Thursday, January 29, 2015

EU Says Romanian Fight Against Crime on Track, Bulgaria Stalls

(Bloomberg) -- Romania has achieved “impressive” progress in fighting high-level corruption and organized crime, while Bulgarian policy changes stalled on political turmoil, the European Union said in a report on the bloc’s poorest states.

“Romania is on the right course and needs to stick to it. Tackling corruption remains the biggest challenge and the biggest priority,” European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said in a statement. Bulgaria’s judicial reform progress “has been slow” on political uncertainty and “further steps are needed,” he said.

The two countries that joined the 28-nation bloc in 2007 are judged to be among the EU’s most corrupt along with Greece and Italy, according to Berlin-based research organization Transparency International. The Black Sea nations have had repeated warnings to fight corruption harder to ensure a fair distribution of EU aid. Romania, the bigger of the two, stands to receive 35 billion euros ($40 billion) in EU aid through 2020. Bulgaria will get about 16 billion euros.

“Responses to the well-known problems in area of corruption and organized crime have remained piecemeal and lacking in overall strategic direction,” the commission said about Bulgaria. “There are very few examples where high-level cases of corruption or organized crime have been brought to conclusion in court.”

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov regained power on Nov. 7 after five government changes in two years. His first government was ousted by anti-austerity protests in 2013. The Socialist administration of former premier Plamen Oresharski resigned in July following the failure of the country’s fourth-largest lender and protests against a corrupt political system.
Efforts Intensified

Bulgaria’s parliament adopted a judicial reform strategy last week, which needs “to be implemented for change to be convincingly shown,” the commission said.

Romania’s new President Klaus Iohannis pledged to continue fighting corruption and urged Parliament to lift the immunity of all lawmakers under investigation. Romania’s efforts to curb graft intensified before presidential elections last year as prosecutors probed high-profile politicians from Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s party, businessmen and a constitution court judge. The cases involved Microsoft licenses, election fraud and tax evasion.

Former Romanian Economy Minister Codrut Seres and former Communication Minister Zsolt Nagy were sentenced to prison this week for undermining state economy.

“The action taken by the key judicial and integrity institutions to address high-level corruption has maintained an impressive momentum,” the commission said about Romania. “Many legislative issues remain outstanding” and “there continues to be inconsistency in some court decisions, which raises concern.”

The commission will continue monitoring the two countries and will issue the next two reports in one year, the commission said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Slav Okov in Sofia at; Andra Timu in Bucharest at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James M. Gomez Elizabeth Konstantinova, Andras Gergely

Romania jails ex-ministers, banker over privatisation plot

(Reuters) - Two former Romanian government ministers and a Credit Suisse banker were jailed on Tuesday for espionage and treason related to planned privatisations.

Former communications minister Zsolt Nagy was given a four-year sentence and formereconomy minister Codrut Seres was sentenced to four years and six months by the court in Romania, which has come under EU pressure to clean up its government and judiciary.

They were convicted of leaking confidential privatisation data and joining an organised crime group that prosecutors said targeted a string of planned privatisations in 2005 to 2007.

The European Commission, which has the judiciary under special monitoring, is expected to release a new assessment on Wednesday. Romania joined the European Union in 2007.

Credit Suisse investment banker Vadim Benyatov was sentenced to four years and six months for espionage, while Bulgarian Stamen Stanchev, who consulted for the bank, received five years and two months.

A spokesperson for Credit Suisse said: "We are disappointed with the verdict and will continue to support our current and former employees."

Six other people, including a Turk and a Czech citizen, received prison terms for joining an organised crime group targeting confidential data related to privatisations.

Seres and Nagy said the documents they were accused of passing on were not confidential, nor prejudicial.

Prosecutors said the organised crime group targeted, among other things, the planned privatisation of the Romanian postal service and the sale of a minority stake in oil and gas group Petrom, majority-controlled by Austria's OMV. None have yet happened and there is no current firm commitment to sell them.

Also targeted was the sale of power distributor Electrica Muntenia Sud, which has since then been bought by Italy's Enel.

The case has reached its last appeal and Tuesday's rulings are final.

AP: Romania's spy chief who backed security laws resigns

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA — The chief of Romania's Intelligence Service has resigned after criticizing the country's top court for rejecting security laws which allowed the government to collect data on people without court approval.

The Constitutional Court earlier this month rejected laws that would have allowed authorities to retain data and other personal details on people without persuading a court that the person represented a security risk. The court said the laws were unconstitutional and violated human rights.

