Cornel Costea was arrested following anti-corruption prosecutors’ raid at Ploiesti Customs, he is investigated for bribe-taking and tax evasion.
Prosecutors from National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA)’s Central Bureau and police officers from the Romanian Police’s General Inspectorate (IGPR) continued, yesterday, the customs raid operations, targeting, this time, the Ploiesti Customs, where they rounded up employees of the National Customs Authority charged with bribe-takingy and tax evasion, as well as fruit and vegetables’ import-export companies. The action was completed around lunch, after the chief of the Ploiesti Customs Office, Cornel Costea, was detained by the investigators and brought to Bucharest for hearings. A few minutes after the head of the Ploiesti Customs left the Customs Office, accompanied by the investigators, a few other people left the building, some bearing A4 envelopes which contained, most likely, documents. According to sources within the Ploiesti Customs, quoted by Mediafax, the anti-corruption prosecutors reportedly searched a Skoda Octavia, with a Bucharest license plate, which allegedly belongs to the Customs Office and had been used as an office car by Cornel Costea. It appears that the police was looking for a sum of money that the latter had taken as bribe. At the same time, the DNA prosecutors heard the Customs employees in the chief’s office. “Cornel Costea was appointed the head of the Ploiesti Customs on political grounds. These companies we have checked used to go through the Ilfov and Bucharest checkpoints, but, once Costea was appointed in office, switched to this checkpoint. It appears that DNA is looking for a 10,000-bribe that Costea received. Cornel Costea complained a couple of days ago that he was being followed,” Dragos Patraru, a local journalist, stated for Realitatea TV.
Sources in the Ploiesti Police, quoted by Mediafax, confirmed this piece of information, adding that, a couple of weeks ago, Cornel Costea had filed a complaint at the city police, stating that, for several days, he had been followed by a number of cars. Costea called, at the time, on the police to take measures and find out who was following him.
The chief of the Ploiesti Customs stated recently, in an interview to the local paper, “Altphel”, that he had spent EUR 10,000 for his birthday party, at the end of January. At the same time, Costea is known to be in touch with interlopers in Ploiesti. According to Gandul.info, Costea bought, in 2007, a flat in Bucharest, taking a 20 years’ EUR 125,000-loan, in the context in which his wages could not cover the monthly instalment on the loan and dropped, in 2009, at RON 1,528 (EUR 360), approximately half of the instalment. Costea did not report other sources of income.
“I am making an evaluation of the situation resulting from raids at the checkpoints. After the evaluations I will be able to give an interview and say what needs to be done. As regards Ploiesti, I do not have any additional information. Institutions are doing their job. This is the only thing I can say openly,” Viorel Comanita, interim head of the National Customs Authority, stated.
CONNECTIONS TO MARICA
The leader of Pro Lex, Vasile Lincu, argues, however, that irregularities were found at the Ploiesti Customs as early as 2008, following searches conducted at the time. Furthermore, Lincu claims that the chief and the deputy chief of the Ploiesti Customs are the associates of Vasile Marica, the Sed Lex leader, accused by a former Customs employee of taking bribe-taking. “The internal checkpoints are more important than the border ones. Here we are not dealing with bicycle basket-smuggling, we are dealing with long-distance trucks, as far as irregularities are concerned. (…) Ploiesti is very important not necessarily in terms of fruit and vegetables, but in terms of the taxed products, because we are speaking of extremely large quantities, or of products worth hundreds of millions of euros,” the Pro Lex leader stated.
The DNA prosecutors’ action comes two days after the president Basescu spoke, in a press conference, of tax evasion in the fruit and vegetables’ trade. The head of state was warning all those who break the law and know it that “they will no longer be able to sleep peacefully”. The Ploiesti Customs is considered one of the most lucrative institutions of the Romanian state.
In retort, UNPR vice-president Sorin Chivu said the head of the Ploiesti Customs, Cornel Costea is holding this position as interim since the summer of 2010, but he is not an employee of the National Customs Authority and was dispatched there from a structure of ANAF. The Prahova Senator explained that UNPR has nothing to do with sending Costea as interim chief of the Ploiesti customs and he does not According to Chivu, Costea temporarily replaces Diana Severin, who resigned last August from the position of Ploiesti Customs chief.
RUS: THE BRIBES GO TO POLITICIANS
The probe of corruption at customs checkpoints can lead nowhere else than to politicians, according to Ioan Rus, former minister of Interior in the Nastase Cabinet. Furthermore, in a TV show, Rus confirmed that the corruption at border checkpoints is a well-established reality he tried to fight while he was minister. When he was asked why this large-scale operation, with mass arrests, happened now, Rus answered: “We were all unhappy with missing the chance to join the Schengen Zone. Plus, intelligence services certainly had gathered much information about the negative evolutions there, which they had to relay, and the whole operation leads nowhere else than to politicians.”
BLEJNAR: I AM NOT “THE QUEEN”
ANAF President Sorin Blejnar denied being involved in the case of corruption at customs checkpoints. The previous day, a detained border policeman had accused him of being “The Queen” on the corruption chessboard. In a letter sent from the Police detention facility, the officer indicated the ANAF chief and the head of the Romanian Border Police, Ioan Buda, as the beneficiaries of the money collected at border checkpoints. “I deny any involvement in protecting such phenomena in the Romanian customs system. I am not <
The former chief of the Ploiesti Customs Department, Diana Severin however claims the contrary. In her opinion, Blejnar certainly is “The Queen.” “Sorin Blejnar is the Queen, without any doubt. (…) I gave him the list of companies that have problems with energy products. I indicated him the registration numbers of vehicles, the locations of warehouses where smuggled cigarettes were stored, and asked him to support me in dealing with these situations. I even indicated him the locations of illegal alcohol factories. He pledged his support, but nothing really happened. He warned me that I write too much and everything can be solved only through talks,” said the former customs chief. According to Diana Severin, there are many problems at the Ploiesti Customs, which are known by fiscal authorities. “I even wrote them memos, in which I related all the problems. After I reported these issues, I wrote my resignation. I even made a list with the companies that cause much loss to the state budget and are supported by people of the ANAF president’s entourage. As far as I know, the acting chief of the Ploiesti Customs, Cornel Costea, who suspected he was put on surveillance of late, was specifically sent to Ploiesti by the Blejnar group,” Diana Severin added.
Yesterday, in Brussels, Interior Minister Traian Igas said he doesn’t consider any removals at the Border Police “as long as there is no suspicion regarding the head of this institution”. His statement comes after one of Moravita customs officers arrested for bribery said that there is two ‘queens’, Sorin Blejnar and Ioan Buda, head of the Romanian Border Police.