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EU Corruption briefing: Use of public positions Against Public Interests in Romania

For many years corruption was seen as a problem only of developing countries, While the European Union (EU) on the contrary was the temple of the rule of law, exporting good governance both to its own peripheries and worldwide. Many European Countries indeed remain among the best governed in the world, although the downfall of the Santer commission on charges of corruption, The enlargement of the EU by it’s incorporation of new member countries with unfinished transitions, and the economic crisis all strongly indicate that control of corruption is difficult to build and hard to sustain. Data published by the World Bank and taken from the worldwide Governance indicator (WGI) control of corruption offer a global picture that is no less challenging.

A long-standing controversy exists over whether big government is the source of corruption or the solution to it. In Europe, big government when measured as the proportion of total spending from GDP, is associated with less corruption, not more; when the opposite is true for Latin America. It seems rather obvious it is considered that the Scandinavian countries as the least corrupt countries in Europe are big spenders traditionally associated with social welfare. For instance, corrupt politicians tend to orient public spending so as to maximize income for their clients and political sponsors which generally means that the money is challenged to projects resulting in large government contracts which are attributed to favored contractors.

The problem with that even- even presuming that no extra would be incurred by the government and that such projects do add something to social welfare-is that such client-directed spending tends to unaffordable and so squeezes investment in other areas. The most corrupt European countries indeed spend significantly less on health. They are also those where citizens complain more loudly about corruption.
Romania is at one extreme. Of course, part of the explanation is development: Romania is less developed than most EU countries so they require the construction of modern infrastructure and so on. According to a recent study, more than €38.6 billion is lost each year in Romania due to corruption. This is equivalent to around 15.6% of its GDP.
Corruption is clearly a priority for Romanians. As the results of the 2017 Special Eurobarometer indicate, 68% of Romanian citizens believe that they are personally affected by corruption in their daily lives, the highest proportion among the EU member states. 46% consider that corruption has increased over the past three years.
Additionally, 25% reported having been asked or expected to pay a bribe for a public service they needed at a given time, the second-highest among the EU.

Moreover, Romania scored 47 points out of 100 and ranked, after Bulgaria, the most corrupt EU member state, in the Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International in 2018.
It is not difficult to see the European dimension of the rule of law problem in Romania. Being the biggest country in its region, it sets the trends for the others too, like Bulgaria or the Western Balkan states that wish to accede the EU.
The exacerbation of corruption in Romania, or the improvement of the situation there, is going to set a pattern for the neighbors too. It will also test the EU’s effectiveness in promoting its values throughout its territory.
However, the political and economic players must do their part in Corruption here too.
With a population of 20 million fairly evenly distributed between town and country, mayors and councilors are big players who get to manage much of the €30 billion in EU funds that Romania is due to receive between 2014 and 2020. The risk of corruption is high: The new mayor of Bucharest, for example, will manage an annual budget of about €900 million.
Here are acts of corruption of two political figures; who illustrate the trouble with Romania’s politics. Marian Oprișan and Ionel Palăr, local politicians from the poorest region of the European Union (Moldova).

Marian Oprișan
The press has nicknamed Marian Oprişan the quintessential “local baron” because of the power he wields within his party and county. While most local barons eventually have “days of expiration,” usually when their party loses control or when they are convicted and end up serving time, Marian Oprișan, county council chairman of Vrancea County is like The Highlander of local politics: invincible and motivated by the sole desire to remain in control. Even though the PSD leader seems to keep stressing on the infrastructural development of Moldova, his records of corruption have erased the trust people had upon him.

Some would say that Oprişan was born a political animal, but the reality is that the Vrancea Social Democrats’ perpetual president was not. Before the uprising in 1989, Oprișan worked as a model and computer operator at the local textile factory while, according to CNSAS (National Council for the Review of the Securitate Archives) records, moonlighting as a Securitate informant under the codename Renato.
After the collapse of communism, Oprișan became an avid supporter of Ion Iliescu and his National Salvation Front, and as the party changed and expanded, Oprișan went on to become one of the country’s most influential politicians. He was elected in 1992 as the president of the then-PDSR Vrancea wing, now-PSD, the Romanian Social Democratic Party, a position he still holds today. He also became the county council president for Vrancea in 1995, a role he only lost once since then, when he was only county vice president playing second fiddle to one-time president Nicolae Giurgea in the 1996–2000 interregnum.
Since he sidelined Giurgea, then-PSD senator, and his de-facto superior, Oprișan’s rule over Vrancea has been absolute. Giurgea was wrongly framed in 1996 when the media claimed the senator had been found with a million dollars in his suitcase while going through customs for a working visit to the US, a claim later debunked. This early example of “fake news” destroyed the reputation of Giurgea and smoothed Oprișan’s way.