George Maior, who directed the Intelligence Service since 2006, stepped down Tuesday, days after he criticized the court and said the laws were necessary for national security and protecting people.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta, an ally, praised Maior for reforming the service. He said his successor shouldn't be a political appointment.

Maior's resignation was accepted by President Klaus Iohannis, who will appoint a new chief.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Romanian judge took BMW and dresses as bribes, prosecutors say

(Reuters) - A judge at Romania's highest court has been placed under investigation for abuse of power, taking bribes including a BMW car and two dresses for his wife, and setting up an organised crime group, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Judge Toni Grebla, who denies wrongdoing, is the latest in a series of top officials to be investigated for alleged corruption in Romania. They include the father-in-law of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, the brother of former President Traian Basescu and the chief prosecutor at the agency in charge of fighting organised crime.

The former communist state, which joined the European Union in 2007, has come under heavy pressure from Brussels to clean up its government and judiciary. The EU has praised anti-corruption prosecutors for their efforts to tackle high-level graft.

Grebla, 61 was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 2013 after serving as a senator since 2008. Prosecutors said in a statement he co-founded an organised crime group to forge customs documents and smuggle food to Russia after Moscow banned food imports from the European Union last year.

Grebla has also demanded and received a BMW worth 56,070 euros (42,992 pounds), 20,000 flyers for his senate election race, and two dresses worth 1,200 lei ($310) from a local businessman to intercede in his favour with public clerks, prosecutors said.

They added the judge, whose position prohibits him from having any commercial dealings, had managed an ostrich farm through intermediaries in southeastern Romania.

"What is being alleged has no connection to activity at the Constitutional Court," Grebla told reporters. "It is damaging my image, that is why it bothers me."

He said the BMW had been given to him by a businessman who was also his godson, and therefore was "in the family". He also denied running an ostrich farm.

The Constitutional Court has the final say in all legislative and state matters. Its nine judges serve nine-year terms and are appointed by the president, the senate and the lower house of parliament.

"It was a huge surprise for us, this is the first time that a Constitutional Court judge is in such a situation," chief judge Augustin Zegrean told reporters.

"We regret this situation. Anti-corruption prosecutors must see this investigation through and get to the bottom of things because I want no shadow of a doubt hanging over the Constitutional Court."

Grebla will be allowed to remain in his position for now but would be suspended if his case went to trial.

Romania Planned New Power Capacities Idle Due to Subdued Demand

By Andra Timu Jan 22, 2015

Romania doesn’t need to invest in new power capacities in the next 10 years as demand will be capped by shrinking industrial production, officials from Fondul Proprietatea SA and consulting firm AT Kearney Inc said.

The government, which plans to add two more new nuclear reactors at its Cernavoda plant and build new power plants with the help of foreign investors, should refrain from spending money on projects that boost production and focus more on increasing the efficiency of existing plants, Michael Weiss, a partner at AT Kearney, said in Bucharest today.

“Without major industry investments there is no need for extra capacities because existing ones can accommodate demand by 2025,” Weiss said during the presentation of a study on Romania’s energy system. “Investments are warranted if they aim to replace outdated existing capacities. Romania still uses lignite to stabilize the power market, which is not the best practice.”

Romania, the European Union’s second-poorest member, is trying to lure foreign investors to help upgrade its outdated energy system as it seeks to diversify and lower costs for people and companies. It benefited from a boost in renewable energy in the past years as companies such as CEZ AS and Enel SpA (ENEL) invested millions of euros in wind, solar and biomass plants with a total installed capacity of more than 4,700 megawatts.
Investment Needs

Still, the country needs at least 100 billion euros ($116 billion) in investments in oil, gas and power by 2035, according to the Energy Ministry’s latest estimates. The government turned to Chinese investors after ArcelorMittal, Enel and other companies withdrew from the 6 billion-euro project to build the reactors.

The reactors, together with a 1 billion-euro hydropower plant, expanding power and gas interconnection grids and Black Sea gas production are among Romania’s strategic objectives for reaching energy independence, according to a 2035 energy strategy that is currently up for public debate.

“An integrated nation-wide energy strategy, matching the economic strategy, is essential for the growth of the energy sector and should address issues such as the current low investor confidence and uncompetitive taxes,” said Greg Konieczny, a manager at Fondul Proprietatea.

