Ex-head of Romanian Football League jailed for seven years for corruption

Ex-head of Romanian Football League jailed for seven years for corruption
Rapid Bucharest is to be liquidated after fraudulent transfer sales
By Iulian Ernst June 24, 2016

Dumitru “Mitica” Dragomir, former head of the Romanian Professional Football League (LPF), has been jailed for seven years and fined RON13.4bn (€3mn) for tax evasion and money laundering.

The court case exemplifies the corruption that has plagued Romanian football since the collapse of Communism and that has helped damage the country's footballing prowess. The Romanian national team crashed out of the European Championships this week, recording just one draw and two defeats.

Both FRF, which manages football activity in Romania including the country’s national team, and LPF, an association of football clubs, have been for nearly a quarter of a century under the control of the same presidents. The nicknames of the two, “The Godfather” (Mircea Sandu) and Corleone (Mitica Dragomir) symbolise their reputations. Both were replaced in 2013-2014 under a broad anticorruption drive.   

The court decision is not final and Dragomir can appeal it. Dragomir was also given another seven year suspended sentence on June 13 in a case related to the disaffiliation of Universitatea Craiova football club. In that case, former head of Romanian Football Federation (FRF) Mircea Sandu was given a three year suspended sentence as well. Both, together with the LPF and FRF, were given a record €225mn fine. The ruling is not final as well.  

Assuming that both decisions remain final, Dragomir will serve at least 10 years in jail under the provisions of the new Criminal Code.

The prosecutors have proven in court that Dragomir convinced other staff at LPF to sign fake contracts with third-party firms for goods and services – including intermediation services for the sale of the TV broadcasting rights of football matches during 2011-2014. The goods and services were never delivered. In the case of the TV rights intermediation, the contract was signed after the offer was already submitted by the TV company RCS.

The money paid by LPF was returned in cash to Dragomir and the others involved by the third party firms, after a 6%-8% commission was taken by the owners of those firms, which never paid taxes. LPF lost €2.8mn following the frauds, prosecutors concluded.

On May 16 this year, the new FRF head of Razvan Burleanu announced that the “last relic of corruption and amateurism”, in the form of the medical doctor Pompiliu Popescu, had been removed from the federation. Burleanu was appointed as FRF president on March 5, 2014 – one day after a Romanian court condemned a group of players, club owners and managers to prison for tax evasion and frauds against the state and their own clubs in “the transfers’ trial”. 

Burleanu replaced as FRF president Mircea Sandu – a former football player who had heads FRF for nearly a quarter of a century, after the fall of the communism. 2014 was supposed to bring major reforms in Romania’s football after Dumitru (Mitica) Dragomir had been replaced at the Football Professional League (LPF) one year earlier. 

Burleanu was appointed as FRF head one day after the court gave sentence in the famous “case of transfers” where so-called financiers and managers of the football clubs were sent in jail. Among them was Gica Popescu – captain of the Romanian national team in  the 1990 European Championship and later captain of CF Barcelona. Popescu was running against Burleanu for the FRF presidency, Burleanu’s appointment was seen as a step toward eliminating corruption in Romanian football.

But the progress in fighting frauds in Romanian football is sluggish. Many football teams are still being de-capitalised by their financiers and managers, and owe large amounts of money to players and the state.

A Bucharest court has decided that football club Rapid, one of the most popular teams in Romania, should be liquidated, ProSport daily reported on June 14. Other football clubs in the country’s first league are under bankruptcy procedures.

Rapid's former owner, local investor George Copos, was sentenced in 2014 for the fraudulent sale of players that generated losses to the state budget and to the football club he owned before 2013. The state confiscated the money from Copos, but has not compensated Rapid for its losses. In response, Rapid sued Copos to recover the money, some €1.33mn, in September 2015.