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August 2, 2021
POLITICS

Despite anti-corruption fight, Romanians elect mayors targeted by corruption probes

In the June 5 local elections, 12 mayoralties were won by candidates targeted by corruption probes. Thus, bearing in mind that there are 41 county seat mayoralties and 7 Bucharest mayoralties, one could say one quarter of Romania’s main mayoralties will be led by mayors who have legal problems, despite the sustained anti-corruption fight that brought us international praise and is presumably meant to reset the country by saving her from the bane of theft in all of its forms.

The most interesting case is that of Catalin Chereches, who won another stint at the helm of the Baia Mare City Hall despite being under pre-trial arrest. Moreover, he won over 70 percent of the votes. A former member of PSD, UNPR and PNL, this time around he ran for the Coalition for Baia Mare, winning over 70 percent of the votes despite the fact that he campaigned from behind bars, through middlemen and Facebook posts. Chereches, caught red-handed taking a RON 25,000 bribe, was accused of passive bribery and was indicted last month. The mayor allegedly asked and received RON 70,000 from a member of the Baia Mare Municipal Football Club Association. In return, he would have offered the club financial support from the local budget.

Thus, it can be said that the ballot trumps the law in Romania.

UDMR candidate Antal Arpad-Andras, currently investigated by National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) prosecutors, won the Sfantu Gheorghe City Hall. Antal Arpad-Andras won his first tenure as mayor in 2008, and has won another stint with over 70 percent of the votes. In February 2016, DNA prosecutors announced the start of a probe against the UDMR mayor, who was accused of allegedly using publicly guaranteed loans for purposes other than those for which they were contracted. The damage caused to the local budget was estimated at EUR 549,312, VAT not included.

Just like his colleague in Sfantu Gheorghe, UDMR candidate Robert Kalman Raduly thrashed his PSD, PNL, PPMT and PCM contenders in the race for the Miercurea Ciuc City Hall, winning over 60 percent of the votes. The mayor, in office since 2004, was indicted in June 2015, while under house arrest, alongside Deputy Mayor Szoke Domokos, in a case concerning the illegal green-lighting of a construction permit based on incomplete paperwork. Raduly was accused of malfeasance in office and conflict of interests.

In Brasov, George Scripcaru won his fourth term in office with over 50 percent of the votes, even though he has been indicted for several offences, including malfeasance in office and instigating attempted malfeasance in office. According to prosecutors, he allegedly convinced civil servants employed by the City Hall to improperly carry out their duties when contracts were awarded to a certain company.

In Craiova, Lia Olguta Vasilescu (PSD) won her second stint as mayor, with over 60 percent of the votes, despite the fact that DNA prosecutors started the criminal prosecution against her, accusing her of passive bribery, money laundering and using her authority and influence to obtain money, goods or other undue benefits.

In Botosani, Catalin Flutur (PNL) has secured his third term in office with 45.79 percent of the votes, in a race against no fewer than 14 contenders. The Liberal’s victory comes nine months after DNA prosecutors started to probe him for two counts of malfeasance in office. Flutur’s name is also linked to another case handled by the DNA, an investigation against the offence of conflict of interest.

In Deva, Mircia Muntean (PSRO), in office for the past 16 years, secured the City Hall with over 30 percent of the votes, despite having received a final suspended four-year sentence for malfeasance in office. He is currently tried for driving under the influence.

In Ramnicu Valcea, Mircia Gutau won over 40 percent of the votes even though he was sentenced, in 2010, to three and a half years in prison, executory sentence, after he received a bribe of EUR 50,000 from a businessman, in return for releasing an urban planning permit. In 2014, he was sentenced to another three and a half years for malfeasance in office, continued offence, but he avoided doing jail time because the sentences were merged. In March 2015, his ban on being elected to public offices expired.

In Targu Jiu, Florin Carciumaru (PSD) won the City Hall with over 40 percent of the votes, despite the fact that the National Integrity Agency (ANI) filed a complaint against him at the DNA. ANI inspectors suspect him of committing offences associated to corruption and of conflict of interests. Carciumaru allegedly signed several documents to the benefit of a company that sold a house to his daughter at an advantageous price, as Digi24 shows.

In Targu Mures, Dorin Florea won, by the skin of his teeth, his fifth stint as mayor. He was indicted in December 2015, for malfeasance in office, in a case concerning the financing of the Targu Mures Football Club Association, the damage being estimated at RON 7 M. In 2016, DNA prosecutors announced that they started to prosecute him in a new corruption case in which his son is also involved. Florea is accused of passive bribery.

In Tulcea, Constantin Hogea, mayor since 2004, won over 30 percent of the votes, despite the fact that in August 2015 he was indicted for passive bribery and conflict of interests and placed under house arrest. The charges are related to the issuance of a constructions permit for a plot of land located close to sites of special interest.

In Urziceni, Constantin Sava won a new term in office despite the fact that the DNA is probing him for instigating malfeasance in office. DNA started its probe in 2016. He is accused of convincing a subordinate to lift the levy placed upon the bank accounts of a company that owned a total of RON 150,000 to the local budget, according to ‘Gandul’ daily.

In Pascani, Dumitru Pantazi (PSD) was re-elected mayor after he secured a 3 percentage point edge over his PNL contender, despite the fact that the DNA indicted him in 2015 for complicity to malfeasance in office, offence he allegedly committed while he was Deputy Mayor.

In Sinaia, Vlad Oprea (PNL) won the elections despite the fact that the DNA indicted him this year for malfeasance in office.

In Bucharest’s District 3, Robert Negoita (PSD) won his second term in office by a landslide, with over 60 percent of the votes. In April, a criminal probe was started against him for tax evasion (continued offence), the damage to the state budget being estimated at RON 77.4 M.

In Bucharest’s District 6, Gabriel Mutu (PSD) won the elections with almost 40 percent of the votes despite the fact that DIICOT is probing him for tax evasion and involvement in a money laundering crime ring.

However, there are also cases in which voters seemed to be more convinced that crimes have to be stopped. Three examples in this sense consist of long-term mayors who failed to win another stint in office, being involved in complicated legal cases: Tudor Pendiuc (in Pitesti), Romeo Stavarache (Buzau) and Marian Vanghelie (Bucharest’s District 5).

Still, although Romanians list corruption at the top of their list of problems, it seems there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to mentality in Romania, and prosecutors have to wage more battles in order to really change something.

 

Convicted mayors won’t lose tenure

 

The Senate rejected, with 82 votes in favour, 2 abstentions and 27 votes against, President Klaus Iohannis’s request to re-examine the statute of local officials, thus upholding the initial version according to which officials who receive suspended sentences will not lose their offices, Mediafax informs. The law stipulates that the tenures of county council chairmen, mayors, and members of the local councils and county councils should legally cease when the officials receive a final and executory prison sentence for active and passive bribery. Thus, the tenures are not to cease when the officials receive suspended prison sentences.

In his re-examination request, the President had pointed out that a suspended sentence received in a criminal lawsuit, on the basis of a final court decision, renders vulnerable the local office holder in the exercise of his term in office. The Head of State also had pointed out that such a law “could affect the fight against corruption, as well as the efficiency of the legislate framework in the integrity domain.”

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