Corruption in Romania—Can It Be Eliminated?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 45

Mayor Radu Mazare of Constanta, Romania's fourth largest city, has been accused of corruption by the National Anticorruption Department

Romania and Bulgaria find themselves in the unenviable position of being the poster children for corruption in the EU. Bulgaria is plagued by organized crime gangs roaming the streets of its cities and killing for hire, while Romania is saddled with corrupt politicians who seem to specialize in shady economic deals.

According to a report from the European Commission of the Communities released on July 23, 2008: "Despite good progress on the investigative side, Romania can show few tangible results in its fight against high-level corruption…. Measures that could be taken to improve the way corruption cases are handled…have either been delayed or have not been launched. No real progress has been made in 10 key cases involving former ministers" ("Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on progress in Romania under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism," European Commission, July 23, 2008).

The results of the Romanian elections in November 2008 might bring about change. On December 10 President Traian Basescu nominated former Prime Minister Theodor Stolojan to replace Prime Minister Popescu Tariceanu. Stolojan withdrew his name, and Emil Boc became the new prime minister.

The 65-year-old Stolojan served as prime minister in 1991 and 1992, when corruption in Romania began to blossom. He was quoted by the Romanian paper Evenimentul on November 11, 2008, as stating: "I wish to remind entrepreneurs and the business environment that the PSD [Social Democratic Party] government created [corruption]; and, under its aegis, corruption evolved in such a way that it scared all of Europe with losses of over $4 billion registered, due to plundering of the banking system."

Earlier, Willem de Pauw, deputy prosecutor general at the Court of Appeals in Ghent, Belgium, provided expertise on anticorruption to the EC during missions to Romania. De Pauw noted that in the EC Progress Report of June 26, 2007, the [Romanian] courts "fall short in demonstrating that they understand their essential role in the efforts to curb corruption in Romania," which is indicated by the fact (among others) that "the sentences applied by courts in corruption cases do not have a dissuasive effect and fail to fulfill their preventive function…and, more precisely, that the majority of prison sentences for corruption are suspended sentences" (Willem de Pauw, "Expert Report on the Fight against Corruption / Cooperation and Verification Mechanism," November 2007).

A good part of the blame for corruption can be laid at the door of the Romanian parliament, which during Tariceanu’s tenure blocked efforts to investigate corruption cases and advanced investment projects tied to Russian interests while delaying U.S. and Canadian ventures. In its report, the European Commission mentioned the role of the Romanian parliament and noted, "Importantly, the parliament has to demonstrate an unequivocal commitment to rooting out high-level corruption. In moving further, the laws, procedures, and institutions which are in place have to be allowed to build a track record—to show that they are capable of producing results in a longer-term perspective."

With a new government in place—a "unity" coalition between the center-right Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) and the center-left PSD—the question now is whether Romania will resume its anticorruption campaign or play politics as usual. Meanwhile, new examples of high-level corruption keep emerging.

In November 2008 The Diplomat reported that the National Anticorruption Department had accused Mayor Radu Mazare of Constanta, Romania’s fourth largest city, along with 36 other employees of city hall and public offices, of corruption, abuse of public service, forgery, and criminal complicity. The group was charged with giving €114 million ($144 million) worth of state-owned land on the Black Sea and public beaches in Constanta and Mamaia to individuals, including Mazare’s family.

In October 2008 Mariana Campeanu, the former president of the National House for Pensions, replaced Paul Pacuraru as minister for Labor, Social Solidarity, and the Family. Campeanu was appointed when Paul Pacuraru resigned a day after President Traian Basescu had asked for his suspension from office. Pacuraru is under investigation by anticorruption prosecutors for allegedly giving preferential treatment for an appointment to a top position in the Ministry of Labor in exchange for help in getting contracts for his son’s business with state energy companies. Pacuraru has denied all charges.

According to the "Global Integrity Report: 2007," in July 2007, the Romanian Constitutional Court (CCR), the sole authority of constitutional jurisdiction in Romania, "ruled that former Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase could not be treated as an ordinary citizen in a court case in which he was charged with several counts of corruption and bribery. Nastase was viewed as the most corrupt Romanian politician in a nationwide opinion poll in 2006…." According to the CCR’s decision, former government officials can only be investigated for corruption with the approval of parliament or the president.

The corruption epidemic in Romanian can best be summed up in an interview given to an investigative news organization by Iosif Dan, a top advisor to former Romanian President Ion Iliescu. Dan explained why he had accepted money from a petroleum company vying for a piece of the country’s oil-privatization action: "I have taken some money from these boys, as a loan, and this seems perfectly okay to me," he said. "Should I have gone to a bank that would give me money with…interest instead of going to these people? They are my friends" (https://projects.<wbr></wbr><wbr></wbr>report.aspx?aid=598).