Former Romanian communications minister sentenced in "Microsoft case"

Former Romanian communications minister sentenced in
By Carmen Simion in Bucharest March 24, 2016

A Romanian court has sentenced former communications minister Gabriel Sandu, former Piatra Neamt mayor Gheorghe Stefan and property tycoon Dorin Cocos in the so-called Microsoft case.

Although the ruling is not final and can be challenged, it is further proof of Romania’s efforts to fight high-level corruption. Romania and its neighbour Bulgaria are the only EU countries monitored under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), although European Commission officials are now considering scrapping CVM monitoring for Romania.

The court sentenced Sandu, who served as communications minister between December 2008 and September 2010, to two years in prison for bribe taking and money laundering. The court also ruled that €2mn should be confiscated from him, Mediafax news agency reported on March 24.

The case, in which nine former ministers are being investigated, concerns the reselling of educational software licences for Romanian schools. According to anti-corruption prosecutors, the ministers signed and later extended contracts to license Microsoft software at prices 30% to 40% above the market average. Microsoft has not been implicated in the inquiry.

The licenses were supplied by the local branch of Fujitsu Siemens Austria, a licensed distributor of Microsoft Ireland. The DNA claimed that the software supplier offered a 47% discount for bulk sales and because the licenses would be used in the public sector. The discount was eventually shared by top politicians and businesspeople, the DNA said.

Sandu admitted in October last year that he had received a €4mn bribe in the Microsoft case. During a court hearing, he claimed to have contributed the entire bribe he received to the centre-right Liberal Democrat Party (PNL) electoral campaign and to that of Traian Basescu, the party’s successful candidate in the 2009 presidential election.

Dorin Cocos, the husband of former minister Elena Udrea, a very close ally of former president Basescu, was also sentenced to two years in prison for influence trafficking and money laundering. The court ruled that €3mn should be confiscated from him.

According to the prosecutors, Cocos had asked for and received from former Fujitsu Siemens Romania manager Claudiu Florica and former tennis player Dinu Pescariu, who acted as a go-between, €9mn in order to help Florica, with the help of Udrea, conclude contracts with the communications minister.

The prosecutors claimed that Cocos had asked for a total of €17.5mn for himself, Gheorghe Stefan and Gabriel Sandu in exchange for convincing the government to buy the right to use Microsoft licences. Of the total sum, €15.7mn ended in the accounts of offshore companies owned by the three.

Gheorghe Stefan was sentenced to three years in prison for influence trafficking. The court also ruled that more than €3mn should be confiscated from him.