Prime-Minister Victor Ponta was heard on Monday afternoon in the Legal Committee of the Chamber of Deputies and the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) criminal investigation request received a negative opinion. As there were 18 votes against and 7 in favour of the request, the Legal Committee prepared a report declining the request of the prosecutor general for the criminal investigation of Victor Ponta.
The anticorruption prosecutors had asked the permission to extend the charges against Ponta in a case of forgery, tax evasion and money laundering allegedly perpetrated in his former lawyer capacity; the DNA wants to prosecute him also for conflict of interests after he took office as prime minister.
As deputy in Romania’s Parliament, PM Ponta cannot be prosecuted without the approval of the respective chambers. The procedure begins with a General Prosecutor’s notification of the Standing Bureau of the lower or upper chamber; in Ponta’s case, this step was taken on Friday. The Standing Bureau forwards the request to the Legal Committee, which issues a recommendation to the plenum. Finally, the plenary vote must strip the MPs of their immunity, or maintain it and thus deny the prosecutors’ request to investigate.
The plenary vote on the lifting of the immunity of the prime-minister will be on Tuesday, at 10 am.
Victor Ponta was ordered over misrepresentations under private signature, complicity to continuing tax evasion and money laundering in relation with some judicial consultancy contracts for the Turceni and Rovinari energy companies. President Klaus Iohannis asked Ponta to resign. About his resignation, Ponta said the Romanian Parliament will have the last say.
Ponta said, after the Legal Committee meeting on Monday morning, that he had asked the Committee to hear him at 16:00 and for the plenary vote on his criminal investigation to take place on Tuesday. The Committee unanimously granted his request.
‘I have asked the Committee not to delay things, to hear me today and hold the vote tomorrow if possible. They agreed in unanimity. At 16:00 I will be back to state my position. There is no file to study and I need no lawyer. I will come and state my position’, Ponta said.
‘I will be heard by my colleagues and the plenary vote will be tomorrow. (…) It isn’t a good thing either for Parliament or the Government to stall things. Absolutely all agreed, there was unanimity’, Ponta added.
‘Today, at 16:00, I will report to the Legal Affairs Committee at the Chamber of Deputies for hearing. A report will be prepared and the plenary vote will hopefully happen tomorrow. I do not want to play out time!’ Victor Ponta posted on Facebook on Monday.
A total of 23 MPs members of the Legal Committee were present for the meeting that was held behind closed doors.
PM Victor Ponta reportedly asked the MPs to hear him anytime during the day, as long he could still make it to the Cotroceni talks at 18:00. ‘Ponta also told the MPs that he would only need five minutes to say what he has to say and that he did not wish to see his file, Committee sources said. During the meeting, he didn’t ask his colleagues to vote either for or against DNA’s request to investigate him’, according to stiripesurse.ro.
The Legal Committee would have had 14 days available to study the case consisting of five volumes and 1,110 pages prepared by the DNA prosecutors who are asking the Parliament to remove the PM’s immunity in order to place him under investigation in Dan Sova’s case.
‘At the Chamber of Deputies, PSD and its allies had 29 votes more than the opposition, without counting in UDMR and the national minorities. Some of the UDMR MPs and of the minorities will also vote against DNA’s request concerning Victor Ponta. A quick vote would leave PNL leaders with less time to negotiate with the Mps of the minorities and even PSD-UNPR and convince them to change side’, according to dcnews.ro.
‘In the most likely situation where the MPs decline DNA’s request, President Klaus Iohannis can no longer suspend the prime-minister. Yet, it doesn’t all end there for Victor Ponta. According to an interpretation of the Constitution, when DNA refers the case to Court, the president can, again, decide if he suspends the PM or not. In fact, PNL has also challenged the Senate decision in the Sova case before the CR. The situation will therefore be solved at the Constitutional Court, the news website further notes.
Legal Committee deputy chair: ‘We are not a court of law’
The leader of PNL MPs, Ludovic Orban, said the Liberals were happy that ‘Mr. Ponta has come to our idea’, reminding that they had asked for a quick hearing and vote on the PM’s immunity already on Friday. Orban noted that the Liberals would have liked the vote to happen sooner, as the Parliament does not work on Fridays, but said he hoped the power would bring its senators and deputies over for the vote.
PNL Senator Mihai Razvan Ungureanu said he was looking forward to ‘a quick and fair finale on the lifting of Mr. Ponta’s immunity’. He said that, on Tuesday, at 16:00, a delegation of the PNL leadership would meet some of the foreign ambassadors in Bucharest to give them details on the reasons behind the no-confidence vote.