Romania’s electricity demand will post “limited growth” in the next 10 years of between 0.2 percent to 0.7 percent as existing capacities can support the demand, AT Kearney estimated. That makes the reactor project “less commercially attractive without a major support scheme,” the study showed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andra Timu in Bucharest at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at James M. Gomez, Pawel Kozlowski

Romanian watchdog protests honoring fascist sympathizer

A Romanian anti-Semitism watchdog group condemned Romanian President Klaus Iohannis’ honoring of a man who praised fascists who murdered Jews during the Holocaust.

The Center for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism, or MCA Romania, was responding to the admission last month of the anti-Communist political activist Octav Bjoza into the Order of the Star of Romania for his efforts within the Association of Former Political Prisoners in Romania.

Bjoza, 76, was the first of 25 people Iohannis decorated with the Star of Romania medal. The Dec. 22 ceremony was the newly elected president’s first official function after assuming office the previous day.

“It is deeply regrettable that in post-communist Romania, Mr. Bjoza chose to celebrate the ideas and beliefs of a criminal group like the Legionnaires,” MCA Romania Director Maximillian Marco Katz told JTA Thursday, referring to Romania’s pro-Nazi Iron Guard. Iohannis’ embrace of Bjoza was “a disappointing note of populism,” he added. “It sends the wrong message.”

Iron Guard members killed 125 Jews during the Bucharest pogrom of 1941 and many thousands more throughout World War II.

In 2009, Bjoza was filmed attending an event titled “Commemorating Legionnaires, Assassinated Martyrs,” where he said: “I am not a Legionnaire, it was too late to become one, but fortunately, at the age of 19 I was educated by some of them.”

He said they taught him that “the Romanian nation is hunted by traitors.” For this, he added, “I will forever carry them in my mind and in my soul.”

Following criticism over the award he received, Bjoza told the Adevarul daily that he was “not anti-Semitic” and that he “rejects extremism of any sort.”

Iohannis told Romanian media that the criticism of Bjoza was unfounded because Bjoza was never a member of the Iron Guard.

Romanian PM pessimistic about relations with Russia

BUCHAREST, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Thursday believed that the bilateral relations with Russia are getting worse, both because of the conflict in Ukraine and the irreconcilable interests of the two countries with respect to the Republic of Moldova.

Ponta told local media that he saw no sign of improvement of the relations of Romania with Russia.

"I see them worsening," he stressed, specifying that "Romania will keep its position that same as Poland and the Baltic countries, a firm position as to what the Russian Federation is doing."

The prime minister also underscored that the interests of Romania and that of Russia in Moldova are "totally opposite" and "irreconcilable," as Romania remains committed to the territorial integrity of Moldova, while Russia supports the "separatists" in Transdniester, a mainly Russian-speaking region which split away from Moldova in 1990.

"We want Moldova to go on the pro-European route and Russia is against it," continued Ponta in an interview with Jurnalul National daily online, adding that "from the viewpoint of the relations with Russia, it will only be worse on the short- and medium-term, I do not know what will be on the long-term."

Ponta insisted, after his installation as Prime Minister in May 2012, that his country should deepen relations with Russia, however Romania had decided to freezes business relations with the latter soon after the crisis erupted in Ukraine.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Romania's new President Iohannis in court

The facts of the case are clear. Klaus Iohannis, mayor of the Transylvanian town of Sibiu from 2000 to 2014, represented the city's government at the shareholders' meetings of two firms of which the city itself is a co-owner. Romania's National Integrity Agency (ANI) saw this as an illegal conflict of interest. Iohannis sued over the ANI report and scored a victory in the trial in September 2013. The agency's assessment that the Sibiu mayor's activities were incompatible was declared null and void.

ANI then lodged an appeal with the High Court, and that trial began on Wednesday (14.01.2015). Iohannis has repeatedly stated that nothing about the case has changed in the interim, and he is therefore certain that the High Court will also decide in his favor.

However, it is ANI and not Klaus Iohannis that is the focus of public debate about real or spurious incompatibilities and conflicts of interest among Romanian politicians. The National Integrity Agency was established under pressure from the European Commission to check asset declarations by holders of public office, and possible conflicts of interest. In 2007 Romania was the first country in the European Union whose politicians came under scrutiny from an institution founded expressly for that purpose.

Fight against corruption

ANI became an important instrument in the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, introduced by the European Commission for Romania (and Bulgaria) following their accession to the EU in 2007 to tackle deficiencies in judicial reform and in the fight against corruption. Brussels formulated clear objectives in four key areas: reform of the judiciary, integrity, combating high-level corruption, and the prevention of corruption in the public sector.

