EDITORIAL

The wolves in sheep’s clothing

A wolf found great difficulty in getting at the sheep owing to the vigilance of the shepherd and his dogs. But one day it found the skin of a sheep that had been flayed and thrown aside, so it put in on over its own pelt and strolled down among the sheep…

People who know the famous story of the wolf guarding sheep use this metaphor to describe those playing a role contrary to their real character, to whom contact is dangerous.

The Valcov case, the last in the series of inquiries developed by Anti-Corruption prosecutors, aimed against high officials, is yet another high profile investigation by the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), in their recent series that are worth a title such as  “Life beats movies” or “Romania, the country of wolves guarding sheep”.

The first example worth being noted in these series is the Bica case. Appointed in a high position where she was supposed to coordinate actions  meant to combat organized crime, Alina Bica, former Chief Prosecution of the Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) was dirtier than the people she had prosecuted, as shown in the reports filed by DNA prosecutors conducting the investigation, and has committed corruption-based offences that are much heavier than those of many organized crime groups crushed by the institution she had led. Nonetheless, the members of such networks successfully annihilated by DIICOT prosecutors consider that Mafia-like actions and inventing ways to violate laws are the purpose of their live, while, at the same time, nobody had ever dreamed that the institution whose primordial competence is to confront  offenders’ groups would be led by a person as corrupt as Bica, as revealed by reports filed by DNA prosecutors. As shown there, Bica was sort of a “capo di tutti capi”, who could have easily taught crime-committing classes to other Mafia members.

Alina Bica was arrested in November 2014 under charges of having committed several corruption-related offences, some of them in complicity with Dorin Cocos and Crinuta Dumitrean, manager of the National Agency for Property Restoration (ANRP). Investigated at the time being for abuse of office, after having granted compensation for a land plot in Bucharest overrated by a committee of ANRP she had been a member of, before being appointed chair of DIICOT, Alina Bica started to reign over the institution just like a wolf guarding sheep.

The appropriate question here is: what merit made her worthy of being appointed to the top position of an institution destined to combat organized crime, an institution that should only consist of honest prosecutors, able to pay respect to their job and justice, laws and moral values, if her past at ANRP was so shady? Did anyone make any elementary checking of Alina Bica’s virtue, reputation and good intentions before appointing her Head of the Anti-Mafia Prosecutors Office?

It is impossible that responsible institutions were unaware, at the time Alina Bica was appointed Chief-Prosecutor of DIICOT, that she had done some shady business at ANRP; damaging state interests, and that she was close friend to some politicians and had strong bonds with the underworld, which could easily make her fall prey to the temptation to facilitate these people’s interests in disregard to those of the institution she was leading.

If so, why was she appointed in 2013 in a position that demanded integrity and a stainless reputation, while hers was most obviously affected by her crimes at ANRP? Why wasn’t she arrested back then, and three more years had to pass after her crimes that had caused the Romanian state a damage of EUR 62 million and, in the meantime, the wolf (the person who had committed criminal offences) was put guardian to the sheep (appointed Head of an institution that had major responsibility in annihilating people who violated laws and cheated on the state)?

Another wolf appointed “guardian to sheep” was Horia Georgescu, former Head of the National Integrity Agency (ANI). Instead of being the most honest high official in this country, as long as he was expected to issue “proof of proper conduct” and to check whether others officials had no ongoing conflict of interests and whether they happened to earn impressive wealth illegally, Georgescu did precisely the opposite. He was a criminal and a legal offender; he was yet another perverted mind who, instead of respecting laws, following both their letters and spirit, invented plenty of tricks and abused his position at ANRP to trick the state and to violate laws in the most outrageous manner.

