The Microsoft case, which the Romanian media at some point described as one of the most spectacular in the judicial history of post-communist Romania, has taken an unexpected turn, at least from the point of view of public opinion. Charges were dropped against six former ministers prosecuted for abuse of office allegedly perpetrated in 2003-2004, because the statute of limitations had expired.
The officials in question are the former education ministers Ecaterina Andronescu and Alexandru Athanasiu, the former finance minister Mihai Tanasescu, the former government secretary general Serban Mihailescu and the former communications ministers Dan Nica and Adriana Ticau. In the case of a seventh person, the former education minister Daniel Funeriu, charges were dropped and his case closed because the memo bearing his signature had no legal effects.
The ministers in question were investigated by the National Anticorruption Directorate for initiating or supporting government orders awarding a public procurement contract to a private company. Anti-corruption prosecutors say this company was considered, with no justification in reality, as the sole provider of Microsoft licences in Romania, so no public tender was therefore held.
Former tennis player turned businessman Dinu Pescariu and another businessman, Claudiu Florica, were also indicted in this case for money laundering. The two are accused of laundering 22 million dollars through their companies. They pocketed some of the money themselves, while the rest went to high-ranking state officials.
The case essentially concerns contracts for the purchase of IT licences for schools at inflated prices, signed under different governments of different political orientations. The damage to the state was huge, 70 million dollars.
The whole case raises questions about the competence of the National Anticorruption Directorate, a body with a very good reputation among the pubic on account of its resounding victories in court and the praise heaped on it by the European Commission.
Despite its unexpected ending, the Microsoft case can still be considered a telling example of a widespread practice in Romania: the awarding of preferential contracts. The case also reveals a profoundly toxic system in which politicians and businesspeople join hands to pursue their own financial interests, while political parties plant their own people in the higher echelons of the administration.
(translated by: Cristina Mateescu)