And although the Commission has acknowledged that Romania has had some success in this area, the country is still being monitored by the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism seven years after joining the EU. Several ministers and a former prime minister have been found guilty of corruption, and investigations are ongoing against numerous members of parliament across the political spectrum. New President Klaus Iohannis has repeatedly emphasized that he respects the independence of the judiciary, that it is one of his highest priorities, and that he will protect it from political influence.

Protected by presidential immunity

However, ANI seems to have overstepped the mark with its accusations against Iohannis. According to a literal interpretation of Romanian law, a mayor may not sit on the board of a company involved in municipal development projects. In other words, a directly elected mayor may not participate in discussions or in the decision-making process around important projects in his city. Iohannis' case concerns his participation in the shareholders' meetings of the municipal enterprises dealing with water and sewage management, and with local markets. The question not just the mayor but also voters and experts are asking themselves is valid: Who, if not the mayor, should be the main person dealing with issues pertaining to infrastructure, water supply, sewage and waste management?

This was the view taken by the court of appeal in September 2013, when Iohannis was acquitted of incompatibility and ANI's assessment was annulled. The agency lodged an appeal, and now the High Court will make the final decision. Under Romanian law, those found guilty of incompatibility are banned from holding public office for three years. However, if Iohannis were unexpectedly found guilty, he is protected by presidential immunity and would not in fact have to step down.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Nicolae Ceausescu and Romania's Christmas revolution

Twenty five years ago this week the people of Romania got a very welcome Christmas present. After a token trial, Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed by firing squad at a secret military location.

The Communist dictator’s fall was astonishingly swift. Only four days before he had been standing on a balcony overlooking Palace Square in Bucharest telling a huge crowd how lucky they were to have him. The appearance was supposed to quell the unrest in the western city of Timisoara; people were protesting at years of scarcity and oppression overseen by the megalomaniacal couple. It didn’t work. The audience listened in silence.

Then the unimaginable happened. They began booing and jeering and chanting “Timisoara! Timisoara!” The look of disbelief on Ceausescu’s face as he flapped his hands in a hopeless attempt to quiet them was one of the defining moments in the collapse of European communism. The cynical officials and military commanders who shored up the regime recognised an unstoppable force when they saw one. Apart from some diehards of the Securitate secret police, everyone knew the couple were finished. The end was squalid and badly done. But the revolution was magnificent.

I was there as one of the Telegraph team covering the uprising. It was an exhilarating time. “Vox Populi! — Vox Dei!” said the slogans painted on walls above pools of guttering candles, marking the places where protesters had been shot down by the Securitate.

It seemed to be only the truth. The people had spoken and evil had been put to flight. The iniquities of Ceausescu’s 24-year reign were soon revealed to the world. Eager locals showed us the orphanages where emaciated children were chained to iron bedsteads, crammed into rooms reeking of faeces and urine.

Even children with parents lived miserable lives. Romania’s child mortality rate was the highest in Europe, a result of the leader’s obsessive austerity programme to wipe out foreign debt. Much of the country’s agricultural and industrial production was exported.

There were shortages of food, medicines and fuel. Travel in and out of the country was strictly controlled. Criticism was ruthlessly repressed and the people suffered in silence. Now and again a dissident voice was heard from inside the party, but most of the ruling elite colluded with the cult of personality the mousey couple built up via rigidly controlled state media,

Ceausescu was a perfect example of Lord Acton’s dictum about the corrupting effects of power. He had started out as an apparent reformer who impressed the West with his willingness to stand up to Moscow. By the end he had awarded himself the titles of “Conducator” (Leader) and “Genius of the Carpathians”. His monstrous vanity was demonstrated in projects like the People’s Palace, a vast, shoddy edifice built to rival the great monuments of Europe.

Despite their imperial pretensions the former cobbler and his consort lived fairly modestly. One snowy day the rebels gave us a tour of their Bucharest residence. It was a bourgeois villa, with John Lewis style fittings, more Solihull than Schönbrunn. The revolutionaries seemed to think it unimaginably luxurious. By their standards, it was. The day before a university professor with an international reputation invited me to his apartment. It had four small rooms, furnished with a few sticks of cheap furniture. He proudly brought out a prized possession, a dusty bottle of Johnnie Walker purchased on a rare officially sanctioned trip abroad. We sat in the freezing parlour and toasted the Ceausescus’ demise.

