President Klaus Iohannis is facing a wave of criticism on social networks following the statement he made on Wednesday about the scandal surrounding ANAF’s eviction of the television stations that are part of the Intact Group founded by businessman Dan Voiculescu, who is currently in jail.
Thus, thousands of people un-liked the President’s Facebook page and posted critical comments, this being the first time Iohannis is facing this phenomenon since he took office.
The Head of State had stated that ANAF had had “an overzealous approach” when asking the televisions to evacuate the building that the state seized following a court ruling.
“I believe you have reached an unpleasant, useless situation. Firstly, I believe the freedom of expression in the media cannot be suppressed for banal administrative reasons. Secondly, this overzealous approach on ANAF’s part – I find it at least inappropriate, if not questionable,” Iohannis answered when asked about ANAF’s action toward the Antena Group televisions.
He mentioned he has learned from some talks that the decision-makers in this case are showing openness.
“Certainly, through tranquil and calm discussions, convenient solutions will be found eventually,” the head of state concluded.
Immediately after Iohannis’ statement, numerous critical messages were posted, some of which were erased by the administrators of the President’s Facebook account.
“Today you have slapped all those who, despite Antena 3’s denigrating campaign against you, mobilized in order to put you at the country’s helm. Today you have slapped the rule of law and have interfered with the enforcement of a court order, today is the day you definitively lost the respect of those who believed you are the president of a commonsense Romania!” a user wrote on the President’s Facebook page.
“How can you say that the action to evict the Antena Group is “overzealous” when the court sentence against Voiculescu was ruled in 2014 and only 1 per cent of the damage has been recovered so far?” another user wrote.
Thus, the number of likes for the President’s Facebook page dropped from 1,732,600 (on Wednesday afternoon) to 1,722,342 on Thursday at noon.
The Antena Group private television stations 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 dating back from 2013, confirmed on an appeal in 2014, against Dan Voiculescu, former senator and owner of the two television stations, convicted to a 10-year prison term in a case concerning the fraudulent privatization of a research institute. The sentence included the seizing of Voiculescu’s real estate assets in order to cover his share of a damage of EUR 60 M.
PSD plans no-confidence vote against Premier
PSD President Liviu Dragnea announced on Wednesday evening that if the Intact Group television stations are evacuated he and his colleagues could file a no-confidence motion against the Government led by Dacian Ciolos.
“We discussed today within the party. Yesterday I was more trenchant. I did not use fancy words. If ANAF shuts down five television stations, I believe the Romanian Government, which said it protects the freedom of the press, cannot remain in office. If that happens, we are seriously analyzing the possibility of filing a no-confidence motion. It is becoming extremely dangerous for democracy, for our freedom,” Liviu Dragnea stated on Antena 3.
Nevertheless, the PSD President claimed that he hopes that point would not be reached and “who has to understand something” from what was said that evening will do so.
“I hope we will not get to the point of a no-confidence motion. I hope they too have understood something from a fundamental question you have asked me and from my answer to match it. Now you are experiencing a difficult period, I am your friend, one among millions. After you get over this hurdle, I expect you to scold us. We are helping you exist so you can scold us. Any politician who is not scolded loses his bearings. If they (the television stations – editor’s note) are suppressed one by one, nobody will warn them anymore and when they fall they fall badly and definitively,” Dragnea said when asked why he backed Antena 3 despite the fact that Antena 3 journalists criticized him for the defamation law.
On Wednesday evening, the PSD President criticized once more the attitude of ANAF employees.
“Basically, they might as well have had some clubs with which to beat people around here,” the PSD President said.
He claimed that he would have defended any other television that would have found itself in Antena 3’s situation.
“Had this been about a different television that attacked me, I would have had the same reaction. Yesterday (Tuesday – editor’s note), before I made that statement, I was wondering if Calin Popescu Tariceanu and I will remain the only ones who understand that we have to do more than just adopt a position, we also have to mobilize all our colleagues and acquaintances to adopt a position,” Dragnea added.
Dragnea added that in recent days he realized that there is the risk that other television stations could end up in this situation.
“I realized there is a huge risk that after Antena 3 there would be another one, and another one, and another one, until only one or two would be left. It doesn’t matter how criticized we were on these television stations, the important thing is for them to exist,” he pointed out.
Moreover, the PSD President appreciated President Klaus Iohannis’ position, who said that ANAF’s approach was “at least inappropriate if not questionable.”
“My great joy is that there were others too (who reacted – editor’s note). Likewise, I saw the position of President Klaus Iohannis. I admit, I would have expected it to be firmer and a little bit clearer. I believe there are institutions that should verify the legality of ANAF’s action. If things were legal, very well. But what if they weren’t? It has to be verified, because a whole country is in a whirl,” Dragnea added.
PM Ciolos: Still supporting ANAF intervention’s merits in Antena 3 case, regretting modus operandi
On Wednesday evening, Premier Dacian Ciolos made some clarifications about his intervention in the Senate on the topic concerning the Intact Group televisions.