Oprișan created from the get-go a strong patronage network, appointing those loyal to him to key positions throughout the county. When he ran away from local jobs, friends of friends were appointed to qualifying positions on Parliament’s closed list of PSDs. Relatives like George Băeșu, who was responsible for disbursing and distributing public funds, found himself heading national agencies. Ghiocel Matache, a man heavily promoted by Oprișan, also acquired a cabinet position – thanks in large part to his wife, Daniela Matache, who presided over hundreds of cases organized against Oprișan as president of the Vrancea court. Needless to say, every single one of our local barons won.
Those writing about the abuses of Oprișan often found all the copies of their publications to disappear from the newsstands or even had the baron himself smashed their camera equipment. He struggled against the media, causing him to be named in reports from the European Commission, the U.S. Department of State, and several non-governmental organizations, and brought libel cases against many journalists, demanding substantial damages.
Two days before the 2004 election, copies of the local Ziarul de Vrancea were bought in bulk from kiosks; the newspaper contained an advertisement from the opposition Justice and Truth Alliance warning of potential electoral fraud Oprişan was accused of, but denied, involvement in the disappearance of copies from the shelves.

Several days prior, copies of Academia Caţavencu, România Liberă, and Evenimentul Zilei, all strongly against the then-governing PSD, did not even reach distribution. In 2006, according to two reporters, his car was illegally parked on the sidewalk and they decided to photograph it; a furious Oprişan is said to have grabbed and smashed the camera as well as shout insults at the reporters. That year, the National Anticorruption Directorate filed charges against him, with the documents used in evidence having to be brought to the courthouse by truck. The allegations included abuse of power, using credits for purposes other than those intended; forgery and use of forgery; and embezzlement of 8 million lei (some $2.5 million at the time).
Despite his all-powerful status, he wasn’t a “thief who gets stuff done,” as the saying goes. The fief of the Vrancea baron is one of Romania’s poorest and is part of one of Europe’s ten poorest NUTS2 administrative units. As Romania’s heavy industry has been dismantled and sold for scrap, Vrancea has lost 80 percent of its workers since 1989. A hostile economic environment full of bribery and political interference succeeded in attracting valuable few investors in its stead. In reality, some 20,000 workers, along with 17 industrial sites, have disappeared in the last decade.

Oprișan is no stranger to corruption investigations, despite his ironclad power over the local courts and the general omerta ruling over his fiefdom. In a corruption case where the Vrancea baron was accused of abuse of office and embezzling some $2.5 million, a major investigation by the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) was initiated into Oprișan’s dealings. For a whole decade, the case was moved from court to court with different bodies losing competency until it eventually ended up at the Cluj Appellate Court, wherein 2015, to everyone’s great surprise, Oprișan was convicted on all charges of corruption unlike any other accused in the case.

Marian Oprișan was back to his triumphant fief. In 2017, Oprișan earned some € 4 million as part of the commemorations of the centennial of the Great War to highlight Vrancea’s contribution to the First World War. Oprișan had the audacity to approach the president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, in order to negotiate “a 20-year growth plan” for the future of Vrancea and Romania during one such event in Mărășești. It looked like twenty-five years into his political career, the Vrancea Don seems to have set his sights even higher than his barony.
Marian Oprișan, who makes little more than EUR 20,000 a year as head of the county council in Vrancea, was seen driving the latest Ford Selby model, a car worth more than EUR 100,000, Hotnews.ro reported. When asked how he could afford it, Oprișan said his mother gave him the purchase money. He also stated in the past that, according to an article in the Adevarul newspaper, the fortress-like mansion near Focsani, where he lives, belongs to his mother too. Newsweek Romania also reported that Marian Oprișan and his girlfriend were spending a lavish vacation in the Dominican Republic, which could have cost around EUR 5,000.
According to his wealth statement, Oprișan has many loans, including EUR 51,000, which he borrowed from his mother last year. Oprișan’s mother is retired after serving as a security officer at a Focsani clothing factory for most of her life. Ironically, ANI, the integrity body, is currently investigating how mother, an ordinary retired textile plant worker with no specific income, announced that she lent her son €51,000 and gave him a €150,000 Ford Shelby as a gift. ANI is investigating the wealth of Oprișan, much of which is recorded in the name of his mother.