For a few heady months Romania revelled in its freedom. Bucharest was filled with rallies and marches and new political parties sprang up overnight. We journalists were accosted by ordinary people who wanted to taste the unknown experience of talking openly to a foreigner. Most had never seen one until now.

The revolution seemed a fitting end to the annus mirabilis that was 1989 — a year when, one by one, the communist bastions of Eastern and Central Europe crumbled and fell. When the reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signalled his unwillingness to offer military support to Eastern bloc satellites, the collapse was quick and surprisingly bloodless. First Poland, then Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia fell out of Moscow’s orbit. For decades that world had been in the grip of a Cold War which, if it hotted up, could bring nuclear annihilation. Now it seemed to be standing on the brink of a new era of progress. Ideological enmity was vanishing. Henceforth everyone would go forward under the banners of democracy, enlightened capitalism and respect for human rights.

Of course it didn’t quite work out like that. In Romania, the overthrow of Ceausescu soon began to look less like a revolution and more like a palace coup. The organisers reinvented themselves as the National Salvation Front, which won elections five months later. The new rulers were mostly former communists and members of the old regime in new, democratic clothing. When, in June 1990, students rose up to protest they were beaten up by miners brought in by the authorities on special trains from the Jiu valley.

But there was no going back to the old days. Former communists or not, successive governments looked West not East, applying for membership of the EU in 1993 — and joining in 2007. Freedom and capitalism did not bring instant prosperity. During the Nineties millions of Romanians moved abroad to America and western Europe. The millennium brought a surge in the country’s fortunes. For a few years it enjoyed impressive growth rates and was briefly the “tiger” of Eastern European economies. But the recession hit hard. Huge borrowing to counter a 2009 budget deficit, and a housing bubble that burst, made it the IMF’s biggest debtor for a while. It has also been plagued by corruption and political feuding.

Today, the events of the revolution seem to belong to a distant past. The anniversary has been a subdued affair and official commemorations will be confined to a few concerts and small rallies in University Square, the scene of some of the crucial demonstrations. Romania’s 20 million people are more interested in the present.

They have recently voted in a new president. In November, Klaus Iohannis, the mayor of the western town of Sibiu, beat Victor Ponta, the prime minister, a skilful political infighter, in a surprise victory. Iohannis, a liberal from the country’s ethnic German population, won by a comfortable margin on a high turnout, helped by the votes of the Romanian diaspora. At the swearing-in ceremony yesterday he promised a crackdown on corruption and a strengthening of the rule of law. The office carries the necessary powers for him to deliver — notably the appointment of the senior judiciary.

Above all, the president is the public face of the nation. It seemed to many in Romania that 25 years after the revolution, the country was at last getting a leader who represented the ideals that the men and women who took to streets to brave the Securitate snipers were demanding.

The depressing aftermath of the Arab Spring has made us sceptical about popular uprisings. The Romanian story and the examples of modern Eastern and Central Europe are a reminder that, given the right cultural and political underpinnings, they can have reasonably happy endings.

Forbes: Now Romania Sets Its Sights On Becoming Tech Start-up Capital Of Europe

It has the highest number of technology workers per capita, close to 64,000 specialist IT workers, and counts Avangate and UberVu among its most recent exit successes.

These factors, combined with an enviable tax regime; as low as 0% for IT workers, have conspired to help create one of Europe’s hottest start-up scenes; Romania.

Now the country’s tech hub is drawing serious international attention, and according to one Romanian entrepreneur, Florin Cornianu, CEO and co-founder of123ContactForm, within two years it will be seen as a true rival to London as the hotbed of European talent.

“In Romania, people are used to starting with nothing and growing something from that. We’ve had no government initiatives to help us set up our businesses,” he says. “But now number of elements are coming together, including recently exited entrepreneurs becoming angel investors and VCs to help other founders grow their companies.”

What is emerging is a strong culture of programming, innovation and incubation. A number of highly rated universities in cities such as Bucharest, Timisoara, Cluj, Iasi, and Constanta provide a regular source of talented people and drive tech innovation.

“We have also seen an influx of major corporations which inspire, partner with and buy from start-ups, and also offer a safety net for entrepreneurs with paid employment opportunities,” said Cornianu.

The Romanian start-up ecosystem now boasts numerous incubators, co-working spaces and dedicated events to help emerging entrepreneurs. The largest dedicated tech conference in Eastern Europe, HowToWeb5, is held in Bucharest.

However, Cornianu insists that the Romanian start-up scene has always had a global outlook. It had to, he says, in order to succeed.

