Friday, March 26, 2010

EUbusiness: Romania's anti-graft crusader calls for change of mentality

25 March 2010

(BUCHAREST) - The change of mentality needed to eradicate graft in Romania "has not happened yet", the country's top anti-corruption prosecutor told AFP, two days after a critical EU report.

And by openly supporting colleagues condemned for graft and by criticising the anti-graft prosecutor's office, some Romanian politicians "do not give a very good example", Daniel Morar said during an interview.

In a report on Tuesday, the European Commission criticised Bucharest for not maintaining the pace of justice reforms, with Brussels deploring delays in high-level corruption trials and the "non-dissuasive penalties" doled out by courts.

But the report complimented Morar's office noting it "has maintained its good track record of impartial investigations into high-level corruption cases".

Since Morar's appointment in 2005, the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) has indicted former prime minister Adrian Nastase, ex-ministers, mayors and judges accused of taking bribes or influence-peddling.

In 2009 alone, 244 high-ranking officials in the administration and politics were sent to court.

Hailing from a family of many lawyers, the 43-year-old Morar, who likes to play football in his spare time, has become Romania's "Mister clean".

Since his arrival at the DNA, "politicians have not been sleeping well any more", daily newspaper Romania Libera wrote recently.

It was social-democrat opposition senator Catalin Voicu's turn this week.

He is accused of having used his influence "to intercede with magistrates and high-ranking police officials in favour of two businessmen facing trial" in exchange for 289,000 euros (385,000 dollars).

In an unprecedented move for Romania, lawmakers gave their go-ahead on Wednesday to his arrest, as requested by the DNA.

However, in Morar's eyes "the fight against corruption should not be limited to arrests and convictions."

"We need an awareness campaign along with punitive measures to have a change of mentality. When people are less ready to receive or give bribes, then we will see the rate of corruption drop," he said.

"But this mentality change has not happened yet," he said, while adding he was "confident" for the near future.

"It could happen soon as we have started to see more convictions in high profile cases. People should get the idea that no one is above the law."

Since January, the mayors of two important cities, Ramnicu Valcea (southern Romania) and Baia Mare (northern Romania) have been sentenced to prison for graft.

Mircea Gutau, from the governing Liberal-Democrat party (PDL), was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and the Liberal Cristian Anghel (opposition) to two and a half years.

"I saw that although politicians were handed a final sentence, they still get support from their colleagues", Morar said.

Some politicians, be it in opposition or in power, also continued to attack the DNA, accusing it of playing political games.

"They do not give a very good example," Morar said, adding that despite the attacks, he does not receive direct pressure from politicians.

"They know it would be in vain with me," he says while noting that he came close to not having his mandate renewed at the end of his first term. European pressure probably helped him to stay.

The EU surveillance mechanism put in place after Romania and Bulgaria's entry to the bloc in 2007 is "necessary and useful", he says.

For the future, Morar wants to go on targeting high-level cases.

"Citizens feel less affected by high-level corruption. They complain more about day-to-day corruption. But high-level corruption can pervert a government's mission."

No comments: