Romania’s political establishment has been shaken following a revelation that the country’s powerful SRI intelligence service signed a set of protocols in February 2009 with the country’s Superior Magistracy Council, the High Court of Cassation and Justice, and Judicial inspection that gave the clandestine services sweeping powers to circumvent the authority of prosecutors in criminal investigations.
The revelation has caused outrage in Romania and opened up critical questions about whether the country has the ability to shed its legacy as a former police state and come into line with the rest of the European Union in terms of the rule-of-law and curbing the powers of its spy services.
“The protocol signed in 2009 breaches the constitutional and international norms regarding the rule of law, democracy, separation of powers, judicial independence and observing the human rights. This is the conclusion after reading the protocol. The gravity is stunning for anyone,” Judge Dana Girbovan, the president of the National Judges Union, said after the information was released to the public
The extent of the SRI’s activities first came to light after a cooperation protocol signed in 2009 with the General Prosecutor’s Office was declassified amid rumours that the SRI had interfered in the judicial process and helped the National Anticorruption Directorate arrest and imprison level politicians.
The information contained in the agreement harkened back to the days when the Securitate – the hated intelligence service of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu – used its extensive powers to instil fear in the society and keep close tabs on members of the political hierarchy.
But some, including Girbovan, say the collusion between the SRI and key oversight bodies goes beyond even the sweeping powers of Ceausescu’s despised secret police.
“During the Communist era, the Securitate had a limited area of crimes, under the law, the ones related to national security. Through this secret protocol, the SRI’s jurisdiction in criminal investigations has become actually unlimited. The protocol empowers the SRI over prosecutors in the criminal investigation and allows a larger involvement in the case even than the hierarchically superior prosecutor,” said Girbovan.
In a stunning admission about its own activities, the SRI freely admitted that it has ignored the basic tenets of Romanian law and often interfered in the activities of the judiciary. The SRI’s spokesman, Ovidiu Marincea said the declassified document contained “no surprises” and only covered the rules and activities of two institutions “working within the framework of the law”.
Romania’s ruling government has reacted to the release of the protocol by vowing to bring charges of crimes against humanity against former prime ministers Petre Roman and Gelu Voican Voiculescu, as well as ex-President Ion Iliescu.
The timing of the government’s moves to bring charges against three individuals accused of committing crimes more than a quarter of a century ago is being greeted with little enthusiasm and is seen as a crass political ploy to divert public attention from the scandal surrounding the actions of the SRI.
The reaction of several Romania’s lawmakers, however, has been far more strident, with certain members of the government calling for an immediate curtailing of the SRI’s powers and an investigation into their activities.
Senate President Calin Popescu Tariceanu commented that “certain powers need to be taken away because an unhealthy brotherhood that worked against the generally accepted principles for a democratic society had formed between the SRI and DNA.” Echoing Tariceanu’s sentiments, Justice Minister Tudorel Toader demanded in a post published on his Facebook page that “the truth must come out” about the extent of the SRI’s activities.
Despite huge strides made in recent years to tackle petty corruption by taking on its inept and resource-draining bureaucracies, Romania now stands at a crossroads regarding the security services, who continue to wield significant power in the country of nearly 20 million people.
The published protocol sheds light on what amounts to a parallel state set up by the SRI. It is now up to the Romanian government, as a full member of the European Union, to see that the activities of all state organs come into line with the EU’s democratic standards on transparency and rule-of-law.