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November 14, 2019
EDITORIAL

There’s No Smoke Without Fire

Neither during their presidential terms, nor after they finished ruling the country did the previous two post-1989 Presidents of Romania, Ion Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu associate their names or the reputation of the Presidential institution with so many scandals involving intelligence services, abuse of office and influence that surrounds the name of ex-President Traian Basescu. Some of the scandals only include him; others involve names of his family members or other people in his close company; anyway, Traian Basescu holds a controversy record that is utterly inappropriate for the high and prestigious position he had exercised for the last ten years. It is a position supposed to stay above any scandal and suspicions, especially those related to corruption, groups of interests and their deals. In addition, the highest position in the state is supposed to be a position associated with balance, moderation, dignity and respect to the laws, the Constitution, the Romanian people and the national interest. Unfortunately, things were different. After a decade of having Basescu as a leader, the Presidential institution’s trustworthiness was seriously affected. Luckily, for two months, the position in Cotroceni changed its holder and new President Klaus Iohannis brought back the dignity, the elegant behaviour, conduct, language, attitude and speech as adequate attributes for the Head of the State, the lead exponent of the prestige of the Presidential institution. Certainly, under Iohannis’ term, this institution will rebuild its prestige and trustworthiness, as proved by the opinion polls that immediately followed his appointment.

There is never smoke without fire. If Traian Basescu’s close companions would not have been involved in scandalous, abusive, illegal or almost illegal practices, regardless of whether we are talking about his brother, his notary daughter Ioana or other persons he trusted, obviously all these persons could have been accused of anything else but joining shady business.

There is no doubt that there are plenty of accusations befitting the previous Heads of the State, Ion Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu, as well, as their presidential terms were not perfect either and they both had their share of mistakes, gaffes and wrong moves, but never were these names or any members of their families associated with felonies or, even worse, outrageous corruption files.

On the rumour market, many of the accusations proved now by the ongoing inquiries of the Anti-Corruption prosecutors, targeting Traian Basescu’s close companions, circulated in the media long before DNA started the grand files involving these persons. And many of these rumous suggested connections that led closer and closer to Traian Basescu, to members of his family or to politicians and businesspersons accepted for a long time by the former President’s entourage.

In most cases, the reactions of the former Head of the State were of constant vehement denial and, as it is well-known that attack is the best defence, Basescu kept launching accusations concerning his political adversaries whom he suspected of having orchestrated these disclosures, but also insults to the media who thus became “public enemy no. 1” for daring to conduct investigations that revealed deeds much to Basescu’s dislike.

While, during the last few years of Basescu’s term, all his public appearances turned into fights either with the Prime Minister, or with the Parliament, politicians in the opposition, the press he kept antagonizing with a language that was painfully inadequate to his position as President of a country, in the last week of his term, a new target appeared for Basescu’s venomous arrows and reproaches. This new target was represented by the Intelligence Services. It was a premiere. Before, the Head of the State and these structures shared a monolithic unity, as they were supposed to.

The electoral campaign had started for the Presidential elections in November and, while passionately supporting his favourite, Elena Udrea, completely oblivious to the fact that he violated the Constitution, which stipulated that the Head of the State should be politically neutral, Basescu publicly launched the scandal of the “undercover officer for the Foreign Intelligence Services (SIE)”. He was trying to crush the trustworthiness of Elena Udrea’s rivals for the Presidential seat, especially Victor Ponta, yet it is hard to establish whether Ponta was indeed affected by this scandal, as much as SIE was by getting involved in the electoral campaign. In its response to Traian Basescu’s accusations, the Service pointed out, among other things, that such disclosures were harmful for Romania’s interests, as well as for those of strategic partners, thus suggesting the former Head of the State that he was walking on thin ice.

It was the first sign of a rupture between a Head of the State that had no more than a few weeks to end his term and was sensing that he was losing the influence he had had over intelligence services, and the respective structures.

Also, during the electoral campaign, photographs surfaced showing Elena Udrea and her friend Alina Bica (who was still the Head of DIICOT at that time), made a few months before, while the two friends were on a shopping trip in the City of Lights. It was another subtle sign that confirmed the increase of the rupture between Basescu and intelligence services. It was obvious that those photographs did not accidentally appear publicly and that they were announcing further ulterior events.

Basescu was about to end his term as Head of the State, his influence upon the services was more and more insignificant and, naturally, they were preparing for the nearing transfer of power.

Coincidence or not, Udrea and Bica are both in severe trouble now, investigated for massive corruption files that include terrible accusations of influence peddling and bribe taking. Seen from the perspective of recent events, as both ladies in the photographs and persons close to them are now prosecuted by the DNA for corruption files, deciphering the reason those photographs were published during the last few weeks of Basescu’s term sheds the light on a new conclusion.

