The Deputies’ Chamber in a plenary sitting on Tuesday approved the decision to reject the opening of a criminal investigation procedure against Prime Minister Victor Ponta for alleged conflict of interests in the case of the appointment of Dan Sova to office as minister. 231 of the 351 present voted for Ponta.
Previously, the Legal Committee where the PSD-PC-UNPR-PLR ruling coalition has an overwhelming majority had voted against DNA’s requests. However, the Committee has just an advisory role. The decision is made by the plenary meeting of the Chamber.
The vote in Parliament on the opening of criminal investigation against the premier was for the National Anticorruption Department’s allegations that the PM had committed the criminal offence of conflict of interest during his term in office – the appointment of Dan Sova as minister several times. The accusation is supported by the prosecutors by the assumption that Ponta offered him senior government positions in return for financial benefits he had previously obtained from Sova. In order to be able to investigate against the PM for conflict of interests, DNA had to ask for the consent of the Chamber of Deputies.
But DNA is free to continue with the investigation dealt with by prosecutor Jean Uncheselu into the allegations of falsification of documents, tax evasion and money laundering in the Rovinari-Turceni case concerning PSD Senator Dan Sova, placed on probation after the Senate had disallowed his arrest.
According to DNA, V. Ponta signed a cooperation contract in 2007-2008 with the ‘Sova and Associates’ law firm. The prosecutors claim that, in 2007-2009, Ponta obtained over EUR 40,000 in total plus a luxury limousine. Dan Sova allegedly paid V. Ponta using funds he received from the Turceni and Rovinari energy plants as their legal representative. The investigators state in a press release that, although he cashed EUR 2,000 or 3,000 every month, Ponta did not provide criminal law consultancy services according to the records of his private lawyer practice. The prime-minister on the other hand argues he may not be accused of complicity in tax evasion and that previous investigations have already cleared him in the matter.
Ponta addressing the Deputies: ‘Do not vote with political reasons in mind today’
Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who is also a Deputy from the Social Democratic Party (PSD), on Tuesday asked his fellow MPs to ignore political calculations when voting on the initiation of criminal proceedings against him, as requested by the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA).
‘You are here to decide if political decisions may or may not be censured by a prosecutor. A minister is appointed to office after a vote in a party – in USL in this case, who voted on the Sova case several times – in Parliament and the president. You need to decide whether or not a case prosecutor may hold liable those who make a common decision. It is important and it must remain as an element that balances powers in the state. A government is appointed and dismissed through Constitutional procedures – your vote after election and a no-c0onfidence vote. I became prime-minister after a no-confidence vote initiated by USL against the Government of Romania. Then, after an election. You need to decide if we keep this system or not’, the PM told his colleagues in the Chamber of Deputies.
“I want to ask you to please ignore political calculations when voting today. Just vote as citizens and MPs and keep your political vote for the censure motion of Friday,” Victor Ponta told the plenary session of the Deputies’ Chamber.
PNL’s Ludovic Orban: ‘We must send out a signal that Romania is not being ruled by corrupt people’
The leader of PNL MPs in the lower Chamber, Ludovic Orban, said from the rostrum of the Chamber that the decision on Tuesday would count towards democracy in Romania and the image of our country.
‘The decision that will be made today will count towards democracy, the perception of the citizen and the image of the Parliament. What will be decided here today will travel around the world and will be watched by all civilised world chancelleries and Euro Atlantic partners. Today we are not voting on Ponta’s guilt or innocence. It is not for us to decide that, we have not the necessary information to do that. If I ask you how many of you have actually read the file, 90% will say you have not and you are expressing your position solely on distorted information fed by party fellows or the Legal Committee. Today we are voting on whether to comply with the Constitution or not and no one is above the law. On whether or not Parliament should obstruct justice. If you wish to defend your premier, vote against the censure motion on Friday’ Orban said.
‘Do not become accomplices in corruption. Do not cast on Romania an anathema that we won’t be able to remove in years from now. If today you vote for his prosecution, the parliamentary majority won’t be affected either. If the premier is suspended, the president will appoint an acting PM still from your majority. No one prevents you from keeping your parliamentary majority. We must send out a signal that Romania is not being ruled by corrupt people. Vote for justice!’ Orban further said.
