Thursday, February 26, 2009

Romania fights crime wave


Two armed robberies in less than two months and the unprecedented theft of more than 50 weapons from an arms depot signal a crime wave in Romania.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest – 26/02/09

Romanian authorities are vowing to contain an outbreak of violent and sensational crimes. On February 13th, two people with guns entered the Transylvania Bank in Cluj-Napoca and left a minute later with more than 60,000 euros. Two bank employees suffered slight injuries. The perpetrators remain at large despite an extensive investigation.

This is only the second bank robbery in the history of Romania. The first took place in 1959.

The Cluj-Napoca holdup came a month after a Brasov currency-exchange robbery in which two people died and a third lost an eye. The brutality of the crime shocked the country. One suspect, a Moldovan citizen named Serghei Gorbunov, had left prison on a medical furlough and never returned -- sparking criticism of official laxity in issuing such furloughs.

Police have captured him and Serghei Gribenco, a fellow Moldovan. Newly installed Interior Minister Dan Nica told the daily Financiarul that pursuing Gribenco presented a challenge Romanian authorities "had not faced ... in 20 years", since he had "professional training in counterespionage".

In late January, thieves stole over 50 weapons from a military depot near Bucharest, the first theft of its kind in the country. Authorities still have not recovered the arms. The defence minister fired several high-ranking officers, including the head of the air force, while three other officers face charges of weapon theft and four more are under investigation for violating military rules.

In an effort to suppress the crime wave, Nica announced that 2,000 officers would join the national police force. He said the force would transfer 30% of its officers to crime-fighting activities and patrols.

Bucharest alone has a shortage of 1,200 policemen. Nica says the nation needs another 6,000 policemen, a figure that is expected to drop with the transfer of gendarmes and border police to more urgent assignments and with the graduation of 1,000 police academy students this summer.

Besides flooding the streets with police, the interior ministry wants to make laws less encouraging to criminals. It wants parliament to tighten the criteria for gun permits. Financial institutions that handle large sums of money will have to improve their security measures. Nica slammed banks for "indolence" on security, complaining that the Cluj-Napoca robbers found the bank easier to hold up than a market stall.

He underlined that his ministry is preparing for another spike in crime should Romanian criminals who escaped abroad return home from western countries afflicted by the global financial crisis.

According to a police report, Romania averaged a murder a day last year, while the number of financial frauds rose by a quarter in 2008.

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