The photographs were nothing but a subtle sign that was sure to predict that something was about to happen to Udrea and Bica. They both became objects of inquiries in massive corruption files with dizzying ramifications that led to the highest structures in the state and included names of politicians and businesspersons involved in these crimes, including Elena Udrea’s former husband as well.

After this entire carousel of events that happened during the last weeks, including DNA inquiries, arrests of well-known names, and the war started by Elena Udrea against the interim Head of the Romanian Intelligence Services (SRI), Florian Coldea, another coincidence that cannot be overlooked is that both Elena Udrea and Alina Bica, in a perfectly correlated and balanced action, simultaneously launched their attacks against Coldea. On the same day, both women denounced in front of investigating officers that General Coldea allegedly violated the attributions of the Service and allegedly interfered and put pressure on politicians and judges to solve certain files.

Ever since Udrea started the war against General Coldea, whom she attacked in the media almost day by day with severe disclosures and accusations that dragged the name of the Service into the most terrible public scandal of the last few years, everybody kept wondering why Basescu was silent and when was he to intervene, and how.

Certainly, it was not easy at all for Traian Basescu to speak out in this case, as he was in an utterly unpleasant position, caught between a rock and a hard place, in a war between two persons who both had a massive influence on him and also owned huge and well-kept secrets about him.

Ten days passed until Basescu broke his silence. When he finally did, he made his public appearance in his characteristic “one man show style”, featuring him as a director, scriptwriter and actor. On Sunday, Traian Basescu spoke out after almost two months of low-profile conduct since he officially finished his term as a President and lived up to everybody’s expectations. He was the same Basescu who held a long speech, brimming with criticism to his political adversaries and insults to his eternal enemy – the news televisions. He was the same Basescu that made it seem like time had stopped and he was still Romania’s President, as if no elections had taken place, and Romania had not elected another President, a civilised and elegant one, who behaves, speaks and makes public appearances befitting the Head of the State’s conduct. And this new President seems to know very well what he has to do in the fields of major interest for our country, and its stability, without requiring instructions steaming with insinuations and sarcastic thorns, characteristic for the manipulative and challenging speeches Basescu had accustomed us to during this decade.

Beside his speech praising and caressing the forehead of the small party he had fathered, PMP, and giving instructions as if the party was one of the country’s major political powers, not a pocket party with a modest percentage of votes, painfully close to the limit of the electoral margin, Basescu used his tempestuous public appearance kept as a secret until the last moment to refer to Elena Udrea and her present situation.

Basescu’s appearance at the PMP Congress was not accidental and it was, probably, the result of a well-established scenario, built with the precision of a Swiss watch, at the peak of the scandal started almost two weeks ago by his protegee Elena Udrea who set fire to the public opinion due to her declarations targeting the secret services. Similarly well orchestrated is the performance played by Elena Udrea, and I have increasing doubts that she started it on her own.

In his speech, Basescu defended Udrea, but not quite. He cannot completely belie a person close to him for ten years, both at the Presidential Chancellery and as a Minister of the Boc Government, as well as politically, someone who knows so many of his secrets. Neither can he confirm what Udrea had declared concerning DNA and SRI (namely that the Head of DNA, Laura Codruta Kovesi has the handcuffs and Coldea – SRI has the information and dictates whom to handcuff), because it would mean he would confirm that anything works in Romania, except for an independent justice, and our legal system is actually an oppressive apparatus, a kind of a political police he must have known about, considering that he had held all tools of power and complete control on intelligence structures for ten years. There is no room for excuses now.

So, what could Basescu do? What could he confirm or deny from Elena Udrea’s disclosures? Whatever he would have confirmed or denied, he was still caught between a rock and a hard place, as I mentioned above and his name is far from being cleared after his public appearance on Sunday, an appearance he presented as necessary “to defend his term”. On the contrary. I do not think Basescu did himself any favour in terms of “defending his term”, but he achieved quite the opposite. Regardless how much he avoided approaching references to the Udrea case at the stand of the PMP Congress, doing little more than thanking Ms. Udrea and expressing his hope that she would prove one more time that she was a honest person, after he exited the room, while surrounded by journalists, Basescu gave away one bit of information. I hardly think it was accidental. For somebody as calculated as Basescu, it was obvious that this was a thing he had wanted to say. And he said that he had known from Elena Udrea what General Coldea was doing, yet, his attributions failed to cover these things, as it was the responsibility of the Parliament.

Sometimes, justification is self-accusation.

 

 

 

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