Esther Pascaline Bombeto and three Serbians were caught by anticorruption and organised crime prosecutors near Timisoara, while transporting 18,500 packs of cigarettes smuggled into Romania with the embassy’s car.
A diplomatic scandal risks breaking out between Romania, Serbia and the Republic of Congo after two representatives of the Congo Embassy in Belgrade were accused of involvement in a cigarette contraband network by the Romanian Organised Crime and Terrorism Investigation Department (DIICOT). The wife of the Congo Embassy to Serbia’s second councillor, Esther Pascaline Bombeto, was remanded yesterday morning together with three other Serbian citizens after being caught by Timis police while carrying smuggled cigarettes in Romania, on a car of the diplomatic corps. The four were brought before a Timis Tribunal panel on Monday night and placed on remand for 29 days, a spokesperson for the Timis County Police, Madalina Mezdrea, told Mediafax. The spokesperson added that the four were taken into custody by the Timis County Police and they will remain on remand at least until a solution is given to their appeal, which is to be tried by the Timisoara Court of Appeals.
Bombeto and the three Serbians were apprehended on Sunday night near Timisoara. During searches of the Congo Embassy car, a Chrysler, investigators found 38 boxes of cigarettes, covered by a black sheet of fabric.
Sources with the intelligence services the monitored the network told daily ‘Jurnalul National’ that the woman and her husband, both of them diplomats, made regular shipments of contraband cigarettes to Romania. Apparently, in the last month alone there were ten such transports, all monitored by the Romanian Intelligence Agency, the same sources said. The two diplomats brought the cigarettes into Romania through the Moravita border check point. In order to avoid thorough checks at the border, the two diplomats always used an embassy vehicle to deliver the merchandise. The cigarettes were then stored in various places throughout Timis County, owned by other members of the group. According to DIICOT, the wife of the Congolese diplomat was part of an organised crime group consisting of 14 people, both Romanian and Serbian citizens, specialised in smuggling cigarettes. In order to dismantle the group, which happened earlier this year, DIICOT prosecutors conducted nine home raids in the city of Timisoara and throughout Timis County. In fact, investigators also apprehended one of the Romanian leaders of the network, a man named Florin Barbos, also known as Bighi. He was captured in Lugoj by special forces of the Interior Ministry.