MS Risk Blog

Corruption Still a Major Problem in Romania

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Corruption is still a serious problem within Romania and clashes between the ruling Romanian party and the government agency tasked with fighting corruption have only escalated in the last few months following the firing the of The National Anticorruption Directorate’s chief anticorruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi on 9 July 2018.  Prosecutors, under Kovesi, secured a series of convictions in recent years against lawmakers, ministers and mayors, exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes.Justice Minister Tudorel Toader first called for Kovesi’s dismissal in February, saying she had exceeded her authority and damaged Romania’s image abroad. While a series of sustained protests followed her firing a significant protest occurred in the beginning of August that has only escalated tension within the country and wider region.

It was first reported that on 9 August that Romanians who lived and worked abroad begun arriving back in Bucharest to participate in an anti-government protest where they are demanding that the left-wing government resign, call an early election, and to protest the government’s move to implement new laws that critics say will weaken the nation’s fight against corruption. An estimated 3 million Romanians living abroad say they left because of corruption, low wages and lack of opportunities within the country. On 10 August there were small anti-government protests in several cities, and a handful of protesters had arrived in the large square outside the government offices in Bucharest where the demonstration will be staged. Amid fears of violence at the protest, riot police called for a peaceful demonstration. It was estimated that tens of thousands of protesters rallied against the ruling Social Democrat and in the capital Bucharest riot police fired tear gas into the crowd and hundreds of protesters needed medical attention. As the protests continued throughout the night, riot police used a water cannon and increasingly sprayed tear gas into the crowd. Video footage posted on social media show police beating non- violent protesters holding their hands up. Centrist Romanian President Klaus Iohannis condemned the police’s disproportionate use of force.On 11 August it was reported that more than 450 people had been injured in the protests. Eyewitness reports suggest that what had been a peaceful protest against government corruption degenerated when a hard core of trouble-makers attacked the police. Riot police responded with baton charges. The authorities’ actions appeared to lack discrimination, with apparently peaceful demonstrators being sprayed with water cannon and teargas.

By 14 August more than a hundred Romanians and rights groups had filed criminal complaints against riot police over their violent response to the anti-corruption protest in the capital Bucharest.  Video recordings emerged show police beating journalists and non-violent protesters who were holding their hands up. Prosecutors said they were investigating the riot police, Interior Minister Carmen Dan and Speranta Cliseru, the Bucharest prefect who authorized the use of force, on suspicion of abusive behaviour, abuse of office and negligence. On 15 August the general prosecutor of Romania, Augustin Lazar, has said that all investigations into the violent clashes from the protest of the Diaspora will be impartial. Already, there were some 192 protesters that filed complaints against the Romanian Gendarmerie.

On 17 August, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila defended the use of force by police to break up anti-government protests in Bucharest.  The Romanian media reported that Dancila sent a letter to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker claiming that centre-right President Klaus Iohannis and other politicians had attempted to “violently remove a legitimate government.” She asserted that the authorities acted legally in their efforts to defend government offices from protesters who tried to break through police lines. Romania’s interior minister Carmen Dan, on 19 August, reported that the ministry had identified up to 1,000 people who committed acts of violence during the protest. Citing a 90-page ministry report, Dan said police were being investigated on suspicion of committing five cases of abuse against non- violent protesters. She claimed media had broadcast misleading images intended to harm the left-wing government. Liviu Dragnea, the chairman of Romania’s ruling party, on 21 August, called the recent anti- corruption protest that left 450 people injured an attempted coup d’etat. “I saw an attempted coup to overthrow the government,” Dragnea said to media.  The Social Democratic Party leader also accused multinational companies of financing anti-graft protests that erupted in 2017 over fears the Social Democrats were backtracking on anti-graft efforts. Romanian prime minister Viorica Dancila, on 24 August, said that she has witnessed an assault on some state institutions after the protest. She accused those who failed to come to power after the elections of trying to take over power by “undemocratic means,” She also told her cabinet members that they don’t have the right to concede to this pressure and to further divide the society.

On 20 August Romanian authorities reported that they are probing the death of a man who sustained injuries during the anti-government protest. Police said the 62-year-old man died in a hospital in southern Romania where he was being treated for internal bleeding. Hospital director Valentina Roibu called for the probe to avoid suspicions surrounding the cause of death. The man was hospitalized after suffering bleeding and vomiting. The Department for Emergency Situations later said the man had pre-existing conditions, including high blood pressure. A statement said he sought medical help for a nosebleed during the riot, but had refused to be hospitalized.

On 6 September Romania’s justice minister nominated a little-known regional official, Adina Florea, to take over the post of national anti-corruption prosecutor. In a document outlining her views around how the anti-corruption office operates, Florea, a prosecutor in the port town of Constanta, wrote the institution has operated at times in a “dysfunctional” way and accused some prosecutors of illegal activities in pursuing cases. To become official, Florea’s appointment will have to be approved by Iohannis, a centrist politician often at odds with the ruling leftists over corruption policy.

It has been announced that on 10 September The Declic and Rezist Zurich civic groups had bought advertising space at the Geneva Airport in Switzerland to run video recordings of the violent protests in Bucharest. The video also contained a message for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, asking her to take a position against abuses in Romania. Bachelet has an office in Geneva.

Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, has long struggled with deep-rooted corruption,  however under Kovesi,the country had taken steps to rein in high-level graft, winning popular support and praise from Brussels. Under Kovesi the agency had successfully prosecuted thousands of government officials, lawmakers and business leaders.  On 17 August The co-leaders of the European parliament’s Green group  called on the European commission to launch its rule-of-law mechanism, which is being deployed against Poland and debated for Hungary. The Greens, who sit with separatist parties to boost their numbers, are only the fifth-largest group in the European parliament, limiting their influence. However the party’s call for a European parliament debate on Romania is likely to win support from some liberal and centre-right MEPs. Romania is likely to face growing scrutiny as it prepares to take up the EU’s rotating presidency for the first time.