Even the word “integrity”, associated with Horia Georgescu’s person, seems a statue of irony and would make many people start laughing, or perhaps crying, if we are so inclined. We had all of these reactions while seeing the Head of the Integrity Agency himself arrested by Anti-Corruption prosecutors for… committing terrible corruption crimes. He is accused by DNA prosecutors on three accounts of abuse of office with extremely serious consequences, committed as a member of the Central Committee for Establishing Damages at the same institution, ANRP, where also Bica could not resist her instinct to steal from the height of her influential position. The damage in his file totalizes EUR 75 million.

How was it possible, after such obvious crimes committed during 2008 – 2009 at ANRP, crimes the specialized institutions were most certainly aware of, that Horia Georgescu was appointed in 2012 Head of the National (I find it hard to write this word here) Integrity Agency, with such a dangerous criminal background, including suspicions that he had stolen EUR 75 million, to be arrested no earlier than 2015? Shouldn’t it be normal that, before nominating him as leader of ANI, they would perform rigorous checks of integrity and reputation on him? Why would anyone who embodies the opposite of integrity be appointed head of an integrity institution?

Why did the reward of these “wolves guarding sheep” come so late after they had committed their crimes? Why are their files investigated with such delay and why are the respective wolves arrested, annihilated and demanded to pay for their crimes after they were appointed to guard other “flocks of sheep” they hungrily and greedily devoured?

Bica had committed some major crimes at ANRP, and  a few years later she was promoted Head of DIICOT. Georgescu, as well, had committed outrageous crimes at ANRP and was named Head of Integrity in Romania, and he used this position to yell self-righteously and issue integrity verdicts against other officials of the state.

Therefore, someone defined by the complete lack of integrity was demanded, although his past was most certainly known, to decide on other people’s integrity. It is a massive paradox. And it is not the only one.

Another “wolf” arrested by DNA lately after being provided the opportunity to chase sheep as he saw fit for many years, was the terribly vocal mayor of Bucharest District 5, Marian Vanghelie, whom I honestly expected to be a genuine corrupt, guilty of anything he was accused of, respectively abuse of office, taking bribe money and money laundering.

In my opinion, there are few Mayors who resisted temptation not to fall, during their term, into the habit of receiving bribe and of committing abuse of office. Certainly, if DNA started performing detailed investigations of Mayoralties, regardless of whether we are referring to Mayoralties of other districts, the General Mayoralty of Bucharest or of bigger or smaller cities all over the country, certainly, there would be lots of huge surprises, of high-profile names of former or present Mayors who had gave in to the temptation of receiving commissions in order to attribute various works or contracts to certain companies, to complete works required by Mayoralties. The DNA investigation showed that Vanghelie was demanding a commission of 20 per cent. And he was not the one to invent this practice. It was and still is applied and experienced by many other Mayors, managing public money in bigger or smaller Mayoralties all over the country. Perhaps it is just a matter of time until other DNA inquiries would target the territories of other former or present Mayors as well, countrywide, whose fortunes suddenly flourished and exploded in a completely paradoxical way if we compare them to the wages of civil servants earned by these Mayors.

The metaphor of the “wolf guarding sheep” perfectly fits the situation of former Finance Minister Darius Valcov, too. It is a truly peculiar case. It reveals mind-numbing details that challenge any imagination. It is a story with a dash of macabre, with bribe received in graveyards and treasures purchased from bribe money hidden in tombs. If these accusations by prosecutors are proved to be true, certainly the Valcov case will be studied in criminal law books at the chapter of ingenious methods to receive and hide bribe. Even ingenious Mafia based films such as “Godfather” seem to fade when compared to this hallucinating corruption case. If famous mystery authors wrote books inspired by this case, they would most certainly become best-sellers.

Former mayor of Slatina for four years, until 2012, Valcov gave in as well to the temptation of bribe taking and of receiving consisting commissions from  companies and people in return for attributing them contracts of public works. And yet, paradoxically, despite of this criminal past as an evasion maker and a bribe taker, Valcov was appointed in 2014 delegate Minister for budget and, a few months after, he gained one of the most important Ministerial portfolios of the Government: the Ministry of Public Finances.

