Senators decided on Tuesday, with 70 votes in favour, three abstentions and two votes against, to “urgently” summon Premier Dacian Ciolos on Wednesday in order for him to explain to the Senate the raid that the National Fiscal Administration Agency (ANAF) conducted at Antena 3. All parliamentary groups, those of the ruling power and of the opposition alike, condemned the way ANAF acted, and serious accusations were made toward state institutions who risk burying freedom of expression in Romania.
Private TV stations Antena 1 and Antena 3 got a five-day eviction notice on Monday from the Bucharest Public Finances Regional General Directorate.
The eviction enforces a criminal sentence from 2013 against Dan Voiculescu, former senator and owner of the two TV stations, sentenced to 10 years in prison in a case concerning the fraudulent privatization of a research institute. The sentence also included the seizure of Voiculescu’s real estate assets in order to cover his share of prejudices of 60 million Euros.
The National Fiscal Administration Agency (ANAF) faced the legal opposition of the Voiculescu family to the seizure; Dan Voiculescu had transferred his ownership of the TV stations and other businesses to family members.
On February 2, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) – who had prosecuted Dan Voiculescu – opened a case against ANAF for failure to enforce the court sentence, as explicitly allowed by the Bucharest Court of Appeals a week earlier.
An ANAF press release on Monday mentions that the Civil Code stipulates the five-day eviction term.
Senate Speaker: What is happening is serious; it’s an attack on freedom of expression
“I rarely get to come at the Senate’s rostrum to talk about certain issues. The seriousness of the situation calls for this. It’s an attack on freedom of expression. We are calling the parties to the danger of the annihilation of democracy and the rule of law. After the unacceptable attack on a television station, I see myself obliged to see that it is a well-designed plan to annihilate the non-obedient press. ANAF didn’t use teargas in the raid, that would have been the cherry on top. What is happening in Romania is serious. On the basis of Article 111 of the Constitution, the Senate has the right to ask the Government for explanations and I want you to agree with us asking, in the name of the Senate, the Romanian Prime Minister to urgently come before the Senate tomorrow and offer explanations about the actions taken by some institutions that are subordinated to the Government, actions that cannot be filed under the economic index of [collecting] sums of money,” Senate Speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu said.
He said that the action does not concern ANAF recovering sums of money. “It is basically a well-designed plan to suspend democracy, and the chapter of annihilating the press and freedom of expression, especially when it comes to the uncomfortable and non-aligned, non-obedient press, could not be absent. The brutal raid carried out by ANAF with disproportionate forces against a television station, featuring the identification of persons present there, an abusive control of IDs, in which teargas was probably used, that would have been the only thing left to do, seems to me the ultimate expression of this backsliding and permanent excesses that are taking place in Romania lately,” the Senate Speaker stated.
In his turn, Mihai Fifor, leader of PSD Senators, stated that the Social Democrats rally to Tariceanu’s action.
“What happened yesterday (Monday – editor’s note) represents nothing but an abuse. The way in which the state sees fit to do its duty is rapidly turning against Romania’s democratic values. PSD cannot sit and idly watch what happened yesterday, the attempt to suppress a television station in Romania. We can only rally to what the Senate Speaker is proposing and we will vote in favour of this proposal,” Mihai Fifor, leader of PSD Senators, stated.
UDMR representative Verestoy Attila adopted a similar position. “We cannot be suspected of loving Antena 3, we cannot be accused of being biased, but democracy means giving those who disagree with us the right to express their opinions. Introducing through an administrative manner a measure whose consequence in fact represents the suppression of the right to opinion in our country’s media is a dangerous precedent. We believe state institutions and ANAF should work not only in a certain direction, there are other media concerns that have long forgotten arrears owed to the state, to us all, that is why apart from the fact that it means a measure to repress a media concern, it means a discriminatory measure that focuses in a certain direction. The measures taken yesterday are not welcomed, do not serve democracy and the interests of the media in Romania,” UDMR Senator Verestory Attila stated.
Liberal Senator Marius Obreja stated that PNL is encouraging and supporting the state institutions’ actions “from top to bottom,” but cannot agree with “abuses.”
“However, neither PNL nor I can agree with moments or actions in which institutions overstep their prerogatives or enter an area of abuse,” Obreja pointed out.
PM Ciolos denies responsibility for eviction of TV stations
Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos confirmed his presence on Wednesday in the Senate, where he was summoned to explain the eviction of Antena 3 private TV and other stations of its group by tax authorities.
Ciolos asserted he has nothing to explain, as neither he, nor the finance minister were consulted by the National Tax Administration Agency (ANAF) on this case.
“Let’s not ask the independent government to solve within months problems procrastinated for years, including the matter of Antena 3. (…) There is a court sentence there, and ANAF suddenly decided to enforce it at the last minute, without asking anybody. I haven’t been asked, neither has the finance minister; not that we should have been formally informed – the president of the ANAF decides how they apply the law; they should have enforced it some time ago. (…) So I have no explanations to provide for decisions of a manager of an agency subordinate to the government, but who does not have to ask for government’s permission on some decisions,” Ciolos told journalists on Tuesday.
