The National Anti-Corruption Directorate’s actions continue to make headlines in the Romanian media, as its prosecutors have for some time now prosecuted, tried and sent to court big names in politics and administration.
Seen as the most influential person among former president Traian Basescu’s collaborators and supporters, the former Minister of Tourism and Development, Elena Udrea, was released from temporary custody on Tuesday night and will be further investigated under house arrest. Prosecuted for influence peddling, bribe-taking and money laundering, she was arrested last week after making headlines for weeks, both on TV and in newspapers.
Her return home, however, was again eclipsed by a fresh corruption scandal, with unexpected connections. Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s brother in law, businessman Iulian Hertanu, was detained following accusations of tax evasion and fraud involving European money. One of the companies he is a major shareholder in fraudulently won a contract worth 2 million Euros, from European funds. The contract was about the development of the sewerage system of Comarnic, a town in the southern Romanian county of Prahova. Signed in 2012 and due to be finalized in February 2014, the contract was extended until December, but the works were never completed.
Moreover, prosecutors say that the delay in the completion of the works blocks another two contracts, also funded with European money, worth 4 million Euros, for asphalt works on the same streets where the sewerage system should have been extended. For their involvement in the same case, deputies Sebastian Ghita and Vlad Cosma, both representing Prahova county, are now subject to legal restrictions pending trial.
The same decision was made for Vlad Cosma’s father, the president of the Prahova County Council, Mircea Cosma. Already involved in other investigations started by prosecutors with the Anti-Corruption Directorate, the three politicians are now being prosecuted for support granted to organized crime groups. What amplifies the scandal is the fact that, organized or not, the whole group is gravitating around PM Victor Ponta. Both Cosmas, father and son, are heads of the local branches of the Social Democratic party.
Ghita, recently excluded from the party because of his temper, has been and still is one of the premier’s closest friends. They spent together a therapeutic holiday in Dubai, after Ponta lost the presidential race in November. His brother in law’s going to prison adds to Ponta’s headaches, as he has always been regarded as one of the politicians very keen on the concept of extended family. His wife, Daciana Sarbu, is a member of the European Parliament. His father in law, Ilie Sarbu, is the head of the Social-Democratic group in the Romanian Senate. One of his cousin’s husband, Robert Cazanciuc, is the Minister of Justice.
The best man at his previous marriage, Gabriel Oprea, is Minister of the Interior, and the best man at his second marriage, George Maior, was until last month the director of the Romanian Intelligence Office. Pundits say that the Prime Minister is now with his back against the wall, especially given that last summer he called for Basescu’s resignation, after the latter’s younger brother, Mircea Basescu, had been arrested for influence peddling to favour a leader of the gipsy mob in Oltenia, in the south of the country.