Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) has started a criminal investigation into Deputy Prime Minister Sevil Shhaideh on suspicion of abuse of office, the DNA said on September 22. The agency has also asked for the parliament’s go ahead to probe European Funds Minister Rovana Plumb on suspicion of complicity to abuse of office in the same case.
The new scandal surrounding two senior members of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) is likely to put pressure on the party’s leader, Liviu Dragnea. Shhaideh is a close ally of Dragnea — she was the PSD’s first choice for prime minister following the party’s victory in the 2016 general election — and the case concerns a land transfer the DNA claims was illegal in Teleorman county, which is Dragnea’s power base.
According to the DNA, in 2013 — when Plumb was Romania’s environment minister — sections of Belina island and Pavel inlet with a total area of 324 hectares were illegally transferred from the state to Teleorman county.
The land was placed under the management of Teleorman county council and only a few days after the transfer it was illegally leased to a private company, the DNA said. The land transfer was approved through a government decision, which breached the Romanian constitution and four other laws, the DNA claimed.
Local media report that Dragnea’s family benefitted from the alleged illegal land transfer being probed by prosecutors.
In June, local news portal Hotnews.ro claimed in an investigation that in 2014 Teleorman county council leased the land to Tel Drum, a company owned by some of Dragnea’s former college classmates. Three months later, Tel Drum leased it to Trident 51, a company now controlled by Dragnea’s son though he was not a shareholder at the time. However, Trident 51 gave up the lease contract in February, when Romania was shaken by the largest antigovernment protests since the fall of communism, and the land was returned to Tel Drum.
The DNA has also started criminal investigations into other people involved in the land transfer. The prosecutors claim that the land under investigation was publicly owned, and should have been transferred to the ownership of a county council through a bill rather than by a government decision. The prosecutors’ investigation showed that Teleroman county council had asked for the land to be transferred to its ownership so it could be used as a tourist complex. The government therefore adopted a decision that Belina island and the Pavel inlet were not part of the Danube basin, trying to make the transfer to the county council through a government decision, and not a bill, look legal, the DNA said.
The prosecutors added that the decision had not been approved by the justice or finance ministries. According to the DNA, Plumb broke the law when she initiated and promoted the government decision.
The scandal around the land has also inflamed the ongoing conflict between Dragnea and former prime minister Victor Ponta. Earlier in the week, Ponta testified to DNA prosecutors in relation to the land transfer, drawing criticism from Dragnea in a TV interview. “I understood Ponta’s mission: to raise his hand in order to be heard and say some things,” Dragnea said on September 19, according to Hotnews.ro.
Ponta reacted on Facebook calling Dragnea a liar. “I was heard as a witness (not denouncer) about the way I signed a government decision in 2013! Dragnea’s business with Teldrum [Tel Drum] is his problem, not mine or [former prime minister Sorin] Grindeanu’s … If Dragnea has committed illegalities, he should be held responsible for them, the fact that he is blaming others only shows how scared he is and how guilty he knows he is!” Ponta wrote.