By Nick Kochan
The 250,000 protesters on the streets of Bucharest yesterday will not welcome it, but Romania’s new government are to be congratulated for reversing what has become a national obsession with corruption.
The announcement that they are planning to decriminalise some forms of official misconduct, pardon some 3,000 people convicted of minor acts of graft –the legal measure covers those who stole less than $50,000 from the state – and release them from jail not only frees up the prisons but sounds a warning to its over-zealous National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA).
Some of course will expect the decriminalisation measure to be abused by politicians facing corruption charges of their own. But this would be a highly visible abuse of power that would be self-defeating. In fact, the measure allows the recently elected government to revise its approach to probity in public office, under an international spotlight.
Romania’s newly appointed prime minister, Sorin Grindeanu, of the Social Democratic party is well placed to adopt a more radical approach to dealing with public and business practice by allowing the marketplace to raise standards of ethics and governance rather than a heavy handed state prosecutor. International companies – many bruised by widespread corruption in the country – will freeze out Romanian companies and government officials who fail to play by the proper rules.
The EU is not best pleased by the decision to pardon some people with corruption convictions. An official from the European Commission claimed that the new measure “could affect the legal framework for corruption and the results of the fight against corruption”. It has warned the government against backtracking on its much-vaunted drive against graft.
This has, by some standards, had remarkable results. In 2015, 1,250 people were indicted by the DNA. Targets of the agency included a Prime Minister, five ministers and 21 parliamentarians. The validity of many of these convictions has, however, raised question-marks about the processes used to obtain a rate of convictions that is among the world’s highest. Some 92 per cent of cases brought by the DNA end in convictions.
The EU’s recently published Co-ordination and Verification Mechanism, which assesses the state of the country’s judicial and political institutions, pinpointed problems with the independence of the judiciary. The EU’s monitor said it was keeping Romania’s anti-corruption institutions under scrutiny for a further review at the end of the year.
In addition to a compromised judiciary, the extent of cooperation between the DNA, and the Romanian Secret Service is another concern of international bodies.
A recently published report entitled, ‘Fighting corruption with con tricks: Romania’s assault on the rule of law’ issued by the authoritative London-based Henry Jackson Society, noted that, ‘The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), the successor to the feared communist-era Securitate, plays a significant and largely undisclosed role in directing anti-corruption prosecutions.
It carries out 20,000 telephone intercepts on behalf of the DNA every year, initiates DNA investigations and, in its own words, regards the judicial system as a “tactical field” of operations.‘
The real beneficiary of a liberalised approach to graft and inefficiency are the many corporations, untouched by corruption, who are in legal fights with Romania’s government over state contracts and privatization deals. In many instances, lack of transparency in negotiations and corruption have brought the Romanian government and the private company into head-to-head disputes.
The furore surrounding the country’s largest energy producer, KMGI, the Kazakh energy producer is a case in point. This company saw most its assets frozen in 2016, just days after announcing a deal with a Chinese company. Corruption charges inevitably followed the freezing of the assets as the Romanian government moved against former politicians allegedly involved in deals that took place long before the Kazakh company was active in Romania.
Other large international companies inadvertently caught up in Romania’s corruption drive include CEZ, ENEL, E.on and Raiffeissen Bank. All have taken the country to international arbitration disputes. The Romanian government appears to relish contesting and losing battles with some of the largest investors.
International investors are looking for the new Romanian government to adopt more systemic and radical measures to improve the quality of ethics and practice around state procurement and party funding. What few doubt is that the practice of the international market will have a much greater impact on local professionalism and ethics than a heavy handed and questionable local prosecutor. That will show to the market that Romania is serious in dealing with a reputation for corruption that damages its appeal to business and the international community.
Nick Kochan is a UK based writer and journalist and his work may be seen at www.kochan.co.uk. Kochan is writing a book a book on the politics of oil and development
13 minutes ago
It's a bold assertion, made without explanation, that the market will police corruption, when examples to the contrary are legion. Including in Romanian business.
2 hours ago
I am deeply saddened and worried to have seen this opinion piece published on you website. I refer you to @Mona Dirtu's comments below as to the factual inaccuracies and journalistic faux pas that are prevalent in this article. I would like to believe this is not the FT's new standard, and would encourage your team to research the situation in Romania and take a view as to whether you (and by you I am referring to the FT's journalists) believe this article should indeed be available on your website for it to be read globally by readers that probably believe what they read on your website given your usual credibility.
2 hours ago
FT - this article is beneath you.