Asked why he does go to the Senate in these circumstances, he answered, “Because the Senate Speaker has invited me. “I have asked to be informed by the ANAF on the context of this decision. (…) I can understand it’s difficult to move within five days; on the other hand, it was not my decision and it was not I who stipulated this five-day term in the law.”
Baconschi: Divine blessing for Romania
There are politicians who applauded ANAF’s decision to evict the television stations that are members of the Intact group. Teodor Baconschi, former foreign minister in the Emil Boc Government, expressed on Facebook his satisfaction with the turn of events.
“A divine blessing for Romania. The destroyers of the Romanian intellectual elite are having some difficulties. It is the media weapon of a filthy rich concern that recycled and reinvested, with permanent complicities, the money that the Securitate “collected” from the foreign trade of Ceausescu’s Romania. We were starving, while the Securitate members from “Dunarea” were piling billions upon billions in offshore accounts. They will quickly find, without difficulties, alternative headquarter buildings. Maybe even better ones. Meanwhile, they are doing what they know in the country they condemned to the generalization of the Stockholm syndrome: they play the victim card,” Baconschi wrote.
Journalist Mircea Badea: Unimaginable abuse against the rule of law
“ANAF has sent its agents to evict us from our headquarters. We will prevail, but today’s abuse will bring about a catastrophic effect. People will go into the streets to defend us. Viewers will decide how they will support Antena 3. We are the only ones who pay taxes. We have the right to remain in the state-owned headquarters and pay rent. Unimaginable abuse against the rule of law,” Antena 3 journalist Radu Tudor said on Monday, after ANAF’s Foreclosure inspectors raided the television station’s headquarters.
Journalist Mircea Badea was likewise extremely angry. “ANAF wants to shut us down. Basescu’s system wants to shut us down. I want us to go out into the streets. It’s impossible to vacate the headquarters in 5 days,” Mircea Badea stated.
Journalist Dana Grecu was having a hard time coming to grips with what had happened too, after ANAF inspectors resorted to actions that the journalists labelled “intimidation actions,” such as the checking of IDs or photographing the employees and the guests. “How could this happen. Only a sick mind could believe we could move out in five days. Something like this happening to us under Klaus Iohannis’ regime… My tears have dried out, I no longer have energy to get mad. They find us unaccommodating. They’ve negotiated with all, except with us. There can be no legal negotiation. We want to stay here legally,” Dana Grecu said.
Journalist Rares Bogdan: There can be no democracy only with ANAF, intelligence services, DNA. There has to be a free press too
Realitatea TV journalist and talk-show host Rares Bogdan stated on Monday evening that the news that Antena 3, Antena 1 and Antena Stars have to vacate their headquarters saddened him. “In spite of their sins, they are our colleagues, who have tried, most of the time, to tell the truth. We are not talking only about people that you like or dislike. We are not talking only about Mihai Gadea, Mircea Badea, Dana Grecu or Adrian Ursu, we are talking about the journalists behind them. There are almost 1,000 people. I am thinking about them. Even though Ciuvica and Badea are backsliding, it’s not their fault,” he said.
“I’ve seen that some were happy on the internet; this piece of news saddens me. They are my colleagues, colleagues who have tried, despite their backsliding, to tell Romanians the truth. Sometimes they did it right, sometimes less so, sometimes with vested interests, sometimes completely selflessly. In such moments, I prefer remembering the positive things, the revelations these people made,” Rares Bogdan stated.
“Of course, I respect state institutions, but I simply wonder why did ANAF need to dispatch 10 cars at the headquarters of the Antena televisions? Why not one car? A gentleman could have notified them that the building has to be evacuated, or could have taken measurements in order to sell or lease the building. They could have discussed it in a civilized manner. The people there, the management, will understand that they have to vacate the building, but they should be given time. One cannot move a television station in five days,” Rares Bogdan said. “I understand that they have to vacate the headquarters, but give them a deadline. Or maybe they won’t vacate them and will pay rent instead. Maybe you could reach an agreement with them and they will pay rent. Realitatea TV is paying a huge rent, EUR 43,000 per month. We are paying it with difficulty, but we eventually do it because they would otherwise have evicted us. Antena too, had you talked with them and told them that they have to pay EUR 50,000, or EUR 20,000 for their headquarters, you would have reached an agreement. This is how it’s done. I’m sorry, you can’t move a television station in five days,” the journalist added.