“It makes business founders resilient, teaches entrepreneurs not to rely on handouts or support, and encourages greater achievement,” he says. “We are now seeing an increasing number of successful businesses growing out of this environment.”

123ContactForm, which enables people in any location to build any kind of web form with no programming knowledge, is a case in point. Bootstrapped in 2008, it has experienced 100% year-on-year growth since its formation and added close to 200,000 new customers in 2014 alone.

Half of its paying users come from the US, which represents around 40% of its overall users. The UK is home to 5% of its free users and 6.5% of its paying members.

“It is possible to be successful without large investment, but it does take hard work,” he says. “The most important thing is to build and scale the right team – and to keep an international outlook. At first, it might have been a disadvantage for us to be from Romania, but now it is an advantage as we expand our great team.”

Other Romanian tech trailblazers include which offers a mobile application for finding information and promoting special events, and this year launched in Brazil., launched earlier this year, is an automated checkout solution that allows consumers to buy any product from any retailer on any mobile app or website. In August it secured a $2.7 million seed round from some high profile investors, including Khosla Ventures and Green Visor Capital. and are also making progress in overseas markets, while one to watch is VisionBot, a pick and place robotic machine designed by a maker for makers to place surface-mount devices (SMDs) onto printed circuit boards (PCBs), affordably.

It promises to solve one of the biggest challenges for electrical engineers, makers, hackers, and hobbyists; the huge costs of turning their electronic prototype into an industrial product. Visionbot creates a manufacturing line for turning prototypes into industrial products that are in medium-quantity.

London’s Silicon Roundabout may have had the lion’s share of attention as a tech capital, but as it becomes increasingly saturated, other European locations are vying to offer the start-up appeal that even Silicon Roundabout can’t match, the tech capital of Europe could soon be much further east than East London, says Cornianu.

“The future is definitely bright for the Romanian start-up scene,” he said. “The number of people involved in start-ups is growing every year, more and more kids are showing an interest, and of course we’re creating more successes. The more of those we have, the better our chances of taking on London, Berlin, and yes, even Silicon Valley.”

Romania parliament approves 2015 budget with IMF deficit target

(Reuters) - Romania's parliament approved a deficit-cutting 2015 budget bill on Sunday, sticking to a fiscal shortfall target agreed with the International Monetary Fund.

Benefiting from continuous IMF-led supervision since 2009, after a real estate bubble burst, European Union member Romania has gradually cut its deficit and implemented reforms to restore the trust of investors after a recession.

Under the current deal which expires next year, Bucharest targets a deficit of 1.8 percent of national output, excluding defence spending, against a planned 2.2 percent for this year.

As a NATO member bordering Ukraine and wary of Russian intentions in its tiny neighbour Moldova, Romania will ask Brussels for its defence spending to be exempted from calculating deficit targets.

The leftist government has pledged to increase its defence spending next year, which is expected to add another 0.3 percentage points to the fiscal deficit.

The budget, which also forecasts economic growth of 2.5 percent, plans to hike the minimum wage in two stages to 1,050 lei per month from 900 lei currently.

State pensions will rise by 5 percent, as will the wages of teachers and health and social security workers.

The Fiscal Council, an independent fiscal watchdog set up under the IMF deals, said the government has overestimated budget revenues by a calculated 2.35 billion lei (411 million pounds), or 0.3 percent of gross domestic product, raising doubt the deficit target can be met.

The opposition Liberal Party, which voted against the budget, said it may challenge the bill at the Constitutional Court.

Romanian parliament swears in former mayor as country’s new president

Romania’s parliament swore in a former mayor as the country’s new president following an election he called a triumph for democracy, 25 years after communism ended.

Pro-western Klaus Iohannis, 55, promises a different style from combative outgoing leader, Traian Basescu, who leaves office on Sunday, having served a maximum 10 years.

Iohannis also vowed to fight corruption and build “a powerful nation”, as he took an oath Sunday before parliament, then headed to the presidential palace to formally take over from Basescu.

“Mentalities must be changed,” he told lawmakers and dignitaries. “I want a Romania where there is no place for putting on a show” in politics.

He surprisingly defeated prime minister Victor Ponta in the 16 November runoff, tapping into anger from thousands of overseas voters who were unable to vote in the first round. Iohannis received hundreds of thousands of votes from Romanians who work abroad, calling it a triumph for democracy.

His victory sent a feelgood factor through the nation of 19 million and he notched up almost 1.3m likes on Facebook.

