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December 5, 2022

PM Ciolos briefs Senate plenum on Antena TV stations case: “I condemn the way ANAF acted. I asked new Tax Authority management to reassess their modus operandi”

Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos on Wednesday told the Senate plenary session that he asked the new management of the National Tax Administration Agency (ANAF) to reassess the manner in which the institution conducts its activity, so that the agents’ attitude is respectful towards the citizens and taxpayers.

“The TV stations’ representatives pointed fingers at Monday’s action as being abusive because of the behaviour of the agents present at the headquarters. We asked the new ANAF management to reassess the manner in which they relate to the taxpayer in the exercise of their duties. The state’s tax authorities work to the interest of the citizen and shouldn’t have an intimidating attitude or act as a repressive institution. The right to free speech will also be firmly defended. I want to be very clear here. I asked the new ANAF management to reassess the manner in which they carry out their activity. The activity of
ANAF is very important for the state (…) but their attitude must be respectful towards the citizens and taxpayers,” the Premier said.

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) carried out 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 levied toward state institutions that 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.

“I will not accept such behaviour on the part of any institution”

Premier Dacian Ciolos returned to the rostrum in order to respond to the Senators:“I assure you I came here out of good faith, with all consideration for the Senate, for Parliament. Despite the fact that I have a meeting scheduled with [Moldovan President] Timofti, I have attended this debate until the end. I am treating this case with the same good faith, taking into account the letter of the law too, and each citizen’s right to information. When you modify the laws, we will implement them. You have suggested we should modify [them] through emergency government ordinance. Teodorovici did it, an emergency government ordinance that should have found a solution for transferring buildings to RA-APPS, but it was declared unconstitutional. Don’t ask me to repeat an already censured mistake. We will look for solutions, but they have to be within the limits of the law. I want to separate the way in which ANAF acted, which I condemn. I’ve told the interim ANAF President too that these reflexes have to disappear, and not just from ANAF but from all state institutions. I will not accept such behaviour on the part of any institution. But the way they acted is one thing and the crux, the essence is another,” the Prime Minister said.

“When I said I was not informed I pointed out that I didn’t have to be informed either. The notifications were sent to the Antena televisions last year too, you can’t ask us to resolve in a few months’ time issues that were not resolved in past years. The 5-day deadline: it is stipulated by law, for voluntary eviction, this does not mean that they will be evicted by force after 5 days. The question of the Antenas leaving the buildings in 5 days’ time is not mooted, but the procedure had to start because things have been tarrying for a long time,” Ciolos added.

In what concerns the closing of the building in which the television stations are based, the Premier said that “the same law stipulates that a seized real-estate asset can be turned to good account only through sale.”

“The law can be modified by the Legislative, but cannot be interpreted by the Government,” Ciolos added.

Ruxandra Jipa: “Your position lowers my confidence in you”

After the speech given by Dacian Ciolos, PSD Senator Mihai Fifor reacted rhetorically: “A state institution aberrantly asks a press institution to vacate in five days. A whole country is wondering whether it was an action of force and why.”
In her turn, UNPR Senator Ruxandra Jipa told the Premier that his statements lower her confidence in him.

“Your position lowers my confidence in you. You have instruments at your disposal: you can act in several ways. To transfer these buildings to RAAPPS, to adopt an emergency ordinance, a government decision. Do not generate a conflict foreshadowed to be very large,” Jipa said.

Senator Beni Ardelean (PNL) also took to the rostrum, stating that the way ANAF reacted is “unacceptable.”

“It is unacceptable that, 27 years after the Revolution, we would witness an absolutely unusual manner of action. I though the price of freedom has to be put to good use in democracy,” he said. “You have to ask your subordinates for the institutional behaviour to show respect,” Ardelean added.

ALDE Senator Daniel Barbu pointed out to Dacian Ciolos that he did not express his regret for the way ANAF acted.
“Is this how the new ANAF procedures, that you planned to change, will look like? It’s a popular-conservative atmosphere. You haven’t expressed your regret for what happened,” he said.
ALDE Senator Daniel Barbu stated on Wednesday that Premier Dacian Ciolos may continue his term in office but the history of his Government ended following ANAF’s raid at the Antena Group television stations, which represents a serious violation of the freedom of expression.

“You may do extraordinary things in the following days or months, [but] history textbooks 25-50 years from now will state in one line: the Ciolos Government wanted to suppress the freedom of the press. In other words, you may continue your term another day, another week, month, seven months, but the history of the Ciolos Government came to an end on Monday and is related to this serious violation of press freedom, which since the 17th Century has been the foundation stone of a free government, of a free society,” Daniel Barbu stated.

Mircea Geoana: “We are waiting for you to come up with a depoliticization scheme”

Senator Mircea Geoana, President of PSRO, told Premier Dacian Ciolos from the rostrum that he expects him to implement depoliticization.

“We are waiting for you to come up with a depoliticization scheme. ANAF is working better because SRI intervened. You can’t evict a television station in five days, freedom of expression aside. We are waiting for depoliticization Mr. Prime Minister, and maybe this unfortunate example will prompt a cleansing action,” Geoana said.

