Romanian prosecutor seeks to revive “Microsoft case”

Romanian prosecutor seeks to revive “Microsoft case”
By bne IntelliNews February 6, 2018

Romania’s head prosecutor Augustin Morar is considering asking for legal clarifications after the collapse of one of Romania’s biggest ever corruption cases on a technicality.

The clarifications could revive the so-called “Microsoft case”, which concerns the sale of software licences for schools at inflated prices. One former minister has already been convicted, but charges against seven others have now been dropped, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) announced on February 1. 

For six ex-ministers — Dan Nica, Silvia Adriana Ticau, Alexandru Athanasiu, Ecaterina Andronescu, Mihai Tanasescu and Serban Mihailescu — the prescription period has expired, the DNA said. Meanwhile, prosecutors found no evidence against a seventh former minister, Daniel Funeriu, who had been investigated for alleged abuse of office. 

The inability to bring the high-profile former ministers to trial makes the case look like a failure for the DNA, although its head Laura Codruta Kovesi blamed the situation on change to Romania’s Criminal Codes in 2014, in an interview with Digi24

Now, however, Morar has said he may ask for clarifications in regard to the definition of the prescription period, Revista 22 reported.

Romania’s High Court (ICCJ) recommends a restrictive definition of the prescription and yet the country’s Court of Appeal is using a broader definition, explained Alina Mungiu Pippidi of anti-corruption NGO Romania Curata. While the ICCJ defined the prescription term as calculated since the last deed (in the sense of legal deed or contract), the Court of Appeal defines it as calculated since the past payment (resulted from the contracts). 

Thus, the deeds that resulted from the contract signed in 2004 and followed by subsequent payments in 2005 and 2009 were prescribed under the ICCJ definition but not under the definition used by the Court of Appeal, Kovesi explained, according to Revista22. The prosecutor handling the case is responsible for having initiated criminal investigations against the former ministers after the expiry of the prescription period, Kovesi concluded.

In September 2014, the DNA started prosecuting nine former ministers in the case related to the acquisition of overpriced software licenses for schools. The damage was calculated at that time at $67mn (though much larger values had been circulated previously).

Former communications minister Gabriel Sandu, former Piatra Neamt mayor Gheorghe Stefan and local businessmen Nicolae Dumitru and Dorin Cocos have already been convicted. The prosecutors also sent to court local businessmen Claudiu Florica and Dinu Pescariu, two suspected intermediaries, along with former communications minister Valerian Vreme and former Microsoft Romania CEO Calin Tatomir. 

The case also resuscitates the conflicts between Kovesi, Morar and several DNA prosecutors. The Microsoft case was investigated in 2016 and 2017 by Mihaela Moraru Iorga, one of the two DNA prosecutors in open conflict with Kovesi. Iorga claims that the initiation of the criminal investigations was decided by the DNA top management including Kovesi. Furthermore, Iorga claims that the criminal investigation was decided (for the last of the former ministers) in 2016 — therefore before the 2017 ICCJ restrictive definition of the prescription period. Either nobody is to blame for having initiated the investigations, or the whole DNA management is to blame, Iorga implied.

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