BY MICHAEL BIRD AND STEFAN CANDEA
BUCHAREST - A Romanian politician running as an independent in the EU elections could be heading for an EP seat, helped by backing from a powerful media group facing indictment for blackmail.
A Comunist-era actor and theatre executive, Mircea Diaconu was a politician in the National Liberal Party (PNL), rising to become Minister of Culture for a few months in 2012.
However Romania's political wealth and assets watchdog, the National Integrity Agency (ANI), declared that his role as a paid official was incompatible with his job as executive director of a theatre.
A court backed this assessment in 2012, banning him from running for public office for three years.
Diaconu was also under investigation for conflict of interests because he helped his wife land a job in his theatre.
Originally set to run as an MEP for the Liberals (PNL), the party removed him from its MEP list and Diaconu pledged to run as an independent.
He had a deadline of five days to collect 100,000 signatures to ensure his candidacy was legitimate.
As he began his quest for thousands of supporters, the actor cast himself as a lone warrior against evil.
"It is like in an American movie, a single man fighting with a huge, powerful, ruthless, cynical and unjust system," he said.
He collected the quota – and is now polling well as an independent, with between one and four per cent of the vote. He needs 5 percent to secure a seat in the EU assembly.
Diaconu had help to get him this far.
He was endorsed on TV by the Intact Media Group – one of Romania's largest media empires, financed and controlled by Dan Voiculescu, a politician and media mogul who is waging a personal war against anti-corruption prosecutors and ANI.
According to Ionut Codreanu, head of monitoring and research at Active Watch, a media analyst NGO, Diaconu was the "only independent candidate" who enjoyed the media support of Intact's TV station Antena 3 while he collected supporters for his candidacy.
Codreanu adds that a week before the deadline for collecting signatures, Antena 3 broadcast an intensive media campaign featuring its TV stars who "lined up every evening in prime time to make people endorse Diaconu".
They explained to the public that this was a campaign against the abuses of the regime of President Traian Basescu, a long-time foe of the media group's financier.
Dan Voiculescu himself was convicted with five years in prison for corruption – a decision he is appealing.
His media group is also indicted over a blackmail operation against a major Romanian internet company.
Voiculescu is the man behind a minuscule party, the Conservatives (PC), which piggy-backs on governing coalitions in Romania, due to the influence and outreach of his media interests.
Voiculescu has been accused by journalists, foreign investigators and researchers of managing the money of the former Communist secret police, the Securitate, and he was convicted by the supreme court of being a Securitate informer, using the codename ‘Felix’.