5 hours ago
Some weird things happening in the comments section for this article...Around lunch time, there was a comment from someone from the FT mentioning that they would delete all comments which are ad hominem attacks (in my opinion, all the comments below are more than legitimate and factual, especially when compared to the piece above). Some minutes later this was deleted after which the commentary section was blocked for some time. Also when you go on the first page of the FT and use the search term 'Romania' you will not see this article.
I am a full supporter of the freedom of speech and I understand that the piece is an opinion article, however some of the facts presented are completely wrong (please see @Mona Dirtu and @Sergiu comments below).
6 hours ago
Spin doctor here, but not even a good one. Must be laughing all the way to the bank on this particular occasion, but judging by the poor style of writing, it is not excluded that Mr. Kochan had to buy his past book stock himself.
Disappointing editorial decision from the FT, publishing paid content without full scrutiny and disclosure of the author's interests and affiliation.
8 hours ago
Mr. Kochan, you must be miss informed. Have you really read the decision of the Constitutional Court? And have you really read the Government Ordinance? Let me help you understand because you must be mislead, I am sure about your good intentions.
CCR has only asked for a clarification of an article, not the changes the Government has imposed. Under the new low, no low making authority can ever be accused of abuse. And all other public clerk is absolved of abuse if it is a prejudice below 45000 EUR.
Would you like it in your country?
8 hours ago
Financial Times, as a Romanian subscriber, I believe this article is beneath you and affects your credibility. This person has no idea what he is talking about. The facts are incomplete, incorrect, and not impartial, which is why I believe this article should be taken down.
Virgo One Plus
10 hours ago
Kochan, you don't have a clue of the real meaning of politics in Romania but I don't blame you since this is exactly what the Government want us to think. I take a second to help you get rid of this naiveté.
This is not the time to stop the fight against corruption here and give a strong hand to those who want to stop it, pull Romania outside the EU along with Poland, Hungary and The Baltic States. The current Government is supported by a populist and dishonest party made up mostly by old times, former communists and secret police members, and now their offsprings, who cannot any longer steal the assets of the country (since EU is watching) and would like to bring the Russian style illiberal democracy here, so they could appropriate more without any right, but simply because cronyism, nepotism and bribery are allowed in such weird democracies but profoundly unjust democracies. Thank you, but definitely NO!
10 hours ago
Hello from Romania,
I came across your analysis as it is used by a known corruption-partisan media trust in Romania.
I have a few remarks to make on your analysis:
The ones escaping are not only the minor graft offenders.
The biggest one is Liviu Dragnea the leader of the Socialist party. Who, coincidentally is also the one who selected the members of the Government and who is in the following situation:
. 1. he was prevented to take the position of Prime Minister because he is convicted of vote-fraud during previous elections. He got a suspended 2 years sentence for it.
The pardon will reduce to 0 the number of years on his suspended sentence.
. 2. he is in trial now and the Government order effectively cancels the corruption charge he is facing because, surprise, it falls under the 45000 Euro limit. The only charge that remains on file is intellectual fraud :)
. 3. if he was to be convicted a second time, he would have to do time in jail and the conviction years would be added. But considering arguments 1.and 2. : it would be 0 years for 1. and no years for intellectual fraud (if he looses the trial). So , he basically walks away "clean".
Others are major politicians, people with great influence in their cities that are already : mayors, city councilmen, politicians that are also media moguls etc. I cannot give you English sources for this information but maybe you'll find a way to translate these:
You obviously missed making an analysis on corruption in Romania :) Maybe you only looked on reports and figures, but even those should make it obvious how large the problem is.
Let me put it this way, before DNA you had the following:
. all mayors are elected, but only those with party support ran for office. So you had a limited choice of all-corrupt officials. This meant:
. contracts on construction where obtained via bribes => see the state of roads in Romania, the plumbing, everything built on European funds was siphoned to the companies bribing the officials.
. bribery endemic in the local official offices : you get access ONLY if you pay OR wait days in line :)
. local information infrastructure was again built and designed by companies with the right amount of influence on the mayor and councilmen.
. hospitals lack funds and their mangers are politicians or named by politicians and ALWAYS supported the political party of the manager because that is what they had to do to get funds allocated. That meant hospitals are now run-down, people are dying of diseases that they did not have when entering the hospitals.
. road infrastructure contracts are attributed to companies of 1 or 2 employees who then subcontract the jobs. The subcontracted companies now run the habbit of overestimating their costs because they ALWAYS get cheated on the last tranche. The reason is they are rarely able to successfully sue their employers because they cannot afford the law-suit costs, time and, if loosing, they run the risk of covering the entire trial costs.