“Despite the mud that some journalists there unjustifiably slung at me, out of meanness or envy, doesn’t matter, today I forget all that, because I don’t find it normal for 40 people to descend on a press institution when a civilized discussion could have taken place. It’s not normal to give a five-day deadline, it’s an aberration, there is no such thing anywhere in the world, regardless whether you like or dislike Antena’s policy, whether you agree or disagree with them. There are deadlines, there is civilization, there is a question of dialogue. Dialogue should have the precedence,” Rares Bogdan added.
He also stated that if the same thing were to happen to B1TV tomorrow, he would react identically, especially since the advertisement market is terrible at this moment. “There can be no democracy only with ANAF, intelligence services, DNA. There has to be a free press too,” Rares Bogdan stated on Realitatea TV.
CNA’s Jucan: Antena 3 misinforms and resorts to public blackmail
Valentin Jucan, member of the National Audiovisual Council (CNA), states that Antena 3 is misinforming and resorting to “public blackmail” through the way in which it presents the decision of ANAF, which notified Antena 1 and Antena 3 that they have to vacate their headquarter buildings in 5 days’ time.
“What Antena 3 is doing now is called misinformation and public blackmail. Why? Because Antena 3 knew since August 2014, the date of the final court ruling, that it has to find different headquarter building. They hoped they would be pampered,” Valentin Jucan wrote in a message posted on Monday evening on his Facebook account.
Valentin Jucan points out that he will notify the CNA plenum about Antena 3’s Monday broadcast about ANAF’s notification.
B1 TV journalist Radu Banciu: Don’t panic, ANAF cannot shut down Antena’s broadcast
Journalist Radu Banciu talked on his ‘Lumea lui Banciu’ show on B1TV on Monday evening about the news according to which Antena 3 will have to vacate its headquarters building because ANAF has enforced the court ruling in the ICA file.
“They will continue to broadcast. There is no problem. Almost two years after the court ruling, the damage has to be recovered. Three buildings will have to be sold. I don’t know whether they will recover more than EUR 20-25 M. They will continue to broadcast. They have sufficient studios prepared for this. Viewers should not panic. We will continue to see them. Do not panic. ANAF cannot shut them down,” the journalist explained.
Petria: Evicting the Antenas. About hatred against freedom of expression
“The 5-day eviction of five television stations, eviction demanded by ANAF, is an abuse. The mantra about recovering the damages from the Voiculescu case does not hold – the buildings are already owned by the state. The state can auction them, however the rights of the tenants, the editorial offices concerned, have to be respected too. ANAF is not allowed to throw the tenants, holders of valid on-going contracts, in the street. Of course, unless it wants to look like a Fascist institutions that pees on laws and on freedom of expression,” journalist Alexandru Petria wrote on stiripesurse.ro.
“The Antena-ANAF case (ANAF being an interface of the system that actually runs the country) is a story about hatred, nothing else. Hatred against freedom of expression. The hatred of the puppeteers who dominate Romania against the journalists that confound their dirty games,” Petria concludes.
Octavian Stireanu: Diaconu was sacked because he delayed the foreclosure of Antena 3
“After the episode in which ANAF’s posse descended on the Antena 3 television, it becomes even clearer that the sacking of ANAF Director Gelu Diaconu has political sublayer. Officially, he was accused that he favoured a Roma Party association by issuing two circular letters. Diaconu claims that the prosecutors’ claim is false. The said letters in fact concern the suspension – not the cancellation – of taxation decisions in the case of hundreds of thousands of children and low-income persons that were taxed in an absurd manner,” journalist Octavian Stireanu wrote in ‘Azi’ daily on Tuesday.
“Diaconu is talking about the Kafkaesque logic that prevails in DNA documents, and the information in recent days seems to reveal the real motive of his sacking. Diaconu believes that the cause is the fact that ANAF did not become a joint plaintiff against Ponta in the “Rovinari-Turceni” case.
But it is even more plausible that Diaconu was sacked because he delayed the eviction of the Intact concern’s television stations. In fact, DNA Director Laura Codruta Kovesi did not shy away from stating repeatedly that she will open a criminal case against ANAF and this institution’s accomplices for failure to foreclose the Antena television stations’ headquarters. However, two days after Diaconu is sacked the ANAF posse descended on them and asked them to vacate the premises by Friday! The regime’s elite prosecutors will probably move into the Intact headquarters. DNA is not held accountable by anyone, does not conceive being contradicted in its forceful moves, and those who oppose it pay,” Stireanu concludes.
Journalist Radu Tudor: Record ratings on Monday evening
Antena 3’s primetime ratings exploded on Monday evening, while the television station’s journalists and their guests debated, for several hours, the huge abuse committed by ANAF.
“The day in which ANAF sent its foreclosure goons to enter our headquarters like the communist militia and to notify us that we have to evacuate the buildings in 5 days marked an expected ratings record. Our viewers, numerous and good, are the real shield against ANAF’s unimaginable abuses, endorsed by the leadership of the Ciolos Government! We thank you for being by our side! Together we will fight and will carry on with our heads held high,” Radu Tudor wrote on his blog.