Wednesday’s seven-hour marathon hearing of Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) Director Eduard Hellvig (photo) at the SRI Oversight Commission clarified most of the existing public concerns following former lawmaker Sebastian Ghita’s revelations about former SRI Director of Operations Florian Coldea, currently discharged. To an equal extent however, there are also issues yet to be fully elucidated, issues that the internal committee of inquiry set up as a result of the scandal involving General Coldea will clarify.
Other topics of discussion concerned the international situation, terrorism and SRI’s 2017 budget.
Prior to his hearing by the Parliamentary Oversight Committee, Eduard Hellvig said on Wednesday that he hopes for a new beginning as regards the relationship between SRI and Parliament, and specified that he came to the hearings with classified documents that will be put at the committee’s disposal to clear all aspects that have been subject to public debate lately.
He added that SRI had no involvement whatsoever in the protests staged in the last days with respect to the tentative amendment of the criminal legislation.
“I’ve no emotion, I came to Parliament open-hearted, to answer to all of the committee’s questions. It’s an opportunity to me. I have hope for a new beginning in the relationship between Parliament and SRI and I’m certain that after this hearing, we’ll have an answer to many of the questions that have concerned the public lately. To me, as director of this important institution of the Romanian state, the relation with Parliament is of extreme importance. I served as an MP, I understand the Parliament’s role in democracy and I have all availability and openness, both mine and the institution’s, to have a more than close, correct and honest relation with the committee,” said Hellvig at the Parliament Palace, before being heard in the Committee for the Supervision of SRI’s activity.
He brought four suitcases loaded with papers, documents which he said are classified and will be put at the committee’s disposal “to clear aspects that have been under public debate.”
Hellvig refused to comment on the closeness between politicians and SRI staff.
He mentioned that he would inform the parliamentary committee on the institution’s budget, too.
“At this moment there are talks concerning the institution’s budget. I will make statements about the SRI budget within the commission too. I know there is a public perception, we are facing a reality we should not ignore, we will explain to all decision-makers why SRI needs a budget and, based on our arguments, based on the budget resource existing in the Romanian state, we will have a budget which, I hope, would first of all allow us to have the infrastructure needed in order not to destroy our work capabilities and the extremely important partnership with the members of the Bern Club,” Hellvig pointed out.
Tutuianu: SRI’s internal investigation into Sebastian Ghita’s revelations continues
SRI Oversight Committee Chairman Adrian Tutuianu (PSD) stated on Wednesday evening, at the end of the marathon hearing in which SRI Director Eduard Hellvig took part, that the parliamentarians were presented two reports – one on Florian Coldea and one on Brigadier General Elena Istode. Tutuianu pointed out that SRI’s internal investigation “is not closed.”
“The internal investigation is not closed,” Tutuianu emphasised, adding that the members of the Oversight Committee have also decided not to close the discussion.
Likewise, the SRI Director “ordered the drafting of a deontological code that would clarify up to what point an intelligence officer, a SRI officer, can engage in relations with third persons,” Tutuianu said when asked whether the circumstances in which information on vacations which former SRI First Deputy Director Florian Coldea and SRI General Elena Istode spent alongside other persons were leaked to the press.
According to Tutuianu, based on the data made available, Elena Istode vacationed in Monaco and Nice alongside the Rizea family, and she covered a significant part of the expenses. General Elena Istode reported these vacations to the SRI leadership.
SRI internal committee’s report says Ghita, Coldea travelled together to Seychelles, Italy
The report released by SRI’s internal committee of inquiry confirms that former SRI Deputy Director Florian Coldea and businessman, former MP, currently wanted Sebastian Ghita travelled together to Seychelles and Italy, SRI Oversight Committee Chairman Adrian Tutuianu said on Wednesday evening.
“The SRI committee of inquiry report confirms that they were together in Seychelles and Tuscany, Italy, and it also confirms the presence of Mrs. Coldea together with Mrs. Ghita at Disneyland Paris. From the said committee’s information, the Coldeas presented relevant documents on how they covered the costs of this trip, in invoices and receipts. I wouldn’t know whether they are real or not. And I’m thinking of the possibility for the SRI Oversight Committee to ask for more information, for instance to ask the Tax Authority to check upon these documents, if they are real. The inquiry showed that there is no evidence they are fake,” said Tutuianu at the Parliament Palace after the hearing of SRI Director Eduard Hellvig.
Tutuianu added that no legal provisions and internal norms were violated in the Coldea’s case, according to the internal inquiry committee’s conclusion, and yet from his standpoint there would be “a matter of deontology from the point of view of the relations between a SRI intelligence officer and a member of the SRI Oversight Committee.”
