Influenta publicație britanică The Times publică un editorial extrem de dur la adresa realităților din România, unde „anticorupția a devenit o armă politică”, pe care Marea Britanie nu ar trebui să o contemple.
An anti-corruption drive is being used to settle political scores and Britain should not assist it
The swelling crowds yelling “thieves get out” in the centre of Bucharest have inevitably evoked memories of 1989 and the last days of the tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. Not just because they represent old-fashioned people power but because the street drama is being played out at a time when Romania’s rulers seem to be cribbing some of their techniques from the dreaded Securitate, the all-pervasive secret service.
At its peak the Securitate made use of 15,000 domestic officers and an informer network of around 500,000. It tapped phones, beat and blackmailed suspects, arrested people who cracked political jokes, patrolled gynaecology wards to check no doctor was performing an abortion, spread rumours and then arrested those who repeated them. To be paranoid in Romania was to be in possession of all the facts.
The official successor of the Securitate is the SRI, the Romanian Intelligence Service, which serves a democratic government and isn’t anywhere near as savage. It does, however, find it difficult to let go of the past. It has built up a big data base, aggregating data from various governmental agencies; its full scope is bound by secrecy, its control mechanisms unclear. SRI’s reach into everyday lives has been enhanced and deepened by its co-operation with the powerful anti-corruption agency DNA. Together they tap phones and exercise preventative arrest — that is, keep high-profile suspects in detention to stop them committing similar alleged offences in the future.
Britain should start to be more careful about extradition requests
The fight against corruption is viewed as an over-arching strategic goal, designed to satisfy critics in the EU and the United States. Many of the demonstrators in Bucharest this week agree with the principle and are angry that the new government of Sorin Grindeanu has issued an edict freeing low-level bribe takers, some of whom appear to be members of his Social Democratic Party.
But their fury should be aimed elsewhere: at Romania’s deep, secret state that has used the issue of corruption to settle scores with its enemies, erode basic rights and institutionalise a sinister connection between the judiciary, the secret police and the anti-corruption units. In 2015 the DNA claimed a 92 per cent conviction rate, a success many human rights organisation believe would be impossible without secret police wiretaps. The Romanian Union of Judges, meanwhile, has formally asked for the full disclosure of SRI agents working in the court and judicial system and information about SRI approval of new judges.
The courts then have become politicised. Suspects in corruption cases are often televised as they make their “perp walk”; the whole concept of corruption has become tangled with abuse of political office. It is all about generating impressive numbers of arrests while keeping the actual power axes hidden from view.
The result is not so much a clean-up as a witch-hunt. Take Dan Adamescu, a wealthy Romanian émigré to Germany He returned after the fall of Ceausescu and invested in insurance, property and the independent Romania Libera newspaper. The paper was hated by the security establishment — its reporters had pieced together hundreds of secret files that the Securitate had dumped in a river basin — and by the previous Social Democrat premier, Victor Ponta. He thought Adamescu was a financial backer of one of his arch-enemies.
Adamescu, 68, was accused of bribing a judge in an insolvency hearing. Ponta announced details of the investigation on television ahead of the trial and on the basis of skimpy evidence the businessman was sentenced to four years and four months in jail. He was held in a cell with eight others with excrement on the floor and with an exercise “yard” that was in effect another cell with a view of the sky. He died of septicaemia two weeks ago.
Now Romania wants his son, Alexander, extradited from Britain where he is reading theatre studies. A European arrest warrant has been issued against him even though there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing; indeed our judges are supposed only to check that the paperwork is in order.
The principle of such warrants is that inside the European Union everyone conforms to the same high legal standards and evidence therefore does not have to be examined. It is a system that has often worked for Britain — but it collapses if an EU member cannot guarantee a fair trial or if cases are politically inspired. And so the question arises: what is Romania doing in the EU at all?
There were warnings before accession in 2007 and the EU did indeed insist on monitoring the justice system. Romania wants this to be lifted because of what it says is its determined war against corruption. Plainly the EU should do no such thing. On the contrary, it has to be more vigilant about the political manipulation of the justice system. Britain will soon only have a limited say: but it can start, right now, being more careful about extradition requests from certain EU states.
What does all this say about the state of Europe? Too often EU “solidarity” is based on turning a blind eye. Romania and Bulgaria remain vulnerable. Greece, which should never have been allowed to join the euro, may soon need a fourth bailout. Vladimir Putin looks on with glee. We wanted good for Romania but it hasn’t honoured its commitments to enforce the rule of the law. That’s part of the tragedy of the well-intentioned enlargement of the EU: it was never sufficient to transform societies. Now it’s Britain that is leaving but you have to wonder whether it shouldn’t have been Romania.