Cristiana Anghel: “You are the government of national betrayal”

ALDE Senator Cristiana Anghel accused the Premier that through his speech he proves “he cares far too little.”

“I will not be a lady today. You are proving you care too little. I want to look in the eyes (the Premier’s eyes – editor’s note). You are the government of national betrayal. The whole ICA case started from this gentleman, who became a joint plaintiff. He returned to the crime scene like a murderer, to see whether the victim is still alive. Why didn’t the ANAF gentleman go to Sibiu to seize Mr. Iohannis’ house? You are the defender of foreign capital, Austrian capital in particular. Betrayal, betrayal, betrayal. I am not afraid to tell the truth,” Anghel said.

PSD Senator Georgica Severin said that “an atmosphere of fear is settling in.”“We are talking about the only media concern whose capital is fully Romanian, with taxes paid up to date,” he added.

ALDE Senator Varujan Vosganian pointed out to the Premier and the Senators that back when he was Finance Minister he would not have taken the liberty to say that ANAF is doing things he does not know.
“The relation of subordination between the head of ANAF and the minister is clear. As former Finance Minister, I give you an advice: don’t sell. Rent is money in the bank,” Vosganian added.

UNPR Senator Serban Mihailescu had a trenchant attitude:“Either promise this will not happen again or sack those people at ANAF,” he said.

PSD Senator Gabriela Firea warned that this is not “only about the law, but about the spirit of the law”
“You said that the assets concerned cannot be leased out. Other solutions can be found too, through a different ordinance. We fought for the journalists’ right to have clear laws. Has any press owner intervened to ask for facilities? Not that I know of. In Romania the press did not ask to be treated like in France,” she said.

PSD Senator Eugen Teodorovici, former Finance Minister, accused the Premier of not having anything to boast with after three months in office.

“You’ve censured the ministers’ presence on television. Antena 3 has written to you since November 24. After three months you have nothing to boast with [in the sense of] doing something for this people,” he said.
“You told us that you were not informed. A Premier cannot invoke lack of information. I am convinced such a topic was on your table. You are unjustifiably protecting the Finance Ministry,” Teodorovici added.

Nicolae Serban: “There is the constitutional procedure of resignation, please take it into account”

PSD Senator Nicolae Serban took to the rostrum and addressed the Prime Minister.“It would have been better not to say that ANAF did not inform you. Here we weren’t talking about the fact that ANAF decided to apply a court ruling. ANAF does not have the freedom to decide whether it will apply the law or not. The decision was applied, the putting to good use is something entirely different. I have here the 13 letters that Antena 3 sent to state institutions. You said you will order investigations into ANAF’s actions, to see whether it committed abuses. In the DNA’s opinion, Oprea’s use of an official motorcade is a crime. Using 10 [ANAF] cars to drop off 8 notifications to 3 locations could take the form of the same crime,” Nicolae Serban said.

“The sum you established as damage did not exist in the fiscal books of the ministry you led. Don’t worry, you will not be held criminally accountable, because the crime has expired under the statute of limitations, but the forgery remains. I believe you are in conflict of interests on this issue,” he added, stating that Ciolos is getting involved “in the political game” and is planning to cause “changes in the political structure.”

“There is the constitutional procedure of your resignation, please take it into account, and I assure you that if you don’t I will ask PSD, UNPR, ALDE, PNL to initiate a no-confidence motion,” the PSD Senator added.

Calin Popescu Tariceanu: “Don’t create the impression that Romania is starting to become a police state”

Senate Speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu stated in the Senate that “throughout the world, the press is a nuisance for the ruling power.”

“Forcing these television companies to vacate their headquarters in 5 days is an action of suppressing freedom of expression. We can talk about the way institutions work, but this reality remains. There is Article 30, Paragraph 4 in the Constitution, which says that no publication can be suppressed. (…) Romania is starting to look like the negative examples, like the Hungarian and Polish situations of limiting the press, unfortunately not similar from other points of view. Don’t create the impression that Romania is starting to become a police state,” Tariceanu warned.

President Iohannis: Tax authority approach “at least inappropriate, if not questionable”

President Klaus Iohannis on Wednesday qualified as “gung-ho” and “inappropriate” the approach of National Tax Administration Agency (ANAF) to the case of the Antena Group televisions.

“I believe you have reached an unpleasant, useless situation. Firstly, I believe the freedom of expression in media cannot be suppressed for banal administrative reasons. Secondly, this gung-ho approach of the ANAF – I find it at least inappropriate, if not questionable,” Iohannis answered questions on ANAF’s action towards the Antena Group televisions.

He mentioned he has learned from some talks that the decision-makers in this case show openness.

“Certainly, through tranquil and calm discussions, convenient solutions will be found eventually,” the head of state concluded.
Private TVs of the Antena Group got a five-day eviction notice on Monday from the Bucharest Public Finances Regional General Directorate of the ANAF. Tax authorities are thus attempting to enforce a court sentence of 2013, confirmed on an appeal in 2014, against Dan Voiculescu, a former senator and owner of the two TV stations, convicted to a 10-year prison term in a case of fraudulent privatization of a research institute. The sentence included the confiscation of Voiculescu’s real estate to cover his share of prejudices of 60 million euros.

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