Atypical for Romanian politics, the slow-speaking ethnic German mayor of Sibiu refuses to participate in bitter personal attacks. He promises good relations with the US, the European Union and particularly Germany.

Basescu was credited with a commitment to the anti-corruption fight and has a strong pro-US stance. The US will open a missile defense base in southern Romania, which has angered Russia.

Romania was suspected of hosting a CIA secret prison which it has denied. On Saturday, Basescu declined to comment on the most recent reports, saying Romanian prosecutors were investigating.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Romania 'to clear up' allegations over CIA prisons

Bucharest (AFP) - Romania is "ready to clear up" allegations that the country hosted secret CIA detention centres, the foreign ministry said Tuesday -- though it stressed that Bucharest had "no proof" such prisons existed.
Romanian authorities were "fully available to clear up the allegations" that Bucharest colluded with the CIA on the transfer of terrorist suspects to CIA "black sites" established for the purposes of torture, the ministry said.
The ministry emphasised in a statement that the central European country was not named in the summary of last week's bombshell US Senate report on the CIA's mistreatment of Al-Qaeda suspects.
In fact, however, the summary redacted the names of all foreign countries that hosted the CIA "black sites" used to intern 119 people who were captured.
But previous news reports identified the countries which had the sites as Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Thailand and Afghanistan.
The Romanian foreign ministry said an investigation had been launched with a view to finding "a solution" to the issue that "respects the principles of the rule of law and human rights".
The public prosecutor's office told AFP a probe had been launched following a complaint from Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the suspects named in the US Senate report as a torture victim.
The prosecutors gave no further details.
Al-Nashiri's name features in the Senate report alongside with those of three other suspected al-Qaeda members held at Guantanamo Bay, whom the report said had been tortured.
The 49-year-old Saudi is accused of masterminding the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 in which 17 American sailors were killed.
In May 2012, he filed a criminal complaint in Romania, claiming he had been secretly detained in the country between 2003 and 2006.
He has also taken a case at the European Court for Human Rights.
Romania has never admitted to hosting secret CIA prisons.
Its foreign ministry reiterated Tuesday that Bucharest possessed "no proof of the existence of CIA detention centres in Romania or the use of Romanian airports for the transport or detention of prisoners suspected of terrorist acts".
A former head of Romania's intelligence service, Ioan Talpes, said Saturday the CIA may have kept detainees in a "transit" centre in Romania but that Bucharest was unaware of the activities conducted at the site.
Mediafax agency said Talpes had been questioned by prosecutors in 2013 in connection with al-Nashiri's case.

U.S. torture report puts Romania's role under scrutiny

(Reuters) - The lawyer for a man tortured by the CIA said Romania's authorities should acknowledge the role they played after a U.S. Senate report pointed to Romania as the site of the secret CIA jail where the man was interrogated.

The report did not name countries that hosted CIA jails, but it gave details of prisoners being transferred to and from "detention center BLACK" which matched air traffic records of CIA-chartered planes passing through Romanian airports between 2003 and 2005. Some of these records were independently reviewed by Reuters while others were cited in court documents.

According to the Senate report, the CIA gave the government that hosted the secret jail at least $1 million to thank it for supporting the agency's detention program. The report cited the un-named CIA officer in charge of the jail telling his superiors that, despite harsh interrogation techniques, the intelligence produced was often useless.

Ioan Talpes, who was national security adviser for Romania's president from 2000 to 2004, told Reuters Romania had allowed U.S. intelligence to operate a facility in Romania, but Romanian officials were unaware people were detained there and did not receive money in exchange for hosting any jail.

Of the facility used by the CIA, he said "it was clearly established by the Romanian side that Romanians do not participate in this, and so it was agreed with the Americans."

"We even did not know what would be there. In such situations it is better not to interfere.. We facilitated, we put at their disposal materials they had been asking for, but not with Romanian participation."

The office of Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta sent questions from Reuters about the report to the foreign ministry. In a statement, the ministry said the Senate report released to the public contained no references to Romania and Romanian authorities had no evidence showing there were CIA detention centers in Romania.

Nevertheless, the ministry said authorities were cooperating with a judicial investigation inside Romania into allegations about a CIA jail in the country.

“The competent authorities are taking all necessary steps to solve this case, with full respect of the principles of the rule of law and human rights,” the statement said.

President Traian Basescu did not respond to written questions. The Romanian foreign intelligence service said it had no information to show CIA detention centers existed on Romanian territory.