When asked about Sebastian Ghita’s capacity in these trips, Tutuianu answered that in 2012 – 2016 Ghita used to be a member of Parliament’s SRI Oversight Committee.
“And I’ve also asked about the 2010 – 2012 period and the answer was: he was not a covert agent, an additional argument being the oath taken by Ghita in 2012 (as Lower Chamber lawmaker – editor’s note),” he added.
Ghita, Ponta and Coldea could be heard by SRI Committee
At the same time, Tutuianu added that ex-Premier Victor Ponta, former lawmaker Sebastian Ghita and General Florian Coldea, former SRI First Deputy Director, could be heard by Parliament’s SRI Oversight Committee.
“I was offered data which show that SRI has sent dozens, in some cases hundreds of reports, since 2000, to persons who are the legal beneficiaries of intelligence reports, or has sent the necessary information to criminal investigation bodies, including [information] on the Comarnic-Brasov expressway. That is why I said we plan to analyse to what extent the hearing of other persons is also necessary. To make it even clearer, if Mr. Ghita were here, I believe it would be useful to hear him within the parliamentary oversight committee. After we analyse all data, we could reach the conclusion that Mr. Coldea could be invited to a hearing within the parliamentary oversight committee. Mr. Victor Ponta could likewise be invited before the parliamentary oversight committee, because he was named in connection to several topics,” Tutuianu stated.
Adrian Tutuianu: Maior and Dancu accompanied Ghita and Coldea in Tuscany
Asked whether the Maior family accompanied Coldea and Ghita in one of their trips abroad, Tutuianu answered: “Mr. George Maior gave certain explanations to the internal inquiry committee. They didn’t go to the Seychelles Islands for instance. That information does not exist.”
Asked whether they went to Tuscany, Tutuianu said: “To Tuscany, yes.”
Asked whether Vasile Dancu was heard by the internal inquiry committee, Tutuianu answered negatively. “No, Mr. Dancu was not heard. You know, based on what was said publicly, that he took part in the trip to Tuscany,” the Chairman of the SRI Oversight Committee stated.
Is Ghita a protected witness?
Asked about the whereabouts of Sebastian Ghita, Adrian Tutuianu pointed out the information “is classified,” prompting journalist Razvan Savaliuc to present a scenario per which the businessman is allegedly “a protected witness.”
Asked by journalists about the whereabouts of Sebastian Ghita (whose video revelations have ceased after General Coldea was removed from SRI’s leadership), Adrian Tutuianu stated: “There are several institutions with prerogatives… these issues are classified information.”
After this statement, journalist Razvan Savaliuc presented a scenario per which the whereabouts of the former lawmaker are known but he is “an undercover witness.”
“What Mr. Tutuianu said has raised a question mark for me. He said the information concerning Ghita’s whereabouts is classified. This has raised a very large question mark for me. He could even be an undercover witness in a dossier. Someone might be having an investigation,” Razvan Savaliuc stated for Antena3 private television broadcaster.
SRI denies having covert agents within the judiciary or inside political parties
SRI Oversight Committee Chairman Adrian Tutuianu also declared on Wednesday evening that he has been informed by the SRI heads that there are no covert SRI agents within the judiciary, but that SRI has covert agents or collaborators, just as any other intelligence service has, who obtain useful information for national security.
“In the discussions we had with the SRI representatives, we firstly brought up the stuff made public by the National Union of Judges. We received the following answers from SRI: there are no collaborating covert agents or any other categories listed by the law regarding the judges’ regime and they said they would also provide the necessary means to verify this when we carry out visits at subordinate institutions. The second answer communicated by SRI was that there are no covert agents inside political parties. We were informed that SRI, just as any other intelligence service, works with covert agents, with collaborators, and obtains information that is useful for national security,” specified Tutuianu at the end of the sitting.
Previously, SRI Director Eduard Hellvig mentioned that the service he leads does not have and will not have covert agents in politics or the judiciary.
“SRI doesn’t have and won’t have covert agents in politics and the judiciary, and during my mandate SRI will not get involved in any power game, it will not organise protests or street movements, as it has been falsely claimed in certain places,” underscored Eduard Hellvig.
In fact, as early as Sunday evening, SRI mentioned in a press release that the allegations regarding SRI’s involvement in organizing the protest on Sunday are “defamatory and meant to affect the fundamental institutions of the democratic regime.”
According to the quoted source, the statements were released “following serious accusations in the public space regarding SRI’s involvement in organizing the protest on Sunday, 22 January.”
