Romania’s former president Traian Basescu announced on his Facebook page on April 20 that he is being investigated for money laundering.
The investigation comes in advance of local elections scheduled for June and general elections due to take place this autumn. There has been speculation that Basescu, whose second and final term as president ended in 2014, plans to make a comeback as Bucharest mayor, a position he held between 2000 and 2004.
Basescu said the investigation relates to the acquisition of a plot of land and a house in 2000 and 2002 respectively. The investigation follows a complaint filed by Mugur Ciuvica, the head of the Group for Political Investigations (GIP), a frequent critic of the former president.
Basescu said that the file in the case had been closed back in 2012 when prosecutors decided not to open a criminal investigation. However, the file was reopened in 2015.
According to unnamed sources quoted by the local media, in 2002 Basescu, then the mayor of Bucharest, bought a plot of land with money obtained from an unclear source. Basescu paid around $70,000 for the 3,700 square metre plot of land, sources told romaniacurata.ro. On the same day, Romanian businessman Costel Casuneanu bought a neighbouring plot of land for which he paid a price three times higher than that paid by Basescu.
In 2002, Basescu sold the plot of land to one of Casuneanu’s relatives and associates, Gabriela Blaj, for more than $300,000. Blaj had reportedly received the money from Casuneanu. Later in 2002, Basescu and his wife bought a villa for which they paid $280,000. Prosecutors reportedly claim the origin of the money cannot be explained, considering the payment was made in cash and no money had been withdrawn from the family’s bank accounts. The former president signed the villa over to his daughter.
Judicial sources quoted by the website said that Casuneanu told investigators in 2015 that he gave Basescu the money to buy the plot of land. The website noted that Casuneanu’s road construction company PA&CO had contracts with state-owned companies while Basescu was transport minister, a position he held before becoming Bucharest mayor in 2000.
Although Basescu has not announced his candidacy for the Bucharest mayor post in the 2016 race, there is speculation he may do so as his People's Movement Party (PMP) has not yet announced any candidate for the position. Basescu has so far presented only the six candidates for Bucharest’s six districts.
Basescu’s allies now claim the indictment is an attempt to keep him out of the electoral race.
“Since the idea that Traian Basescu might run for the Bucharest mayor post appeared, there have been more or less direct signals sent through the media that he should better spend time with his grandchildren or play chess with the retired in the park,” Basescu’s ally Elena Udrea wrote on Facebook.
The National Liberal Party (PNL) candidate for the Bucharest mayor post, Ludovic Orban, was forced to give up his candidacy earlier this month as the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) started an investigation into him on suspicion of influence peddling.
The DNA has also recently started an investigation into the mayor of Bucharest district 3 on suspicion of tax evasion. The mayor of Bucharest district 2, Neculai Ontanu, was put under arrest for 30 days for bribe-taking last month.