Ion Iliescu, who was president from 2000 to 2004, told Reuters, when asked about a CIA facility: "I did not know many things. And I don't know anything about this matter."

The CIA declined comment.

Amrit Singh, a lawyer for Saudi national Adb al-Rahim al-Nashiri said the Senate report confirmed her client's allegations that he was tortured in a CIA jail in Romania and that Romanian authorities failed to protect his rights.

The Senate report contains details of al-Nashiri's treatment that come direct from the CIA's own files, information not previously available. The report says he was tortured by the CIA, without saying where.

Now in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, he has applied to the European Court of Human Rights for a judgment against Romania, arguing it allowed his secret detention and torture, and later failed to investigate properly. The court has agreed to hear the case but has not delivered a judgment. A spokeswoman for the court declined to comment on questions relating to the Senate report.

"It is incumbent on the Romanian authorities to acknowledge the truth," said Singh, who works for the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative. "The truth is that there was a secret CIA prison on their territory."

She said Romania had a legal obligation to prevent secret detention or torture, and there were enough reports of CIA abuses in the international media at the time to give Romania grounds to believe this might happen.


The European Convention on Human Rights, to which Romania is a signatory, says states have an obligation to ensure those in their jurisdiction are protected from torture or extra-judicial detention.

The Senate report has shone an uncomfortable light on some European Union states which hosted the jails. Poland and Lithuania also hosted CIA detention sites, according to former Polish officials and Lithuanian lawmakers.

In Romania's case, the report says detainees first arrived in autumn 2003. That coincides with a Sept. 22, 2003 flight to Romania which, according to the al-Nashiri application to the European court of Human Rights, was chartered by the CIA to bring detainees to the Romanian detention site.

The Senate report also says the site was wound down in autumn 2005. That coincides with extracts from air traffic control flight data, reviewed by Reuters, for flights into and out of Romania.

Aircraft making those flights can be traced back, via invoices, flight plans and court documents also reviewed by Reuters, to companies contracted by the CIA to transport detainees between foreign detention sites. Many of those documents were first uncovered by Reprieve, a campaign group whose research on CIA flights has been cited by the European parliament.


In 2002, the CIA was looking for new places to interrogate suspects. It told its local station chief to draft a "wishlist" of assistance it could give the government in the country where it was planning to locate "detention site BLACK" to express its appreciation, the report said.

"CIA Headquarters provided the Station with $[]million more than was requested for the purposes of the subsidy," the report said, blacking out the amount of money and the name of the country. It went on: "CIA detainees were transferred to DETENTION SITE BLACK in Country [] in the fall of 2003."

Talpes, the former national security adviser, said Romania might have received money from U.S. intelligence for providing specific help, but that it was "nonsense" they could have been paid to allow a CIA jail of which they were ignorant.

By the time many of the detainees reached the site, they had been in detention for years, been interrogated hundreds of times and had no more information to give up, the report said.

It said many of the detainees the CIA designated as "high-value" were held at the site, among them Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He is at Guantanamo Bay awaiting trial on charges of masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.

The CIA officer in charge of the site complained to headquarters that he was being sent interrogators who were ill-trained. A few of them were incompetent, the report quoted the officer in charge as saying.

"The result, quite naturally, is the production of mediocre or, I dare say, useless intelligence," the report cited the officer, who was not identified by name, as saying in an April 15, 2005 email.

On Nov. 2 the same year, the Washington Post newspaper published an article saying the CIA was running jails in eastern Europe, without naming the countries.

"After publication of the Washington Post article, Country [] demanded the closure of DETENTION SITE BLACK within hours," the report said, with the name of the country blacked out. "The CIA transferred the remaining CIA detainees out of the facility shortly thereafter."

(Additional reporting by Matthias Williams in Bucharest and Mark Hosenball in Washington; editing by Janet McBride)

AP:Romanian PM gives up contested 'doctor' title

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA — Romania's prime minister has given up the title of "doctor," more than two years after he was accused of plagiarism in writing his doctoral thesis.

Victor Ponta did not directly admit to lifting substantial portions in his 2004 thesis, but wrote to the rector of the University of Bucharest on Tuesday saying he should have renounced the title "long ago when the first accusations came out."

In 2012, Ponta was accused of plagiarizing the work of two Romanian scholars in his 432-page thesis on the International Criminal Court.

Ponta acknowledged not giving the proper attribution but said the accusations were politically orchestrated.

He said he would study for a new doctorate after his political career has ended, "respecting the standards and requirements of that time."

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