Ionel Palăr
Bacău has no less than fourteen parliamentarians who, of course wants new mandates in one of the two chambers of the Romanian Parliament. PSD, PMP, PNL, and USR are the political parties that demand the vote of the people from Bacău County.
However, Ionel Palăr, PNL deputy from Bacău, was discovered by the Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) on of the the client list of the luxury prostitution network led by Andreea Marta. On July 19, Andreea Elena Marta, Codrut Marta’s wife, the former chief of staff of former ANAF President Sorin Blejnar, her sister, Maria Magdalena Lungu, and Valentin Panait, a taxi driver who allegedly did certain services to the group in exchange for sums, were arrested preventively by the Bucharest Tribunal, at the proposal of the prosecutors of the Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT). The court of the Bucharest Tribunal shows, in the motivation of the decision of preventive arrest that on September 8, 2010, the criminal investigation bodies notified ex officio regarding the existence of an organized criminal group with preoccupations on the line of prostitution and pimping.

The young women who practiced prostitution were recruited by members of the group among people with an attractive physical appearance, participating in various beauty contests or fashion shows, the selection being rigorous, mainly due to the fact that the beneficiaries of sexual services came from public figures, business people, among the clients, being different rich foreign citizens or people from the world. According to the documents submitted to the file, the investigators established that the criminal group is composed of several females, coordinated by Andreea Marta, and her sister, Maria Magdalena Lungu, who dealt with “recruiting clients who have a very good financial situation, to whom he facilitated meetings with young women who practice prostitution”.
The minimum tariff charged by the network coordinators was 250-300 euros for each young woman requested in order to provide sexual services. However, there were also cases when the minimum tariffs reached 1,000 euros when a young woman was requested who was considered “rewarding” or of grade 10. The network’s activity is manifested both internally (especially in Bucharest) and its surroundings, as well as externally, at destinations such as Monte Carlo, Nice, Milan or Dubai, said the Romanian Police.

International media also talks about the case that Bacau’s PNL deputy, Ionel Palar, sold two floors of a medical clinic he had constructed in Bacau with non-refundable European funds to a bank, thus violating the rule. It clearly states that the beneficiaries of PHARE funds can not alter the original destination of the construction for which they obtained European money, writes Evenimentul Zilei. However, Ionel Palar and his associate, Doctor Ciprian Olinic, sold the ground floor and the first floor of the Luxor clinic, for 700,000 euros to Banca Italo-Romana. ADR Nord-Est announced that the deputy and his associate were called to give explanations and if he refuses this, the representatives of the ministry will be notified. Although it is visible that the bank has already installed its light company on the building in question, the deputy Ionel Palar denies that he sold part of the building. “There will be a medical clinic there. But I am only a shareholder, not an administrator. Do not talk to me, but to Dr Olinic. He is an administrator,” he said, even resorting to intimidating journalists if he insisted on the subject.
The Liberal MP is also contradicted by those to whom he sold them, who states that there would no longer be a medical clinic but a bank branch. Thus, SC Immobiliare Italo-Romena SRL, representative of Banca Italo-Romana, requested and obtained from the Technical Commission of Urbanism, inside Bacau City Hall, the permission required to alter the destination of the space held in Bacau in the bank br. Palar and his wife are now at risk of contract termination and return of the used PHARE funds.

How the PNL deputy Ionel Palăr got rich during the COVID-19 pandemic (source, Antena 3 Romania).
Although the pandemic has brought the country into an economic crisis, there are still quite a few businessmen, but also politicians, to whom this health crisis has brought only profit. This is also the case of the PNL deputy, Ionel Palăr, who did business with the state governed by his colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first months of this year alone, the clinic where he owns 50% of the shares, settled hundreds of thousands of lei for radiology and imaging services.
The “Luxor” clinic in Bacău City, where the deputy Ionel Palăr holds 50% of the shares, reimbursed twice as much money from the state as in 2019, consisting of medical services. The Liberal deputy from Bacău is one of the parliamentarians who voted for the “Costache Law”, of the privatization of the national health programs.

“Everything that the Luxor clinic does is public on the site. The contract with the Health Insurance House is a public one. The benefits are public, everything is within the law. For the potential that the Luxor clinic has, I think it is not yet at the level What is unknown is that this clinic, which I have been associated with for over 15 years, together with my ex-brother-in-law, the former surgeon Ciprian Olinic, who died, has become a standard. in Bacău County. “, the PNL deputy, Ionel Palăr, declared for Antena 3.
Ionel Palăr has good business with state institutions not only through his medical clinic, but also with another company that provides refrigeration and air conditioning. He sold air conditioners to the Senate and several prisons. He collected hundreds of thousands of lei from the Romanian Senate, the National Radiocommunication Society, the Public Health Directorates from Bacău, Călărași and Târgoviște, but also from penitentiaries.

By David Ruben and Ben Goldman

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