If 2014 meant the cleaning up of county councils, with more than half of the local barons being investigated for corruption, 2015 can be labelled the year of the mayors. Many mayors that enjoyed the voters’ sympathy said goodbye to their offices, at least until the time they solve their legal problems.
In Bucharest, 4 of the 7 mayors, Sorin Oprescu at the top of the list, are targeted by investigations, and in the rest of the country hardly a week went by without us finding out that a mayor took a bribe or allowed himself to be drawn into deals that were shady to say the least.
Cristian Popescu Piedone is the latest well-known mayor whose chair gave way under the weight of National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) accusations. He was immediately arrested after the Colectiv nightclub fire. After five days of arrest, the Bucharest Court of Appeals deemed that Piedone could be investigated without being detained. His signature, prosecutors claim, was one of the factors that fuelled the tragedy at Colectiv, which left 60 young people dead and more than 100 scarred for life. The suspended mayor gave the nightclub its operating permit, ignoring several legal provisions. He resigned and retired from politics the moment he was released from jail.
Before Piedone, Bucharest District 5 Mayor Marian Vanghelie ended up behind bars for 23 counts of corruption. Prosecutors stated that the suspended District 5 Mayor allegedly took bribes from several businessmen, awarding public utility contracts in exchange. In this manner, he caused a damage of almost RON 300 M to the budget of District 5. He is currently defending himself from DNA accusations and does not seem to have capitulated.
The District 1 Mayor was detained for awarding contracts in the same manner. Andrei Chiliman is caught between the Comarnic sewerage case, in which Victor Ponta’s brother-in-law Iulian Hertanu is accused of embezzling European funds, and the Apa Nova case in which prosecutors claim they have discovered that the water company was unjustifiably hiking Bucharesters’ bills. The two investigations started following a complaint filed by a businessman who claims he too bribed Andrei Chiliman in order to win as many public contracts as possible.
Bucharest Mayor Sorin Oprescu, currently suspended, is facing off the DNA prosecutors.
Arrested in September for passive bribery, money laundering, malfeasance in office and the setting up of an organized crime group, Sorin Oprescu constantly denied the accusations. Despite the fact that he was caught receiving EUR 25,000 from a person close to him. Sorin Oprescu claims it was a loan, while prosecutors and Bogdan Popa, head of the Bucharest cemeteries and the person who took the money to Oprescu, claim the money were a bribe for the awarding of public contracts.
Constanta’s Mayor was arrested last year too. Radu Mazare is a constant presence in prosecutors’ offices. The fifth legal case opened on his name prompted him to desert the helm of the city hall. He was arraigned, being charged with receiving EUR 9 M as bribe in exchange for issuing permits for a mall and for preferentially awarding sanitation contracts in Constanta.
Anticorruption prosecutors trained their sights on the Mayor of Iasi too.
Gheorghe Nichita, on May 7: “I didn’t know falling in love with a woman is a crime in Romania. I didn’t know that it is a felony for a divorced man to be madly in love.” It is not. Prosecutors told him that too. It is a felony however to order the local police to keep your ex-lover under surveillance. Which is what Gheorghe Nichita did. It is not the only case for which the former mayor is now held accountable.
The suspended Mayor of Iasi is suspected of having made sure that UTI and another company won a public contract, in exchange for him receiving 10 per cent of the value of that contract. Prosecutors say that Gheorghe Nichita allegedly received only a part of the RON 7 M sum, as well as discounts at a luxury hotel in Bucharest, free lodging in China and electronic goods worth tens of thousands of RON.
Just like Gheorghe Nichita, Ploiesti Mayor Iulian Badescu was quick to label the prosecutors’ accusations.
He eventually ended up in jail and he is now being arraigned. He is charged with receiving a villa as a bribe in exchange for using public funds to sponsor the basketball team owned by Lower Chamber lawmaker Sebastian Ghita, and with collecting a percentage of the money with which he rewarded Petrolul Ploiesti for winning the Romanian Cup in 2013.
Another case handled by the DNA brought out from anonymity the mayor of a small locality: Selimbar, near Sibiu.
Mayor Daniel Maricuta allegedly took over through deceit, almost for free, plots of land located in high-priced areas and sold them at high prices to real-estate developers. This is how he allegedly made EUR 114 M.
DNA investigations also swept through the city halls in Lupeni, Techirghiol, Baia Mare, Brasov, Rovinari and many other cities. In 2015, hardly a week went by without a new investigation targeting a mayor. Most of the cases concern public contracts awarded preferentially and in exchange for commissions. According to prosecutors, the sums demanded by mayors vary from 10 to 30 per cent of the value of the contracts awarded.