District, and head of a political party), a case in which the chief prosecutor of DNA subsequently decided to revoke this decision and requested the case be reopened in court.
Furthermore, since 2019, when the DNA’s acquittal rate surpassed a stunning 50%, the number of acquittals received by the DNA in 2020 has climbed even more. Thus, the cases brought by the National Authority for Property Restitution (ANRP) commission (with names like Mr Horia Simu, former deputy Mr Marko Attila, or Mr Teodor Nicolescu) were all acquitted (by the first court) for prejudices exceeding EUR70 million; Mr Robert Raduly and Mr Domokos Szoke, the mayor and vice mayor of Miercurea Ciuc, were definitively acquitted by a second court for prejudices exceeding (definitively). Many of them had already been arrested at the DNA’s request after being publicly accused and shown as major cases of serious corruption offences.
Other challenging cases, like as a blackmail case against media magnate Mr Dan Voiculescu (since 2014) and a case of influence trafficking involving former PSD lawmaker Sebastian Ghita, have been put on hold for years (since 2017).
In the first six months of 2020, DNA prosecutors decided to close criminal investigations in 963 more cases (another staggering figure that was interpreted by the public as clear evidence of investigations launched without minimal evidence by the previous Directorate leadership), while 84 Indictment Acts and Plea Bargain Agreements were sent to trial. At the start of 2020, the DNA has added 1,423 additional criminal cases to a docket of around 4,500. (after some 1,000 investigations had been previously forwarded to the Section for Investigating Justice Crimes because it involved prosecutors or judges).
The case of DNA Ploiesti former chief prosecutor Mr Onea Lucian, along with DNA prosecutors Mr Negulescu Mircea, Mr Alfred Savu, and Mrs Cerasela Raileanu, as well as other judicial police officers, is the most notable in 2020 from the Department for the Investigation of Crimes in Justice (SIIJ) portfolio of corruption crimes involving magistrates. Mr Negulescu was detained for three weeks before being freed by the High Court of Cassation and Justice, while some of the prisoners who had been wrongfully prosecuted or sentenced had their convictions overturned. Mr Onea and Mr Negulescu’s cases were transferred to the High Court in part.
In terms of anti-corruption, the European Anti-Fraud Office’s (OLAF) operation in Romania should also be recognized as an important component of the anti-fraud apparatus. As a result, Romania is the first country in the European Union to have its corruption investigations and recommendations touching European funding included in the most recent OLAF report, bolstering the position of DLAF (the Romanian branch). Romania was the subject of the most investigations in 2019 relating to the management and spending of European money, accounting for more than 10% of the total number of causes relating to European funding fraud.
The OLAF’s investigations ranged from the dismantling of complicated fraud networks involving the purchase of equipment using EU funding and manipulated auction procedures to significant customs operations involving consumer products and cigarettes. In keeping with the EU’s rising focus on sustainable environmental policy, the number of environment-related initiatives has also increased.
According to a newspaper report, the OLAF partnered with the National Anti-Corruption Directorate on a difficult investigation (DNA). The goal of this inquiry was to dismantle a fraud and money laundering network operating in the field of EU subsidies for water supply and waste-water infrastructure projects. A local public water supply company was one of the beneficiaries of the EUR102 million initiative. During the auction procedures, it was discovered that the beneficiary attributed two contracts to a company made up of a Romanian company and a German construction firm, with the latter taking the lead in the project, owning 70% of the company, and being the sole beneficiary of all EU funds invested. The OLAF discovered that the German company was not told about its role in the project, the auction procedures, the EU money, or the fact that the project was taking place in Romania during the investigation.