Romania’s corrupt judicial system, which has supposedly been reformed and brought in line with European standards more than three decades after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship, has in recent years blantantly targeted some of the country’s most successful post-Communist businessmen.
One of the more prominent individuals on the judiciary’s list of ‘undesireables’ is Romania’s most successful real estate investors, Gabriel Popoviciu.
On June 18, London’s High Court ruled that it would throw out an extradition request filed by Bucharest after it found credible evidence to show that the Romanian trial judge who convicted and sentenced Popoviciu in 2017 on fraud charges had assisted organized crime figures with their legal matters and had solicited bribes for issues related to Popoviciu’s case.
According to the Court’s ruling, its decision to quash the extradition request – which would have seen him sent from the UK back to Romania – was influenced by clear evidence that the trial judge’s conduct outside the court and his failure to disclose his corrupt relationship with underworld elements, as well as the Romanian authorities’ failure properly to investigate the matter, were key indicators that Popoviciu had not recieved a fair trial.
The Court concluded that Popoviciu had “suffered a complete denial” of his fair trial rights as protected by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and that his extradition would consequently represent a “flagrant denial” of his indivdual rights as protected by Article 5 of the European Convention.
Popoviciu was amongst the first to bring Western brands to Romania in the aftermath of Ceausescu’s ouster and the fall of Communism, including the KFC and IKEA franchises. He was part of a small number of individuals who capitalized on the liberation of markets to reinvigorate the ailing national post-command economy.
In 2002, he helped to develop the Baneasa Project, Eastern Europe’s then-largest real-estate development. Dubbed the “jewel in the crown” of the modern Romanian commercial sector, Baneasa attracts 40 million visitors per year and contributes around €230 million to the national economy each year – around 1% of Romania’s GDP. This success, however, turned Popoviciu into a target of Romania’s notoriously corrupt judicial system.
Prior to his conviction, and subsequent 7 year jail sentence, Popoviciu had voluntarily handed himself in to London’s police upon learning thata European Arrest Warrant (EAW) had been issued against him by the Romanian government following the recommendation of Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA).
Urged on by the European institutions in Brussels, the DNA – which was headed at the time by current European Chief Prosecutor Laura Kovesi – carried out more arrests, achieved more asset freezes and more convictions than any of its counterpart agencies across the EU. These actions have, over the years, been lauded by European Union crusaders in Brussels as demonstrative examples of Romania’s ‘successful’ anti-corruption drive. Outside of the Brussels bubble echochamber, the facts on the ground painted a far different picture.
While serving as Romania’s youngest-ever Chief Prosecutor, Kovesi’s tenure was marked by significant concerns emerged about the DNA’s actions, which allegedly involved apparent abuses of power and politically motivated convictions, as well as acts of of intimidation, coercion, and an apparent collusion with the Romanian Intelligence Service – methods that would have been all-to-familiar to Ceausescu’s feared Securitate.
Four years ago, New Europe wrote that the importance of the fight against corruption in Romania cannot be underestimated. It is also of equal importance that those who are leading the fight must be closely scrutinized, as the extensive reach of the DNA’s power and influence means that criticism will rarely come from within the country. As a result, the duty for keeping a watchful eye on Romania’s anti-corruption crusade rests largely upon those EU individuals and groups who continue to heap praise on a process that has obviously overstepped its bounds.