On Monday at noon, the Deputy Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee, Ciprian Nica (PSD), said a first evaluation of the case had been carried out in keeping with the procedures stipulated by the regulation and that a proposal would be sent to the Standing Bureau prior to the hearing after which the report would be prepared. Asked by the journalists if they had enough time to study the file, the PSD MP admitted there hadn’t been enough time.
Nica noted that the five volumes of over 1,100 pages ‘were locked up and sealed’ on Friday.
‘The premier knows it (the file – editor’s note). He said he would still come alone at 16:00, without a lawyer, as he believes he needs no lawyer at this stage of the procedure’, said the deputy chairman of the Legal Committee.
Ciprian Nica also said he wasn’t aware that the prime-minister was accused of conflict of interests ‘only in that relation (with Dan Sova – editor’s note)’
‘We are not a court of law, we are a political legal committee (…) The result will be given by the vote’, the MP also said.
Asked if he would vote in favour or against the criminal investigation of Victor Ponta, Nica answered: ‘I am against it, I don’t find this to be a normal procedure’.
MEP Preda: I’ve asked EP to discuss political crisis in Romania; EP should hear Ponta
Romanian MEP Cristian Preda has said he asked the European Parliament in Strasbourg to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Romania, arguing that because of what he calls a democratic deficit in Romania’s Parliament, a hearing of Prime Minister Ponta is needed.
“I have already asked the European Parliament this morning to discuss the political crisis in Romania during the session that starts this evening. I believe the democratic deficit in the Romanian Parliament requires a hearing by the European Parliament of Victor Ponta. I believe he has to be called to account; because this is a deficit in the Romanian political system, the solution, in my opinion, should be a European one. First of all, I hope my request will be approved, and if approved the Prime Minister will be summoned before the plenary session of the Parliament in Strasbourg to explain why he is generating the crisis we are witnessing,” Preda told RFI radio broadcaster on Monday.
In his opinion, the hearing has to be held in order to clarify whether or not Romania is meeting the political criteria related to a functioning regime and the rule of law.
“The hearing has to be held in order to clarify whether or not Romania is meeting the political criteria related to a functioning regime and the rule of law and that surely will have an impact on keeping in place the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism and marginalising Romania, unless Ponta takes a step back. Let us not imagine there are only domestic costs, because the crisis fuelled by Ponta entails very high external costs,” said Preda.
Calin Popescu Tariceanu questions prosecutor’s competence
The head of the Senate, Calin Popescu Tariceanu, said on Monday that the legal issues Victor Ponta had could bring many people to ‘the conclusion that this is an attempted coup’.
‘At the end of the day, looked at with detachment from a distance, these things could bring many people to the conclusion that it is an attempted coup. For what does a coup mean? Removing a democratically elected regime using the force institutions of the state’, he said in a statement where he also questioned the experience and responsibility of a ’27-year old prosecutor’.
In his opinion, if Victor Ponta quits at this point, we might see ‘a succession of political crises’.
Tariceanu also made an exercise of imagination. He developed the scenario where the PM was under criminal investigation and resigned and the leader of the opposition became prime-minister, a person who ‘is not exactly a person with a perfect, spotless track record’.
‘She might be charged in the same case, since the law firm where she was a partner was defending the opposing party. We would see a new criminal investigation and a new government crisis’, the speaker of the Senate explained.
In the same scenario, Tariceanu wondered if it was ‘normal’ that, in a democratic country, with a parliamentary regime, a 27-year old prosecutor ‘should unseat two governments in a month’. Tariceanu also wondered how much experience and responsibility a prosecutor could have at that age.
‘I believe all those who work in the field of justice are aware of the fact that the power they have comes with huge responsibility’, he commented.
Elena Udrea: ‘He is too arrogant and too edgy’
At the High Court where her request for removing her preventive arrest measure had been heard, Elena Udrea commented on Victor Ponta’s situation.
‘He is too arrogant and too edgy to understand the role the forth most important person in the state hierarchy should have had all this time. He has an obsession: <Basescu and Udrea to jail!> His strategy is now blowing up in his face. You cannot instigate to political justice, opening via Prosecutor General Tiberiu Nitu case after case against Traian Basescu and shouting publicly and on the other hand complain that you are the object of a criminal case designed to remove you from office. The fate of the government will depend on how he manages his exit of this situation’, Udrea said. She noted that, if the Ponta Government fell after a no-confidence vote, there would be problems with reinvesting a new government.
The PMP MP reminded that the PNL shadow PM, Catalin Predoiu, was also concerned in a criminal case spun off the Gala Bute case in which she was being investigated into. ‘It’s an absolutely aberrant accusation of the prosecutors. (…) But they continue their investigation. If I am guilty, Mr. Predoiu is definitely also guilty’, Elena Udrea also said.