During the last few days, the entire public space exploded after the tsunami impact interview granted by Elena Udrea to the news website hotnews.ro. The interview included extremely harsh accusations against the head of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), General Florian Coldea. Keeping proportions, we might say that we are witnessing some kind of a Romanian Watergate, or, more precisely, an Udreagate with hard-to-anticipate implications, ramifications in the highest spheres of politics and consequences.
The amount of truth or mystification in the severe accusations made by the former Development Minister regarding interferences by SRI leaders in political games, in influencing the evolutions of inquiries made by prosecutors, in influence peddling and the association of SRI leaders with influential businesspersons and politicians presently under legal pursuit for corruption crimes is obviously to be determined by competent institutions.
Until the Military Prosecutors’ Office, which will definitely conduct an inquiry, and the SRI Control Parliamentary Committee, where the leaders of the institution were invited to attend a hearing and provide explanation, reach a decision, an initial conclusion must be drawn.
And the conclusion is that it is completely abnormal, even outrageous, that the name of an intelligence structure is associated with such a massive scandal. Certainly, it is for the first time in the history of SRI when the name of the Service and of its leading structures is mentioned in the public space in the context of such scandalous facts, that have nothing to do with SRI attributions, as regulated by the law, respectively the work of collecting and processing information on Romania’s territory in order to manage the insecurity that defines the security structures in the 21st century.
Perhaps it was only during Virgil Magureanu’s term as leader of SRI, immediately after the Revolution of 1989, during 1990 and 1997, that the name of the institution was so intensely mangled and associated with shady affairs. Nonetheless, things have radically changed as times went by.
Moreover, under the successive managements that followed Magureanu’s term, respectively Costin Georgescu (1997 – 2000), Radu Timofte (2000-2006) and George Cristian Maior (2006-2015), crucial steps have been made to reform this intelligence structure. After Romania joined NATO and the European Union, due to the continuous efforts of reform and adaptation to intelligence standards demanded by the security challenges and contemporary dynamics of the security environment, made especially by the last manager George Maior who, coincidence or not, resigned no more than a few days before the Udreagate scandal erupted – SRI won a reputation as one of the most modern and highly performing intelligence structures. This fact was unanimously admitted and acknowledged by Romania’s partners or allies, but also by international institutions operating in this field.
Regardless of whether or not Elena Udrea’s accusations against the interim manager of the institution, General Florian Coldea, are true – not to mention that, for gaining a credibility bonus, Udrea also submitted a denunciation against Coldea at the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), things are terribly complicated and troublesome.
If Elena Udrea’s statements in the mind-blowing interview for hotnews.ro regarding interferences by General Coldea and involvement of SRI in the electoral campaign, political games, influence peddling and putting pressure on justice to solve files presently investigated are not true, the situation is terrible because it becomes obvious that an organized campaign of discrediting is being conducted against the Service by criminal circles and groups discontent with the irreversible course of the anti-corruption struggle in Romania, led by DNA, that collaborates with SRI in high-level inquiries.
For a few months, Anti-Corruption prosecutors, praised for their efficiency in the latest report by the European Commission on the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) seem unstoppable and managed to delve deeper and deeper into the strata of the corruption cancer that is already endemic in Romania, by investigating cases and files with ravishing implications and prejudices, totalizing dozens of millions of euro.
In a poor country where many of the elderly are paid pensions under EUR 100, where some of the public hospitals and schools are in a miserable condition worthy of the Middle Ages, not of a member of the EU, where there are no more than 650 kilometres of highways, (under the circumstances that, in other EU countries, there are presently over 15,000 kilometres of highways), prosecutors’ inquiries and discoveries reveal dozens of corruption cases and prejudices estimated in six figure-sums calculated in dollars or euro day by day, cases that make regular people tremble with disgust. Yet, the persons presently investigated by the DNA are influential politicians and businesspersons, members of the Parliament, former Ministers and Magistrates who, in an act of defiance of any ethical rules, devoid of any responsibility and led merely by a greed that is impossible to explain, detoured these sums from the state budget and crammed them into their own pockets, by various commissions and bribes. Considering themselves untouchable and eternal in their influencing top management positions either in politics or justice – such as former chief prosecutor of DIICOT, Alina Bica, as inquiries on her reveal files that would even stir the envy of movie gangsters – greedy and unscrupulous high officials committed severe felonies in Romania, in the last few years, such as corruption, influence traffic and money laundering, never taking into account the consequences of their deeds when they defied laws acting more like highly experienced criminals. Nonetheless, when appearing pale and crying in courtrooms, under police arrest or out of police vans, annoyed by handcuffs placed on their hands and attempting to hide them from TV cameras, these characters perform a terrible show trying to justify themselves in order to escape, blaming one another or turning in one another, suddenly remembering details or facts that happened years ago, facts they somehow forgot to mention in the initial stages of inquiries. Or, worse, they throw accusations against the competent institutions of the state, responsible with the anti-corruption struggle, trying to discredit and destabilize them. It happened similarly with the former head of DIICOT Alina Bica who, on Friday, in Court, launched accusations on her turn against the interim leader of SRI Florian Coldea, in a simultaneous action with her friend Elena Udrea, who, in the same day, in the interview for hotnews.ro, launched a lot of dirt on General Coldea.
