Attention to the questionable past business career of Liviu Dragnea, the head of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), has gained new momentum as he takes action against OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office. Dragnea is contesting the results of its investigation into a €21m fraud involving a company allegedly connected to Dragnea and EU funds.
Dragnea is suing the European Commission through the European Court of Justice. The fraud was allegedly committed by Tel Drum, a construction firm based in Dragnea’s home town of Alexandria.
The legal action casts a shadow not only over Dragnea himself, who is barred from holding government office because of an electoral fraud conviction, but also over Romania, which took up the presidency of the European Council this month.
The law suit is only the most recent of Dragnea’s attempt to fight alleged slurs on his reputation and record by the “deep state”.
Dragnea told New Europe in an exclusive interview that Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate, known as the DNA, was ‘mad’ about the government’s plan to set up a department outside the DNA to investigate judges. Dragnea, the chairman of the PSD, said that that the anti-corruption agency was subject to too many conflicts of interest and abuses and could not be allowed responsibility for judicial investigations. The task should be given to an independent agency outside the DNA he claims.
In another point in the far ranging interview, he said that further legislation was going to be presented to parliament to prevent the secret service influencing the judiciary, parliament or government. The PSD head said that the ‘deep state’ must be reined in.
Organisations backed by George Soros are blamed for fomenting disturbances in Bucharest on August 10, where protesters attacked state corruption. Dragnea also accused President Johannis of supporting the protesters.
Dragnea said that setting up the new independent department of judicial investigation was a key part of the PSD’s new justice laws. He is prepared to resist the pressures and the criticism of the European Union, the DNA and many internal voices to put this into law.
Dragnea’s criticism of the DNA is part of a high-profile campaign against the anti-corruption authority and the abuses that were revealed in the last year. Politicians, doctors, business people, lawyers, journalists, teachers, policemen were targeted in recent years by Romania’s Anti-Corruption Directorate, known as the DNA. A January report of the Romanian media showed a disastrous number: the percentage of acquittals in the DNA cases is at 40%.
The DNA have been investigating Dragnea for many years and he says he has no fear in publicly criticising them.
Dragnea resigned from the cabinet in May 2015, following a conviction in a case involving electoral fraud. He received a two-year suspended sentence in April 2016. Following the December 2016 parliamentary election, he became President of the Chamber of Deputies. In June 2018, he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for incitement to abuse of office, pending appeal. If that appeal fails, the prison sentence will be automatic.
The proposed measure to introduce a new department for investigating judges was singled out by the European Union in its recent Co-ordination and Verification (CVM) report for tough criticism. It wrote in November 2018, “The establishment of this new department could be seen as an (additional) instrument to put pressure on judges. The rationale for a special treatment of magistrates compared to other office holders and civil servants has not been made clear. In addition, the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) already has an established solid track record in investigating and prosecuting cases of corruption within the magistracy.”
In the last weeks, public revelations and audio recordings showed DNA prosecutors talking about “preparing” accusations and cases against judges that were not favourable. The new section started immediately to investigate these new facts and the DNA prosecutors were suspended from their positions.
According to Dragnea, “They [the DNA] are losing an instrument that assists them in putting pressure on the judges,” he says. He points to the fact that the DNA has opened files on 3,320 magistrates (more than 60% of all magistrates). He says that judges under investigation are easily pressurised or threatened to comply with the DNA plans.
The DNA’s potential to influence a case is weakened when it loses the power to investigate judges, said Dragnea. “They [the DNA] are mad because the judge has nothing to fear from the prosecutor when the prosecutor cannot have something on him during a trial”.
This explains the DNA’s hostility to his proposal. “They will lose the ability to put pressure on judges, and the judges will not need to be afraid anymore. When this change happens, the investigator’s file on the judge, if he has a file, will be sitting with another institution, not with the DNA or the prosecutors.”
He said that the head of the DNA was a political appointment by the Minister of Justice, and by the President. “There is political influence here. But when we have a special section, that special section will not be subject to political influence at all. This section is appointed by the Supreme Council of Magistrates, totally independent, and this is what bothers them, what they are angry at.”
It is claimed that Dragnea’s new investigative body will tackle the risk of a conflict of interest that can occur when the DNA prosecutes a case where there is an open file against the presiding judge. “There will be a prosecutor [to scrutinise judges], but that prosecutor will not be involved in the trial.”
Critics of the politician argue it is an attempt by Dragnea to protect corrupt judges, and those that want to corrupt them to obtain their private goals. Corruption of judges and abuse of the court system is widely claimed and Dragnea pointed to evidence of prosecutors faking evidence and of prosecutors blackmailing witnesses to drop testimony. Romanian media reports revealed in the last weeks these type of practices: blackmail, false accusations, fake evidence, coercion, threats.
Changes are underway, claimed Dragnea. “Things have begun to move, laws have begun to change, to ensure such abuses are not repeated, and people who are committed such abuse are held accountable.”
The reliability of decisions of the courts has been undermined by the disclosure of protocols showing that the DNA intelligence worked with the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) and the association of magistrates and other judicial bodies, claimed Dragnea. “In what democratic country can you find secret protocols between the intelligence services and the supreme court of justice, the supreme council of magistrates, the general prosecutor’s office, and the DNA.”
He continued, “There were officers in the intelligence service, who stated that they treated justice as a ‘tactical field’, to quote a senior SRI official.”
Dragnea said that millions of Romanians were monitored, and had their cell phones intercepted, under the umbrella of the anti- corruption fight. “Now we are in a position where it is very difficult, almost impossible, to say, of all of those who have been convicted, who were convicted fairly and who was not”.
A public report issued by the Parliament special committee of the intelligence service (SRI) showed that 6 million Romanians were subject to technical surveillance in the last years.
The intelligence service is a key part of what Dragnea calls the ‘deep state’, whose other players are the courts, the prosecutors, the government and the parliament. He singled out what he claimed was the President of Romania’s collusion with the intelligence service. “In order for the President to get on with the people in the intelligence service and the justice system, in order for them to create this deep state, they need to create complicity with the parliament and with the government. I do not agree with this complicity.”
The PSD government has sought to fight this collusion. “We have taken important steps in that direction. Now the parliament is no longer willing to be controlled by the intelligence services. The government is no longer willing to be controlled by the intelligence services, and we refuse to yield.”
The extent of the ‘deep state’ has increased since President Klaus Johannis took office in January 2017, said Dragnea. “Further legislation is coming concerning the operations of the intelligence services, in order to force them to operate only strictly within the framework of the constitution, and not go illegally beyond those limits and influence other institutions such as political parties, justice, parliament members. Intelligence should only deal with their responsibilities as defined based on the constitution.”