The former Romanian Minister of Tourism Elena Udrea was today found guilty of corruption and sentenced to six years in prison. As usually happens in Romania with non-violent offences, she will for the time being remain free on appeal. Six others – including the mafia-like former boss of Romania’s boxing association Rudel Obreja – were also sentenced to prison. It is worth noting however that those who pleaded guilty and helped prosecutors net the bigger fish received suspended sentences, including Ana Maria Topoliceanu, once Udrea’s best friend and accomplice. This will hopefully encourage others to come forward with evidence against leading politicians and businessmen. Former Economy Minister Ion Ariton was acquitted.
Udrea’s case goes back to 2011 when she used – while still Minister of Tourism and Regional Development – almost €2 million in government funds to stage a super-middleweight IBF world title fight at Romexpo in Bucharest, in which Romanian Lucian Bute knocked-out Jean-Paul Mendy in the fourth round. However, much of the money was illegally paid out as bribes and kickbacks to and from Obreja and Udrea, who was keen to associate herself with Bute’s success.
Udrea was first arrested in 2015 after Romania’s anti-corruption unit, the DNA, followed up an investigation by the sports newspaper GSP. More than 60 people were questioned as witnesses, providing DNA investigators with ample testimony and evidence. There was never any real doubt as to whether or not Udrea was guilty.
Nevertheless, the conviction is the DNA’s most high-profile and important victory for some time. It comes just a day before Minister of Justice Tudorel Toader makes public his so-called ‘evaluation’ of the DNA’s boss Laura Codruta Kovesi and prosecutor general Augustin Lazar. Specifically, Toader is unhappy at the way the pair investigated the Romanian government’s illegal emergency ordinance (OUG) 13, which sparked huge public protests that eventually forced the government to back down.
At the end of February, the Romanian Constitutional Court (CCR; these days very much an extension of the ruling PSD) ruled that the DNA had ‘overstepped overstepped its remit’ by investigating the legality of OUG 13, and the manner in which it was issued. Toader’s evaluation is therefore expected to find both Kovesi and Lazar culpable, and will call on them to resign. He may go as far as to ask President Klaus Iohannis to dismiss them should they refuse to do so.
That will spark another crisis: Iohannis has already stated that he has no intention of sacking either Kovesi or Lazar. Expect the ruling coalition to then once again threaten him with suspension: this time they might just go ahead with it. Even if the government knows that it could not win the impeachment referendum that follows such a suspension, they will have 90 days to run amok while Calin Popescu Tariceanu (who as senate leader would replace the president during a period of suspension) occupies Cotroceni Palace. By the time Iohannis returned to office the damage would have been done.
Kovesi and Lazar would be sacked – replaced by PSD lackeys – while PSD leader Liviu Dragnea (who Iohannis refused to name as prime minister) could be brought into government, perhaps even given the top job if its current occupant Sorin Grindeanu stepped aside. Remember that on April 8th the CCR will rule on whether or not the law which prevents convicted criminals such as Dragnea from holding public office is constitutional or not. Few expect the CCR to rule against Dragnea. A law is also being hurried (suspiciously so) through parliament which would give the judges on the constitutional court immunity from prosecution for just about anything. Why would they need this? And why the hurry?
The scene is therefore set for the next few months. The fun begins tomorrow: keep an ear out for exactly what Toader says. If he unequivocally asks for Kovesi and Lazar to resign then the game is afoot.