. Everything worked on bribes OR they refused to work either at all or did their job so poorly you regretted going there. These where the:
. Road Police
. Theft police
. Customs Officials
. City Officials
. People died, people were robbed, there was no confidence in anyone you had not payed yourself. Cases where people died in hospitals ignored by nurses and doctors where appearing all over the place, cases where you could be robbed and then robbed again when you went to trial because they guy had payed the judge.
. What I mean that corruption in Romania has penetrated ALL levels of the state apparatus and the DNA is the only one that ever did anything to challenge it.
3. please explain redefinition of the abuse of power that introduced the limit of 45000 Euros below which there is NO such crime. How was this figure calculated ??
4. your article by itself cannot justify your use of the term over-zealous for the DNA. Please provide how you measured that it's not simply an institution doing its job in a country where the corrupted have immense power and are doing everything they can to stop it.
Below are the links to the Government documents.
Link to official document:
The actual changes done by the Government, in a compare view ) :
10 hours ago
Dear Financial Times,
Your guest writer’s article includes:
- FACTUAL ERRORS, both small and serious (250,000 protesters in Bucharest instead of 120,000; “they are planning to decriminalise” instead of “they approved the decriminalisation”);
- LACK OF RELEVANT CONTEXT: the Constitution doesn’t allow the Government to change the penal law, as it did (only the Parliament can do this);
- SPIN (“minor acts of graft”; what does “minor” even mean, when we’re talking about being allowed under the law, as a public official, to prejudice the state budget up to $50,000?);
- HALF TRUTHS (“an official from the European Commission claimed that the new measure ‘could affect the legal framework for corruption and the results of the fight against corruption’”, instead of “the EU has warned Romania against ‘backtracking’ in its efforts against corruption after Bucharest decriminalised some offences”, according to BBC (Jean-Claude Juncker himself said that, not “an official from the EU”)
- “ALTERNATIVE FACTS” (“in fact, the measure allows the recently elected government to revise its approach to probity in public office, under an international spotlight” - here, in Romania, we never heard of the “international spotlight” on the probity in public office).
And there are many more - mixing truths and lies, misinterpretation of a EU report on Romania etc., ignoring that the open conflict between the judiciary and the executive power is now officially on the Constitutional Court’s table.
If you value for your credibility, be careful. This article harms it. It’s not about someone having a different opinion, it’s about someone twisting the facts to fit a certain narrative.
10 hours ago
clearly free speech means nothing for the so called commentators here, the writer raises valid points, and many Romanians agree with that view. It's ridiculous to defend the security services' cooperation with the anti-corruption people, which is a reminder of 1950s Soviet Communist Romanian rule when political opression sent lots of people to prison to get reeducated and such.
Virgo One Plus
10 hours ago
@don_f Not so many Romanians agree with him. It is not about defending the Secret Service cooperation with the Prosecution Office jailing innocent people for their ideology back in 1950's but putting behind bars those who have been stealing the resources and assets of the second poorest country of EU for 27 years now. Those thieves are reach now, some in jail, some about to get in, and do their best to influence the politics of the country, so they could get away with it and more in the future. What are you talking about?
7 hours ago
@Virgo One Plus Excellently put, Virgo One Plus. A shame to see such an article making it into FT.
12 hours ago
Mr. Kochan neglects the important and highly relevant point that these new ammendments to Romanian graft laws were passed by government without proper public debate and in total secrecy. This undemocratic approach to legislating warrants protesting irrespective of one's views on the adequacy of these new ammendments. In any case, the manor in which in this author makes his case is obviously partisan and onesided as he tells only one side of the story.
13 hours ago
This article has clearly been paid for, and has been badly written by someone of absolutely no understanding of Romania nor the reasons behind these protests.
What is however even of more concern, is that the writer actively supports corruption at the highest level - a moral value that any normal human being can never entertain.
I suggest to the FT Editor - to not only withdraw this despicable article, but to issue an apology to the Romanian people, who are protesting against corruption in their country.
13 hours ago
Non-fact based article full of assumptions and partisan views quoted from Romanian party speeches...this nobody is getting paid to muddy the waters, just ignore him
13 hours ago
Is this Financial Times? Did someone hack your website?
13 hours ago
@bb it's just a guest writer, not the Financial Times
15 hours ago
I really, really hope this is a joke. Please rephrase your article. Or come here now, in RomNia and talk to people. please understand that antena3
20 hours ago
Here is the list of Romanian politicians who will benefit (read charges will be dropped) from the order.