“I have hailed and supported and I am still supporting the merits of the ANAF intervention both in the case we were talking about and in general when the intervention is fully justifiable by the enforcement of the law while refusing to be intimidated by any pressure when carrying out its duty. I have personally informed ANAF about my full support for everything it does to enforce the law. I regret ANAF’s modus operandi in this case and others, namely raiding the premises [of debtors], since it can be interpreted as intimidation,” Ciolos says in a Facebook post.
He added that he disagrees with such modus operandi in all cases, including against companies or individual tax payers, and has asked ANAF to enforce the law without using such practices, which risk discrediting the image of ANAF as an institution in the service of the citizens.
Ciolos told a plenary session on Wednesday that he asked the new management of ANAF to reanalyse ANAF’s modus operandi so that the tax officers’ attitude would be respectful toward citizens and taxpayers.
He underscored that ANAF’s action is no attack against the right to free expression or the freedom of the press, because it was about a state institution deciding to enforce a final and binding court ruling. He added that ANAF acted by virtue of its legal powers as an enforcement body.
He also told the Senate that the five-day notice for voluntary eviction is provided for by the Code of Civil Procedure, not by ANAF.
Traian Basescu: “You are now seeing the force and influence of the snitch Voiculescu”
Former President Traian Basescu harshly criticized the politicians’ behaviour on the Intact Group topic, Premier Dacian Ciolos being an exception to his criticism, stating that Wednesday’s events prove that Romania has to remain under the incidence of the CVM. Nevertheless, he expressed his agreement with the vote in the Voicu case.
“No state institution dares ask the cancelling of Intact Group’s broadcasting licence. The only issue is enforcing a court order,” Traian Basescu, leader of the Popular Movement, stated.
He claimed that ANAF simply filed a notification in line with the law and that the television stations that are part of Intact Group could be evicted solely through court order.
“We have entered a line of deceitful propaganda. I wondered why. Now you see the strength and influence of the snitch Voiculescu and the politicians’ fear of the television stations that might attack them. What a pathetic group of politicians I saw today in the Senate,” Basescu added.
He also attacked President Klaus Iohannis’ statement on this topic.
“Mr. Iohannis lies just like the Antena employees, nobody interrupted the Antena televisions’ broadcast,” Basescu wrote on Facebook. “Mr. Iohannis is instigates disregard for a final court order, which has the power of a law, downplaying it as an administrative action,” the former president writes. “The Premier from Grivco, through his attitude, has given a terrible blow to the rule of law, out of the desire to serve his partner, the snitch Voiculescu,” Basescu added.
CNA to send letter to ANAF in Antena Group case
The National Audiovisual Council (CNA) sent to ANAF on Thursday a letter in which it expresses its preoccupation, as regulatory body, with the situation Antena Group finds itself in.
Following a discussion with CNA members, the representatives of SC Antena TV Group SA Bucharest asked the Council “to inform ANAF about the need to clarify this situation.”
“What we are asking you for however, is a CNA overture to clarify the procedures started by this institution, which administratively and unjustifiably jeopardizes the constituent elements of the approval for these five stations’ licences,” Intact Media Group Editorial Director Adrian Ursu wrote, Agerpres informs.
Friday, evening of protests
Friday will be a day of protests. While the representatives of the Intact Group have invited their fans to take part in an event they call “a walk,” counter-demonstrations are being organized on social networks. The first protest scheduled on Friday is the one organized by Antena 3. The protest is scheduled to take place in Constitutiei Square, from 3 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
Internet users announced that they will take to the streets, in Revolutiei Square, at 7 p.m. on Friday. The event, dubbed “Protest: Antena 3 is not above the law – Free speech, not free theft!” is presented as a movement “that asks for the legal eviction of the television stations that are part of Antena Group from the buildings they have illegally occupied for one year and a half, for the respect of court orders and for a country in which the enforcement of the law is not at the whim of the oligarchy,” the announcement reads.
Ombudsman takes note ex officio
The Ombudsman took note ex officio on Thursday about the eviction notification that ANAF sent to Antena Group, looking into a possible infringement of Constitutional articles concerning freedom of expression and the right to information.
ccording to a communiqué, “the decision concerns the possible infringement of Article 30 and 31 of the Romanian Constitution, which refer to freedom of expression and the right to information.”
CSM about Antena 3 case: President and Premier’s messages cast doubt on judiciary procedure
Superior Magistracy Council (CSM) President Mircea Aron considers that the public debate as well as President Klaus Iohannis and Premier Dacian Ciolos’ messages about ANAF’s enforcement of the court ruling in the ICA case “contain opinions liable to cast doubt on a judiciary procedure,” the CSM communiqué shows.
The CSM President expresses his concern with the public expression of opinions on the case, without a distinction being made between the act of justice per se and the actions of the public authority responsible with the enforcement of the court order.
The CSM President invites the representatives of state authorities, the press and civil society to engage in a balanced, lucid and reasonable public debate as a sign of mature understanding of the democratic logic and of the state’s checks and balances.