Former Romanian Tourism Minister Elena Udrea was sentenced on March 28 to six years in prison for bribe-taking and abuse of office. The case relates to a boxing gala held in 2011 that the former minister is accused of funding with public money.
Romania has taken important steps in fighting corruption recently and Udrea is the latest in a long list of top officials who have been sentenced to prison or investigated for corruption. A recent move by the government to partly decriminalise abuse of office resulted in mass protests that continued for weeks, the biggest since the fall of communism. The protestors expressed their support for the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), the institution charged with investigating corruption cases.
In the boxing gala case, dubbed as Gala Bute, Udrea, a close ally of former president Traian Basescu, received three sentences for taking bribes and one sentence for abuse of office. The ruling is not final and can be challenged. She was acquitted of intention to use forged or incomplete statements, News.ro reported. The former minister will have to pay the tourism ministry damages of RON8.1mn (€1.8mn). Udrea has already served several months under preventive arrest and house arrest.
The former chairman of the Romanian Boxing Federation, Rudel Obreja, was sentenced to five years in prison for tax evasion, while Udrea’s assistant received a three-year prison sentence for complicity. Former economy minister Ior Ariton was acquitted in the same case, while others were given suspended sentences.
According to the prosecution, in June 2011 the regional development and tourism minister granted a contract to Europlus Computers, a company owned by Obreja, without organising a tender for the work. The company, which was supposed to promote Romania during a boxing match, was paid RON8.1mn by the ministry for advertising services in February 2012, News.ro reported.
“The public funds were used illegally to finance an event organised through a private company and the funds paid according to the contract represent a damage to the ministry,” prosecutors said.
“The contract was intended to actually provide the funds for organising the boxing gala, and the acquisition of advertising services represented just a formal justification for which there was no real need, with the sole aim to give a legal appearance to the contract,” the prosecutors said, adding that the contract was awarded in violation of the legal procedures related to the public acquisitions.
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 on Romania. 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.