Former Romanian tourism minister and ex-president's daughter indicted in corruption case

Former Romanian tourism minister and ex-president's daughter indicted in corruption case
By Carmen Simion in Bucharest May 24, 2017

Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate announced on May 24 that it has indicted former tourism minister Elena Udrea on suspicion of instigating bribe taking and money laundering, in an investigation related to the financing of Traian Basescu’s 2009 presidential election campaign.

In the election, Basescu defeated the Social Democratic Party (PSD) candidate Mircea Geoana by a narrow margin. However, a parliamentary commission has recently been set up to investigate the election following pressure from opposition parties. 

Apart from Udrea, the DNA has also indicted Basescu’s eldest daughter Ioana Basescu on suspicion of instigating embezzlement and money laundering. Gheorghe Nastasia, a former state secretary at the tourism ministry, Victor Tarhon, a former president of the Tulcea county council, Silviu Wagner, at that time general manager of majority state-owned Oil Terminal, and former journalist Dan Andronic were also indicted.

According to the DNA, between October and November 2009 Udrea, at that time tourism minister, told Nastasia to ask for RON918,864 from a businessman. In return, the businessman, who had concluded contracts worth €50mn with local authorities financed by the tourism ministry, would have been guaranteed on time payments for the services he delivered.

Between November 27 and December 21, 2009, the unnamed businessman transferred the RON918,864 in two tranches, based on a fictitious contract for advertising services. The money was later used to pay for advertising in Basescu’s electoral campaign.

The prosecutors also claim that between October and November 2009, Udrea told Victor Tarhon, the president of Tulcea county council, to ask another businessman whose company had previously concluded contracts with the council for RON691,023. The contracts were financed by the tourism ministry. Again, the businessman would have received timely payment for his services in return. As with the first businessman, he transferred the money to the accounts of four companies for fictitious consultancy services, and it was used in the electoral campaign of “a certain candidate”, the DNA claims.

Udrea, an ally of Basescu, has already received  a six-year prison sentence for bribe-taking and abuse of office in a case relating to a boxing gala held in 2011 that the former minister is accused of funding with public money. 

In December 2009, Ioana Basescu asked Silviu Wagner to pay a bill for unpaid services from the campaign ahead. Oil Terminal concluded a fictitious RON419,000 contract with a firm, paying out RON119,000 two months later. Two days after receiving the money, the firm transferred RON100,000 to a company managed by Francesco Giovanni Mario, at that time Ioana Basescu’s partner. Prosecutors claim the two used the money to pay for a holiday in Cuba.

In addition, prosecutors claim that Ioana Basescu told her partner to transfer RON783,089, which he had obtained through tax evasion, to three companies to partly finance the campaign.

According to the DNA, Udrea used RON305,118 in cash, obtained by corrupt means, to pay for advertising.

The 2009 presidential election has recently been brought to public attention by opposition parties. On May 11, the Romanian parliament approved the setting up of a parliamentary commission to investigate the way the elections were organised.

The idea to set up the commission came following claims made by Andronic that the DNA head Laura Codruta Kovesi, together with former intelligence services head George Maior, the former deputy head of the Romanian intelligence agency Florian Coldea and former Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea, had influenced the election.

Romania has made substantial progress in judicial reform and the fight against corruption, the European Commission said in January in its latest Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report. However, the report added that recent legal amendments to the laws on corruption would weaken the independence or effectiveness of the DNA, and would require a reassessment of the progress made. The comment was a reference to the government’s controversial decree partly decriminalising abuse of office, which was later repealed.

Last year, the DNA indicted 1,271 people for corruption, including three ministers, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, 17 MPs, 47 mayors, 16 magistrates and 21 managers of state companies. More than a quarter of them were indicted for abuse of office. Prosecutors say abuse of office caused damages worth €260mn last year.