Neculai Ontanu, leader of the UNPR party and mayor – for more than 15 years – of Bucharest’s Sector 2 (that’s the Obor/Colentina/Tei/Pantelimon area of the city) was yesterday arrested by Romania’s anti-corruption agency, the DNA, on charges of corruption. His lawyer, Loredana Radu, was also arrested. Deliciously, it emerged this morning that Ontanu had been given away by an informer: this is now believed to be Cristian Borcea, former chief executive of the Dinamo Bucharest football club, currently serving a prison sentence for falsifying player transfer fees and tax evasion. There is something rather lovely about rats snitching on rats.
It will not come as a huge surprise to regular readers to discover that Radu is also the lawyer of the disgraced former Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, himself facing corruption charges. Radu also happens to be the niece of former UNPR leader and Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea, currently facing charges of abuse of office (it was his motorcade you may remember which killed policeman Bogdan Gigina in October last year). To complete this jolly little circle, Radu also represents Dorin Cocos, ex-husband of former Tourism Minister Elena Udrea.
Cocos faces sentencing today in what has become known as the Microsoft case, involving large bribes paid to government officials in exchange for approving increases in license fees for Microsoft products.
And there’s more.
On Tuesday – in what has been a busy week – the DNA formally asked parliament to approve the arrest of Sebastian Ghita (a PSD senator and Ponta’s best friend) on all sorts of charges, from bribery and corruption to driving without a license.
Anyway, Ontanu’s arrest means that of the seven Bucharest mayors (six sector and one general) elected in 2012’s local elections, five – Sorin Oprescu (the general mayor), Andrei Chiliman (sector 1), Ontanu (sector 2), Cristian Popescu Piedone (Sector 4) and Marean Vanghelie (sector 5) – have now been arrested and charged with corruption. What an amazing city. Perhaps most surprising to anyone who lives – as we do – in Sector 3 is that our dear leader, Robert Negoita, has managed to stay out of handcuffs until now. Will his time come before June’s election? We can but hope.
The only other mayor to have so far escaped is Sector 6’s Rares Manescu.
Now, given what an awful bunch the current lot have turned out to be, can we expect the good people of Bucharest to vote for fresh, new, unsullied faces come June?
Truth is that in large part due to the one-round voting system that favours the PSD’s party machine Ontanu would have been reelected had he not been arrested. Negoita will be reelected in Sector 3. At city-wide level, the PSD has officially nominated the awful Gabriela Firea-Pandele as its candidate (her husband, remember, is mayor of Voluntari, one of the PSD fiefdoms which borders Bucharest). The PNL meantime has gone with Ludovic Orban, an old-school Romanian politician who stands no chance whatsoever. It’s almost as though the PNL does not want to win in Bucharest.
If that is indeed the case, then Orban should stand aside to give Nicusor Dan a free run. In a two-horse race between Dan and Firea, he would have a real chance.
The idea that Firea and the PSD could get their grubby hands on Bucharest is not a happy prospect. It would mean nothing more than watching the city continue to be appalling managed. Bucharest has never really had a decent mayor – Basescu was not all bad, but hardly a model of efficiency – and the legacies of bad stewardship are everywhere, not least the shambolic state of public transport. Any progress Bucharest has made since 1989 (and it has made much, let’s not forget that) has been in spite of its mayors, not because of them.
Finally, as we were writing this post we heard the news that the DNA has charged the ex-wife of PSD leader Liviu Dragnea with abuse of office.
Best thing about this particular case? The woman’s name: Bombonica Prodan. Sweet justice.