Dispute over balls used for voting
After the two MPs spoke, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Valeriu Zgonea, started the voting on the draft decision rejecting the criminal investigation against Victor Ponta. Under Art. 156 of the Constitution, the Chamber of Deputies has the right to ask for the criminal investigation of any member of the Government\. The draft decision on the request for criminal investigation prepared by the Legal Committee is adopted by the vote of the majority of present MPs. The vote was secret and balls were used.
According to the official result, 351 out of the total 387 MPs that exist in the lower Chamber were present. 231 were against the criminal prosecution and 120 in favour.
Although V. Zgonea read the procedure at article 126 of the Regulation – the white ball in the white urn and the black ball in the black urn means vote in favour of the decision and the other way round means vote against the draft decision. Both balls in the same urn means a null vote – the Speaker reminded – after the voting there were voices saying that the MPs had not actually understood the rule and had not voted as they intended by dropping the balls in the wrong way. The speaker however ignored the lamentations and said the process had been correct and that the decision would be published in the Official Journal.
‘The draft decision rejecting the criminal investigation is approved’ – Valeriu Zgonea said and ended the meeting.
PM Ponta then left Parliament satisfied.
“The result is normal: 231 to 120. I want and I believe that Parliament and the Government have the obligation to respect the Constitution and defend especially the others, for others, and I refer now to the simple people, do not enjoy the support that I have. This is what we should reflect upon from now on,” the Prime Minister said after the vote cast by the Deputies.
Asked whether he will go to the DNA now to submit new documents, Ponta specified: “I won’t speak of concrete cases anymore. I believe it is not normal to do so. I will just speak, and my lawyers too, in front of the court.”
Klaus Iohannis: ‘Parliament has turned into a protection shield for the person Victor Ponta’
President Klaus Iohannis criticises Parliament’s decision to reject the opening of a criminal investigation in the case of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, showing that the Legislature has turned into a shield for the latter and that the solution is the resignation of the head of Government.
“I maintain my point of view according to which Parliament shouldn’t hinder the act of justice. I regret that today the ruling coalition imposed a contrary decision. At the same time, I regret the fact that Parliament has turned into a protection shield for the person Victor Ponta, suspected of criminal offences. It is a proof of maximum irresponsibility and defiance against the citizens the fact that parliamentarians making up the majority prevent justice from doing its job, are willing to destroy the institution of Parliament, as it should function in a rule of law state, and affect Romania’s image in order to politically save one single person,” Iohannis says, according to a press release the Presidential Administration sent to Agerpres.
He believes that the solution to come out of crisis is the Prime Minister’s resignation.
“The parliamentary majority refuses to accept the signal given by the citizens, which was a very clear one: put a stop to corruption, [do] politics with integrity and responsibility. I still believe that the solution to come out of the current crisis is the resignation of Mr Victor Ponta from the Prime Minister office,” the head of state maintains.
PNL’s Gorghiu: ‘I’ve seen today a premier who despises law and Romanians’
Co-chair of the Opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) Alina Gorghiu says Prime Minister Victor Ponta ‘has ordered a vote for himself at the plenary session of the Chamber of Deputies in order to escape justice.’
”I have seen today a coward premier that violates his own commitments, a premier who despises the law and Romanians. In just two days, with a speed unmet in the case of no other parliamentarian, Victor Ponta has ordered a vote for himself at the plenary session of the Chamber of Deputies to escape justice. Unfortunately, Victor Ponta is a beggar for immunity and a politician with no dignity. From now on, people can see even clearer that Victor Ponta is a prime minister that is sick with power who does anything to stay in office,’ Gorghiu wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday after the Chamber of Deputies voted against the criminal investigation of Ponta.
She added that the PNL MPs cast an open vote in favour of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA).
‘But our votes were not enough. This majority has unfortunately sided with Ponta instead of with Romania. Parliament keeps on losing citizen’s credibility; that is the risk against Romanian democracy, not some imaginary coups d’état,’ added Gorghiu.
Monica Macovei: Today, PSD included Chamber of Deputies to the organised criminal group’
MEP Monica Macovei says that, with the vote on Tuesday, ‘PSD included the Chamber of Deputies to the organised criminal group’ and that, if he had been innocent, the PM would have asked himself the MPs to grant DNA’s request to be allowed to prosecute him.
