In a 92-to-26 vote on Tuesday, the Senate denied the request of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) to prosecute Senator Titus Corlatean (Social Democrat) for the way the 2014 presidential elections were organised abroad. The prosecution alleges that Corlatean, then minister of foreign affairs, took decisions resulting in hindering Romanians abroad from casting their votes. Lawmakers used secret ballots. Romanian MPs can be prosecuted only if their Chamber of Parliament approves.
The resulting draft decision shows that “the Senate does not demand the start of the criminal prosecution” against Corlatean. Corlatean did not cast a ballot.
The Senate’s Judiciary Commission rejected last week – with five votes against, three in favour and one vote cancelled – the DNA request for the Senate to approve the criminal probe against Corlatean.
The DNA asked the Romanian Senate to approve the start of the criminal probe against ex-Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean for malfeasance in office and the hindering of voting rights, offences he allegedly committed while in office.
Prosecutors explained that limiting voters’ access to polling centres abroad resulted in the hiking of the total percentage of favourable votes won by the candidate nominated by the party whose member Corlatean was, “considering that the electoral behaviour of Romanian citizens abroad was mostly unfavourable to the said candidate.”
The DNA claims that the voting rights of Romanian citizens who live abroad were harmed both by preventing their exercise and by making it very difficult for them to be exercised, the latter prompting many Romanian citizens to give up on their attempts to exercise them.
Anticorruption prosecutors also state that Corlatean also harmed the interests of the Foreign Affairs Ministry which he was leading at the time.
A 19-book case file was sent to the Romanian Senate in support of the prosecutors’ request to have the Senator’s immunity lifted.
“I am convinced the truth will come to light”
In his 30-minute speech, the former minister referred to the fact that the Foreign Ministry had relied on data from the presidential elections of 2009. “I reject in very clear and categorical terms any accusation brought. I decided to remain silent for a year and a half in order to allow investigators to do their job in a professional way, however the line and direction has been completely different. I felt profound regret for the situation Romanian citizens of good faith found themselves in during those events. Not for others,” Corlatean stated in the Senate before the voting started.
“Had there been an attempt to do something illegal as early as the summer or the autumn of 2014, not to mention before November 2, I guarantee it would have been known right the very next second, inter-institutionally. It’s good for you to know this, for those who played around with words, out of lack of knowledge or ill-will, in what concerns the way decisions are taken within the Foreign Affairs Ministry,” Corlatean said.
According to him, the number of Romanian citizens who live/reside abroad and who registered at the diplomatic missions, in line with Law 248/2005, stood at 13,200 in November 2014. He explained that the Foreign Ministry’s assessments, used when establishing the number of polling centres in 2014 (294 polling centres, just like in 2009), were also based on the fact that 95,000 voters were registered in the first round of the 2005 elections.
He explained that there is no clear data on the geographical distribution of Romanians living abroad.
Corlatean also added that the Romanian embassies proposed the setting up of 320 polling centres and the ministry accepted the setting up of 294.
Corlatean pointed out that he refused talking about this lately because there is an ongoing case against the offence and he did not want public statements to be considered the exertion of pressure on prosecutors.
“The last reason (for which he refused to talk – editor’s note) is extremely personal, it has to do with the way I built my life all these years and, summed up, it means knowing when to turn the other cheek, not wanting harm to anyone and patiently waiting for the truth, I am convinced it will come to light,” Corlatean added.
Backed by PSD
PSD members expressed – in a more or less veiled manner – their support for the ex-minister. While PSD President Liviu Dragnea expressed his surprise that this case has reached Titus Corlatean, ex-premier Victor Ponta stated that the Constitutional Court of Romania’s (CCR) decision on malfeasance in office means his former subordinate will avoid being held criminally responsible, Mediafax informs.
“So if you knowingly broke a law that tells you what to do and what not to do – you are liable to being held criminally responsible (but the legal provision has to be shown)! If you didn’t break any law, the advisability of an administrative or political decision cannot be evaluated by a prosecutor! Period. Typical case – Titus Corlatean’s case file! No law says how many polling centres have to be abroad, legally he could have opened as many as he would have considered advisable (and he opened a number identical to the one in 2009, back when there was no problem)! In the end, the decision turned out to be deficient because there were queues at certain polling centres (which was at my expense, I lost the elections because of it). Corlatean answered for it politically, by resigning, but he did not break a law, nor did he have some criminal intent (he harmed me although obviously he did not want to)! It’s clear and simple!” the Social Democrat Lower Chamber MP argued.
Senate Speaker Calin Popescu-Tariceanu had a clear-cut pro-Corlatean stance too. “If someone took advantage of the whole scandal generated by the queues outside polling centres abroad, then that someone was Klaus Iohannis. He benefited from the so-called malfeasance in office committed by Titus Corlatean. Let’s be serious! Nobody could have anticipated the number of voters, bearing in mind that it grew probably exponentially compared to the previous elections. Secondly, I remind you that Titus Corlatean politically took responsibility for the situation and resigned. This is not malfeasance in office in the sense incriminated in the Criminal Code. There are political decisions for which politicians in general pay. They are either censured by the electorate, or they take responsibility for the mistakes, just like happened in the case of Titus Corlatean, who adopted a very correct and very honouring attitude,” Tariceanu claimed.
Haralambie Vochitoiu (UNPR) stated in the Senate that “the prosecutor is exaggerating” and added that “UNPR will always support state institutions, however in this case… Titus Corlatean is a rare product of Romanian diplomacy. He is not to blame for the fact that some Romanians were hindered from voting.”
Mircea Dobra (PNL) said that “as always, PNL will vote in favour of the start of the criminal probe.”
“Our vote today is not against colleague Titus Corlatean, it’s in favour of the start of a procedure which could show whether in this country a ministry imagined it could obstruct the votes of some Romanians,” the PNL Senator added.
Serban Nicolae (PSD) said that “the prosecutor’s report is an insult toward the Romanian Senate.” “The prosecutor handling the case is profoundly incompetent. Please vote in the sense that the Senate cannot ask for the start of the criminal prosecution,” he added.
President Iohannis reacts
The Head of State reacted harshly following the decision adopted by the Senate on Tuesday. He stated that the Senate’s decision not to approve the start of the criminal prosecution against Senator Titus Corlatean in the “Diaspora Vote 2014” Case represents “a negative signal,” pointing out that someone’s guilt or innocence is established before a judge, not through a vote in a plenary meeting.
“The vote cast today in the Senate represents a negative signal issued by Parliament, again, by blocking the criminal prosecution of an MP. Obstructing the judiciary cannot be acceptable in a country in which respect for the rule of law has to be a priority. Someone’s guilt or innocence is established in front of a judge, not through a vote in a plenary meeting,” Iohannis wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.