“We categorically reject any attempt to involve the SRI in political fights, the organising of protests or any other actions that aren’t in agreement with the missions assumed in line with the legal framework. We consider these allegations to be defamatory and intended to affect the fundamental institutions of the democratic regime. The SRI is reaffirming its determination to stay objective, politically uninvolved and focused on fulfilling its missions by strictly observing the law,” the SRI release points out.
Parliament’s Tutuianu: Ms. Kovesi present in public SRI activities
National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi was present in Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) activities that were mainly public or related to institutional cooperation, SRI Oversight Committee Chairman Adrian Tutuianu also declared on Wednesday night.
He specified that he asked the director of the SRI, who participated on Wednesday in a committee hearing, about the relationship between the DNA Chief Prosecutor and Florian Coldea (former SRI deputy director).
“Of course, I asked this too. The internal inquiry committee informed that Ms. Kovesi was present in SRI activities which had mainly a public character or that were related to the institutional cooperation between the two institutions. I would like to clarify something. The members of the internal inquiry committee are fully responsible for their findings. There are documents, information we didn’t have access to or we couldn’t have access to. Consequently, they also took the responsibility when making certain statements and, as you know, discussions and everything that was commented upon today in this room was recorded and can be consulted by the authorities with attributions in the criminal investigation area, let’s say, and later on, when they are unsealed, by historians,” stated Tutuianu.
Asked whether he considers necessary the modification of the package of laws regarding National Security, Tutuianu said that carrying out such an action also involves the Supreme Council for the National Defence (CSAT), the President, the Government. “As far as I and my colleagues are concerned, we have openly expressed the possibility of modifying legal policies and bringing them up-to-date,” he added.
SRI’s 2017 budget 10pct smaller than in 2016
In 2017, the Romanian Intelligence Service’s budget will be 9.4 – 10 percent lower than its budget last year, SRI Oversight Committee Chairman Adrian Tutuianu announced on Wednesday evening.
“I believe that a budget should meet two requirements: on the one hand, it has to ensure the necessary resources for the functioning of the institution, and this is binding for any public body. On the other hand, a budget should consider the resources a country has at a certain moment, because the needs are many, obviously. The figure we have today, to give you a factual example, as it has been communicated by the Public Finance Ministry, it was reviewed these days, and the SRI budget will be around 9.4 – 10 percent smaller than it was in 2016,” said Tutuianu, after the hearing of SRI Director Eduard Hellvig.
Tutuianu added that the SRI demands were higher, but that they agreed that the budget will cover the minimum necessary.
Hellvig: We are witnessing division in Romanian society, unprecedented attacks on SRI
SRI Director Eduard Hellvig took advantage of his presence in Parliament, where he was heard by the SRI Oversight Committee, to draw attention to the fact that the latest public discussions are showing that there is an interest to “destabilise” and “demonise” the SRI.
These days Romanian society is divided and unprecedented attacks are taking place against the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), Hellvig stated at the end of the hearings within the SRI Oversight Committee.
“We are witnessing these days a division in Romanian society, unprecedented attacks against the institution I am heading,” Hellvig said.
He pointed out that he has taken over the messages “coming from the persons of good faith” and he will deal with them with all due seriousness.
The SRI director mentioned he has no data or evidence confirming what is circulated in the public area, however, if they exist, then they must be put at the investigators’ disposal.
“I noticed there is an interest in destabilising a sturdy and serious institution of the Romanian state,” Hellvig said, emphasising that the SRI has the instruments to protect itself, but mostly to protect Romania’s citizens.
“A weak, faint-hearted, destabilised SRI would mean a Romania disarmed in the face of threats, and this does no good to the Romanian state institutions or Romanians,” the Service Director pointed out, also voicing the hope that these things will stop, for the sake of Romania.
“I’m telling everyone that SRI has time-tested instruments to defend both itself and Romanian citizens,” Hellvig added after a hearing that lasted over seven hours, adding that a weak SRI would mean a Romania disarmed in the face of threats.
SRI Director: I’ve asked for Parliament’s support in adopting new package of national security laws
At the same time, the SRI Director said he asked for Parliament’s support in updating the national security legislation, a topic that has been on the public agenda ever since 2016. Committee Chairman Adrian Tutuianu pointed out that the current legislation is “insufficient.”
“I’ve publicly asked for Parliament’s support in adopting the new package of national security laws, since the legislative framework cannot, in its current form, cover the legislative shortcomings in combating the great security challenges we are unfortunately facing today,” Eduard Hellvig stated. He expressed his hope that Parliament will help SRI in this sense.
In his turn, SRI Oversight Committee Chairman Adrian Tutuianu talked about the need for this overture and offered more information on this topic, stating that several laws must be modified: law no.51/1991 on national security, law no.14/1992 on SRI’s activity, law no.182/2002 on classified information, law no.656/2002 on money laundering, law no.39/2003 on preventing organised crime and law no.535/2009 on combating terrorism.