‘Today, PSD has included the Chamber of Deputies to the organised criminal group. The majority in the Chamber of Deputies today has green lighted corruption at the highest level. The MPs blocked justice to prevent a prime-minister in office from being investigated into on suspicion of criminal corruption offences, by that sending out the most powerful signal that politicians are above the law and also invincible. The declination of DNA’s request shows that neither Ponta nor the MPs who defend him believe that the prime-minister is innocent. If he had been innocent, he would have asked the MPs himself to grant DNA’s request. To Ponta and PSD, equal justice to everyone is a mere election slogan, threshed in the smear of the interests of an organised criminal group. Shame on you! Go home!’ Monica Macovei says.
Kelemen Hunor in Hungarian press: ‘Victor Ponta’s resignation would serve national interest’
‘Sooner or later, the premier will be in the situation where he has to go, however with much bigger damages for the country than if he resigned now. This is why it would be best for him to end the governance now, but that’s his personal decision’ – UDMR President Kelemen Hunor told the Maszol website, quoted by Hotnews.ro. ‘Ponta’s resignation would serve national interest’, Kelemen Hunor also noted.
He is of the opinion that the prime-minister and the government are in an impossible situation, that V. Ponta will be isolated by the international financial and political community and that there are no more conditions for good governance.
PSD’s Gabriela Firea: ‘Only the Chamber of Deputies may decide on suspension, no one else’
PSD spokeswoman Gabriela Firea says the assertions of the Liberal leaders and President Klaus Iohannis ‘overlay in an incorrect manner the justice and political levels’ and said that ‘such approach should stop’ as it is incorrect and not in Romania’s best interest. ‘PNL needs to understand, even in the last minute, that their political importance cannot be supplemented by tools that have nothing to do with political life. The two levels must be separated’, Firea says according to Agerpres.
The Social-Democrats’ spokeswoman reiterates that the Chamber of Deputies and ‘no one else’ may suspend the PM.
‘Mr. Orban said that, if Victor Ponta was brought before Court, he would be suspended by the president. Nothing falser than that! The CCR decision is also clear on that aspect: the Chamber of Deputies where Mr. Ponta is a member may suspend him, no one else! I invite Mr. Orban to refer to the Fenechiu case, when Traian Basescu could not override the Chamber of Deputies’, Firea noted.
International reactions prompt to appear
Any accusations against government officials on breaking the law must be thoroughly and without interferences investigated and the law must be equally enforced for everybody, the US Embassy in Bucharest pointed out in the context of the request for the approval to open a criminal investigation against Prime Minister Victor Ponta, according to Agerpres. In a press release, the Embassy underscores however that it doesn’t comment upon individual cases.
The legal and the rule of law institutions must be able to conduct their activity in a completely independent manner and both the Romanian legislation and the principle of a fair trial must be thoroughly observed, the cited source also shows.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Tuesday said he totally agrees with the message sent by the US Embassy in Romania, in the context of the request for the approval to open a criminal investigation against the head of Government.
“I totally agree. Aren’t we all equal?,” Victor Ponta said, upon exiting the Deputies’ Chamber plenary sitting, after the vote cast on the request for opening a criminal investigation procedure in his case.
Dutch Embassy reacts to Tuesday vote in Parliament
‘As we have stated before, the Netherlands strongly believes that the law applies the same to all people. Recent developments in Parliament raise broader issues about the attitudes towards justice and corruption in Romania. This concern was highlighted earlier this year in the 2015 CVM Report of the European Commission. We attach great importance to the recommendations of the CVM report. We trust Romania and all its institutions to take them into consideration’, se reads the Dutch Embassy communiqué.
The British Embassy also had a prompt reaction to the Parliament’s vote in Ponta case
‘The Government of Great Britain recognises the importance of the fight against corruption in Romania and the need for the institutions belonging to the judicial system to be able to act impartially and in the spirit of full independence. This principle is, in fact, also noted in the European Commission’s reports on the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism in the area of Justice, documents that emphasise the important role of Parliament in this conjugated effort. Ahead of the G7 Summit in Germany, British Prime-Minister David Cameron warned about corruption as a threat against states’ prosperity and security anywhere in the world. PM Cameron announced the UK would coordinate an anti-graft agenda next year, culminating with a summit dedicated to the fight on corruption to be hosted by London in 2016. The Embassy of the United Kingdom does not comment on individual cases and the situations that concern the Government of Romania are a subject to be managed by the citizens of Romania’, a release issued by the British Embassy states.