Alina Bica, Elena Udrea, Gabriel Oprea, Ioana Băsescu, Tiberiu Niţu, Titus Corlăţean, Marian Vanghelie, Radu Mazăre, Nicuşor Constantinescu, Dan Şova, Aristotel Cănescu, Sorin Oprescu, Eugen Bejinariu, Ioan Adam and Mr. Liviu Dragnea - the head of the ruling party.
21 hours ago
Reads like a paid article of support of the executive order to desincriminate public sector fraud up to 45k. FT - use your common sense. A crime is a crime.
Romanian student abroad
23 hours ago
FT? Really? What is this?!
13 hours ago
@Romanian student abroad This is just a guest writer (someone probably paid for this article to appear here), not the opinion of a Financial Times editor
11 hours ago
That's not an excuse. It's hosted on the FT website and the FT has a duty to vet guest writers' pieces and check for conflicts of interest.
11 hours ago
@Spectator Actually you are right :(
Romanian student abroad
23 hours ago
What makes a UK based writer who is writing a book on the politics of oil and development, an expert in Romania's fight against corruption? Not to mention his dubious cited website is not working. Apart from his at least suspicious background, the point he is trying to make is false. No matter how you try to put it, a crime is a crime and you have to face the legal consequences, end of story. Nevertheless, the government decree is not targeting DNA's methods, but it's trying specifically to help and set free already convicted politicians, which, no matter how you try to put it can't be acceptable in a democracy based on the rule of law.
FT, you are a well respected publication, please stand up to your reputation and check this post and the author's doubtful background and erase this miserable article.
Slow but steady
1 day ago
who is that joker? he is telling us that corruption is good??? It has just been reported live on Romanian TV (Antena 3) that a "Financial Times" journalist endorses the "de-penalisation" of corruption. (Antena 3 is a PSD TV station...). FT, do you really want to be associated with this?
2 days ago
You do raise a valid point about DNA, I will give you that. There are concerns in the country about the righteousness of some of their investigations and I guess at times they can be regarded as 'over-zealous'. However, I fail to see how making it legal to steal 49000 euros (which given the average income in Romania is a significant amount) will have the effect of making DNA and judiciary system as a whole more righteous. As it has been mentioned below a lot of your points are theoretical and are out of touch with the reality in Romania. Highly visible acts of corruption have never been a problem for romanian politicians, you underestimate the thickness of their skin.
2 days ago
is this article a joke ?
2 days ago
The author has obviously not spent 30 years of post-communist transition to an ever elusive democracy, although one must wonder: might he not be quite at home and thriving there? His argument is wishful thinking at best, not a compelling one for sacrifice generations upon sacrifice generations. Social dems pushing for the infamous judicial reform have no interest in the international market and its chastising hand.
2 days ago
I expected more from the FT in screening its guest writers. As a law professional in Romania I can assure you that the new government is only trying to decriminalize for the party's (PSD) own benefit, as now it controls most of the country's counties and local administrations. The impressive number of DNA files and convictions in Romania are not a sign of an excessive judicial system and laws, but of a terribly corrupt system, as (almost) all Romanians are aware of.
I note Mr. Kochan is not just a writer, but also a consultant (according to his website). He penned several op-eds warning against Romania's "anti-corruption zeal" and aiming to delegitimise the anti-corruption drive (which is ironic given the fact that this has long been known as one of Europe's most corrupt countries - if anything, it had been praised for getting its act together through DNA's efforts to dismantle entrenched corruption..). I also note that in previous posts Mr. Kochan was quick to praise the Social-Democratic party and welcome the newly elected gov't as "a new opportunity".
An opportunity it may well be, but mostly to line this consultant's pockets. Mr. Kochan, it's OK to be paid to present "alternative facts" - as long as you publish a full disclaimer regarding your allegiance and conflict of interests.
I expect FT editors to uphold the paper's "without fear or favour" publishing standards, carefully screen guest writers' background and filter out self-serving pieces.
2 days ago
So, according to the author, it is all right for a public official to steal 45 000 euros, as long as it is not 50 000 euros. What does he tell his children? It's ok, you can steal half of the other kid's chocolate as long as you don't steal the whole bar ? Or maybe this is what his parents taught him.
peromaneste: S-au prins si ceilalti din Romania cum se lucreaza (cu) mass media. Ce folos? Unii si distribuitorii lor voluntari lucreaza pentru fara de numar.