In this position, he seemed perfectly fit and even created the impression of being the best person for the job: a representative of the young generation of politicians with an apparent immaculate and trustworthy image, well trained professionally and a pertinent and documented speaker on tax-related issues. He was noteworthy in his dialogues with IMF and in any public intervention regarding budget policies, the management of country finances and, most ironic of all, he seemed terribly concerned to find and apply measures to combat and reduce tax evasion.

But all of it was mere appearance, in another episode of “Life Beats Movies”. Valcov’s arrest report, issued by DNA prosecutors, revealed another big surprise and the bitter reality that opposed anything we had expected. The father of the new Tax Code, destined to increase the earnings of the state budget and to drastically combat tax evasion is charged himself with severe corruption crimes, influence peddling and tax evasion. Moreover, he seems an expert in finding innovative ways of hiding the bribe money received as a Mayor, or in destroying compromising evidence when he suspected that he was already the subject of a criminal inquiry.

The question above must be repeated: How was a person with such a shady criminal past allowed to be promoted in a key position as Finance Minister, ordering his subordinates at the National Agency of Tax Administration (ANAF) to combat tax evasion? While he seemed to be, as shown by the deeds described by prosecutors, a great expert in this field, but not in combating evasion and corruption, but in committing it on a wide scale. Owning valuable paintings purchased by intermediates on bribe money, hiding them in walls, closets and under beds, even suspected of hiding some of the treasures he received as bribe in cemetery tombs, Valcov seems to have invented brand new tax evasion patterns that managed to surprise even investigators, not to mention any regular tax payer in this country.

Obviously, Valcov’s outrageously compromising past was well-known as well. Why would the relevant bodies allow a high-level evasion expert be appointed in the Government and precisely in the position of Minister responsible of managing the finances of the country, where one of his essential attributes is precisely combating evasion? Why are there no detailed checks of the integrity and reputation of various persons appointed in top positions?

Nobody should be confirmed in such positions until secret services and other specialized structures of the state confirm their integrity and the indubitable fact that they were never involved in shady business.

All of these paradoxes of appointing greedy and money-hungry wolves as guardians of sheep, respectively in positions where the integrity of the title holder should be the major selection criterion, should make us circumspect.

What should the small entrepreneur or the owner of a small shop think, after his business was closed by Valcov’s anti-evasion inspectors for finding sums of RON 50 – 100 (approximately EUR 11 – 25) without a receipt, if we were to give but one example, when they hear that the big boss of Finances, apparently one of the most competent and well-intended Finance Ministers, was actually one of the greatest gangsters and the greatest evasion expert, inventing hallucinating and even macabre ways of receiving the bribe in graveyards, so that he could hide it in tombs? And that the sums he gained did not amount to EUR 10 – 20, but millions?

Some of the small entrepreneurs are unable to pay their taxes to the state in due time, not because they are unwilling to, or because they want to trick the state. It is simply that the economical crisis in the last few years has seriously affected the circulation of money on the market and making payments. Unable to receive their money in due time, they are also unable to pay their debt. ANAF is merciless, though, and immediately punishes them by blocking their bank accounts and making it even harder for them to recover.

In the meantime, great evasion experts, experienced gangsters such as Valcov, Georgescu and Bica, were allowed to do what they pleased and to continue their Mafia practices, with an apparent complicity from behalf of some relevant state institutions that should have cooperated precisely to stop the ascension of such people in high management structures they were aiming for.

And, most ironically, until they were arrested, they were paid for years in a row huge salaries out of public money, the money paid to the state budget by all Romanian taxpayers.

What country are we living in?

Perhaps, if justice finds these “wolves guarding sheep” and others to come guilty – it is sure that there are plenty of similar surprises – it will impose them, outside the recovery of prejudices caused to the state from their position as civil servants who had committed abuse of office and traffic of influence, to pay back salaries earned while they had held the respective positions.

It would be fair and moral.

 

 

 

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