The evolution of the fight against corruption that starts from an investigated file and manages to discover a ramification of disjointed files involving the same names again and again has already started and it will be difficult to stop. What happens now in Romania during the crusade against corruption beats any movie and goes beyond the rich imagination of Hollywood scriptwriters or of the authors of the famous Italian TV series “La Piovra” (“The Octopus”), produced at the beginning of the 90s, dedicated to the fight of annihilating gangster and mafia networks.
Even Elena Udrea’s name, investigated and under legal pursuit by DNA since last Thursday for money laundering and false wealth declarations is involved in the grand corruption as her ex-husband Dorin Cocos is one of the main pillars of criminality and his name appears again and again in all the major files presently investigated by DNA prosecutors: the Microsoft case, the Bica – ANRP case or the illegal real estate retrocessions case.
If the disclosures made by Elena Udrea regarding General Coldea in the hotnews.ro interview are true – yet, the verdict must be issued following an internal inquiry at SRI and an investigation by the Military Prosecutors’ Office, the situation is all the more terrible as, if it violated attributions established by the law, SRI also challenged the functioning of the Constitutional state, although it should have played a crucial role in defending it.
Until the responsible institutions pronounce a verdict, it is certain that the involvement of SRI in this kind of scandal, during a period of emerging international and regional security issues is completely unwelcome and counter-productive for the prestige and the role of the Service as a guard and remover of threats to national security, regardless of whether they are named the grand corruption and evasion that undermines the national economy, or the terrorist threat the Service is expected to solve by cooperating with foreign counterparts who never ceased showing appreciation. Under these circumstances, which is the impact of this scandal upon the credibility and the prestige of the Service abroad?
While waiting for the adequate institutions to pronounce a verdict on Elena Udrea’s accusations against the SRI leadership, the public space was invaded by comments. People targeted by her accusations immediately denied them or refused to make any comment, such as DNA leader Laura Codruta Kovesi and the SRI spokesperson. Other people claimed that Udrea was merely delirious and should absolutely not be trusted in her statements as she is under legal pursuit and the entire family, including her, her stepson and her former husband are in deep trouble with Justice.
The doubts of people claiming that Udrea, as a suspect in huge corruption files, actually wants to discredit DNA and SRI as both institutions are actively fighting the war against corruption and that she cannot be trustworthy are also backed up by the lack of evidence. Asked by the reporters interviewing her if she had any proof to support her statements, she mentioned little more than chatting over coffee with an influential businessman and claiming that he had told her everything she declared. Her detractors are also wondering why Udrea, if she knew all those things detailed and incriminated in the interview, failed to denounce these crimes a long time ago and waited for the moment when, challenged by the prosecutors’ accusations, she started vehemently attacking the institutions of the constitutional state.
There are also voices praising Elena Udrea for her courage to denounce such terrible things from the shady Romanian political scene, saying that she is worthy of trust as one of the closest persons and longest collaborators of former President Traian Basescu and that it is all the more obvious that she knows truths that stayed well-hidden so far; especially that, during the last few years, Udrea was a member of the former President’s entourage (following him everywhere, first as an advisor of the Bucharest Mayoralty and then at the Cotroceni Palace) and, subsequently, has always enjoyed Basescu’s support in her political career, both as a member of PDL and of PMP. Only a few months ago, the former President stirred the rage of public opinion as he violated the Constitution that demanded political neutrality from behalf of the President, by outspokenly declaring his public support for Udrea and PMP both during the latest parliamentary elections and during presidential election, claiming that Elena Udrea was the only politician whom he could trust.
It is obvious that things are far from easy to solve, especially considering that this Udreagate scandal bears the smell of political influences that go up to the highest levels and complex issues related to intelligence services.
Encouraged by the messages of support she received, Udrea promised though that she would not stop here and that she will continue the saga of disclosures against General Coldea and his maneuvers to gain full power and control over Romania. In the meantime, probably aware of the impact of her declarations regarding SRI as an institution, she was eager to point out that Coldea does not mean SRI in its entirety and announced that she knew what was coming on the line for her, that anything could be fabricated against her and that it is possible that recordings of her phone calls and photographs might surface. Moreover, she declared that the panic caused by her disclosures shows the fear of people who might be blackmailed and who have skeletons hiding in their closet.
Last but not least, until further disclosures made by Udrea against General Coldea and until these are confirmed or denied, the clock of Justice keeps ticking without a break. DNA in partnership with SRI launched yesterday a new criminal inquiry against Elena Udrea, accused of abuse of office and corruption as Minister of Development, when she organized the Bute Boxing Gala in 2011 to promote Romania’s touristic brand, supported by European funds, when she allegedly failed to comply with applicable laws.