Tutuianu said work is also needed on a package of laws concerning the cybernetic domain.
“We carried out an assessment of the incidental legislative framework and we reached the conclusion that this framework is insufficient, both from the standpoint of SRI’s prerogatives but also from the standpoint of parliamentary oversight. We plan to discuss, in the following period, the updating of the legislative framework,” he said.
The committee chairman added that Parliament Decision no.30/1993, which stipulates the role of the Oversight Committee, will also have to be modified.
“The oversight has to be, as this decision says, permanent, concrete, real, effective, and we should assure Parliament, society in general, through the parliamentary committee, that SRI is subjected to democratic oversight. We are preoccupied with SRI having all the means needed to fulfil all of its prerogatives,” he said.
Tutuianu also stated that the members of past legislatures took the commitment to bring these laws up to date, however they have so far failed to do so. “All of them said they would; nobody managed to do it. It takes the CSAT [Supreme Defence Council], the President, the Government, the SRI to achieve this,” he concluded.
“All those who came at the helm of the committee said that a new package of national security laws is necessary. Unfortunately, all of them said they would do it but nobody managed to do it. Achieving this involves not only the parliamentary oversight committee, it takes the CSAT, it takes the Romanian President, it takes the Government, it takes the Romanian Intelligence Service. In what concerns me and my colleagues, we very openly talked about the usefulness of modifying legal regulations and of bringing them up to date. Let me point out that the law on SRI’s activity and the national security law were adopted din the 1990s. The decision on whose basis we are operating as a parliamentary oversight committee was adopted in 1993, so there’s been 25-26 years and the legislative framework is outdated. And I believe it must be a priority for us and I also believe that in this way we are also fulfilling a part of the mission we have as parliamentary oversight committee,” Tutuianu said.
He insisted on efficient and effective oversight of SRI’s activity.
“The oversight has to be permanent, concrete, real, effective, and we should assure Parliament, society in general, through the parliamentary committee, that SRI is subjected to democratic oversight. We are preoccupied with SRI having all the means needed to fulfil all of its prerogatives,” he concluded.
President Klaus Iohannis stated on January 17 that the new Parliament must update or improve at least 12 national security laws, pointing out that the new parliamentary majority’s test of maturity will be the way it tackles these legislative acts.
“The new Parliament has a lot of work to do in the national security domain. Together with my aides, I’ve counted once again and I’ve noted at least 12 national security laws that need to be modernised or improved, half of them concerning the intelligence services’ work and activity domain. An impressive volume of work for Parliament, with the sole purpose of improving the national security system and of rendering the intelligence services’ activity better coordinated,” President Klaus Iohannis said.
The president also stated that the new parliamentary majority has a very important, decisive role in the way in which these national security issues will be tackled.
Calin Popescu Tariceanu: First time SRI Oversight Committee starts shedding light, exercises its prerogatives
Senate Speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu stated for RomaniaTV on Wednesday evening that this was the first time in many years that the SRI Oversight Committee exercised its prerogatives and started shedding some light.
“It’s the first time when the SRI Oversight Committee is starting to shed some light… SRI must handle what their mission is, as defined by law, not to intervene in other things… we are seeing the unhealthy ties between SRI’s leadership and the prosecutors, it’s a systemic problem. Those who lead the [intelligence] services must realise the serious situation and must return to their fundamental mission,” Tariceanu said.
Calin Popescu Tariceanu also stated that we are facing the existence of occult forces in almost all state institutions, and President Klaus Iohannis seems to be the prisoner of this establishment, which he uses with great delight:
“We have to remove the influence that these occult forces have in Parliament, the judiciary, the media. We cannot tolerate such a sick society. There is immense rottenness, which some are covering up with a lot of care. The President seems to be the prisoner of this establishment which he did not invent but which he is using with a lot of delight,” the Senate Speaker said.
“The judiciary cannot be referee and player at the same time… this separation of powers in the state must be respected… it’s for the first time in many years that the SRI Oversight Commission exercises its prerogatives,” Tariceanu added.
“Years in which Parliament was timorous and did not do its duty enough must be redeemed”
On Thursday, the Senate Speaker wrote on Facebook that the hearings within the SRI Oversight Committee are only the first step in a long series of actions on Parliament’s part.
“The tactic of toning it down is no longer working! Romanians want the truth and they want to see democratic oversight over security institutions. The hearings within the SRI Committee represent only the first step in a long series of actions on Parliament’s part. The years in which Parliament was timorous and did not do its duty enough must be redeemed,” Calin Popescu Tariceanu wrote on Facebook.