If you have ever wondered how close to political reality the show House of Cards is, just take a look at Romania. In Bucharest, internal politics play out like a kind of soap opera version of the American TV series, only with more cigarettes and less profundity. And sadly, it is all entirely real.
All of the revelations of recent weeks, all of the investigating on the part of the public prosecution, all of the corruption dossiers leave little doubt: the political caste in Romania is in pretty bad shape. And the Social Democratic Party of current Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who is also likely to win the presidential elections on November 2nd, is certainly no exception.
Dan Ṣova: “Let me tell you something. I spoke to some public prosecutors. We can go to jail for 15 years for this. Have you all gone mad.”
Prosecutors: “Yes, but we follow your regulations. You put down the law, and then we enforce it.”**
It is probably internal power struggles between intelligence agencies preceding the presidential election, combined with the hard work of the country’s anti-corruption bodies that have provided the Romanian population and other interested parties with an unrestricted view of the current spectacle. It tops everything previously imaginable, everything previously suspected or known, that had never been entirely verifiable. If people used to think that self-interest influences the actions of Romanian politicians, they now must recognize that it determines it. Solely.
Dan Ṣova: “Let me tell you about the law 78/2000. It was written by Stoica in 2000 and we idiots approved it. Until a few years ago, nobody cared about this law. But then Nastase became its first victim”. (Law 78/2000 concerns corruption. Adrian Nastase, the former chief executive and mentor to Prime Minister Ponta, was twice convicted of corruption under the law. Nastase was granted an early release from prison in August)**
More is likely to follow soon. Recently, Romania’s anti-corruption public prosecution office (DNA) has requested that the immunity of nine former ministers from several previous administrations and diverse political parties be revoked. Some of these individuals currently occupy seats in the Romanian parliament’s Chamber of Deputies and Senate, even the European Parliament. They are all suspected of having secured a contract with Microsoft to provide IT solutions to the Romanian educational system worth 200 million euros. The DNA says that an estimated 60 million euros in bribe money changed hands in the process, facilitated by a complex network involving partners in Austria and Liechtenstein.
Meanwhile, in the northeast of the country, where the famous bears live, three high ranking members of parliament, including Ponta’s father-in-law and Vice President of the Romanian Chamber of Representatives Viorel Hrebenciuc are alleged to have influenced the public forest administration concerning restitution. The matter involves more than 40,000 hectares of forest dispossessed by the communists and which the Romanian state is obliged to return. The only problem is that that the beneficiary was only the rightful heir of the former owner in the eyes of the aforementioned members of parliament. The law begs to differ. The damage to the state following the restitution would have amounted to 300 million euros.
Those are just two of the most glaring things that have gone wrong. There are also local politicians said to have promised their confidantes from the outer offices of the prime minister posts in the capital, like the president of the Social Democratic Party from the administrative district of Mehedinṭi, Adrian Duicu. After a six-month stint in jail, he is currently under house arrest.
Meanwhile, a powerful Social Democrat from the town of Constanṭa on the Black Sea, Nicuṣor Constantinescu, has escaped. He is a suspect in three different corruption cases, which is also why he was suspended from his function as local district president. Constantinescu is alleged to have caused public damages in the amount of more than five million euros. However, the Romanian authorities cannot prosecute him for these damages at the moment because he has yet to return from a medical visit to the United States. An international warrant has been issued for his arrest.
DNA has also started investigating allegations of abuse of political authority by Dan Ṣova, who is the former transport minister and head of Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s presidential election campaign. Wiretapped conversations seem to indicate that Ṣova promised Viorel Hrebenciuc the passage of an amnesty law. Ṣova pledged that the Ministry of Justice would be influenced accordingly. In exchange, Ṣova expected Hrebenciuc to support his campaign to become Ponta’s successor as leader of the party. He has since been suspended from all party functions. Hrebenciuc has terminated his mandate and thus forgone his immunity.
Viorel Hrebencius: I’m telling you, about this whole thing, we have to somehow make amnesty happen. Look…
Dan Ṣova: Amnesty and ordered pardon.
Viorel Hrebenciuc: Yes, I am telling you. And you will tell the party.**
“We are young, but we are those least influenced by communism. We can be accused of inexperience, but not of lack of goodwill,” a 25-year-old Victor Ponta, then public prosecutor, said in 1997 in an interview with the TV channel RTV. However, according to Romanian media reports, during the forest restitution scandal, the regulatory authority of the administration that answers directly to the office of the prime minister, did not react despite having detected irregular practices. The public prosecution was notified by employees of the public forest administration.
The regulatory authority has denied this accusation.
Viorel Hrebenciuc: The largest party. Solid as it is. Listen to me: It doesn’t matter if one baron or other disappears. That doesn’t count, Dan!
Dan Ṣova: The party works.**
Ṣova has a point. The Social Democrats have been the decisive power in Romania for years with little interruption. Rooted in what was left of the Communist Party after the revolution, which was quite a lot, the Social Democrats have remained the largest party ever since. The party has survived several major scandals, including the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase for corruption, without changing the electorate’s inclination to vote for them again and again. Nearly half of Romanians seem to have grown accustomed to this political style characterized by nepotism and self-interest. And no one can tell if the recent revelations will do anything to change that.
Translated by Caprice Jussel. Photos by Mihai Stoice.
**The above quotes are taken from the transcript of a phone call between Viorel Hrebenciuc and Dan Ṣova recorded by the DNA. Source: www.hotnews.ro, translated from Romanian by Eva Konzett
Viorel Hrebenciuc: Said to be one of the most powerful figures in the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the former Vice President of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies resigned from parliament on October 21st, 2014. He has been implicated in three separate corruption cases.
Dan Ṣova: Member of the Social Democratic Party. His fame grew immensely when he publicly denied that the 1941 Pogrom of Iaṣi had happened. The former transport minister and manager for Prime Minister’s Victor Ponta’s presidential campaign, has since been suspended from all political functions.