If you’ve been exposed to Romanian media even a little during the past week then I know that you’ve heard about Mihail Boldea. If not, here’s a brief summary in English. On the face of it, there’s not much for me to add and I’m not running a news service here so ordinarily I wouldn’t even do much more than briefly mention it, if I said anything at all. But I realized that you cannot truly understand Romania until you look at this case and understand what’s actually going on.
To begin with, the man was arrested only yesterday and his trial and (possible) conviction are a long way off. Therefore everything that follows is just a summary of what’s been reported and may be true or may be wildly wrong or may be somewhere in the middle. I certainly have no inside information whatsoever.
A few years ago, Mihail Boldea was a lawyer in the city of Galati. Somewhere along the lines, he started learning that a lawyer has great power over certain kinds of documents, and that with these documents a great deal of money can be made. Again, this is all “allegedly” stuff but apparently he learned how to falsify documents involving property records, which allowed him to profit in a number of ways, including bribes as well as acquiring land and property cheaply which he could then sell.
Using these profits, as well as a close working relationship with some politicians and other big wigs in Galati, Boldea decided to join the PDL party. Perhaps through straight cash donations to the party or a combination of influence and money, the Galati wing of the PDL party bumps him up in the lists and pretty soon he is elected as a sitting member of the (national) House of Representatives.
Then last week along comes some prosecutors from a couple of national offices, particularly DIICOT (organized crime + terrorism) who want to formally file charges against Boldea, mostly about the legal fraud and then the resulting problem (money laundering, which is what you always have to do when you make too much money illegally). The “problem” is that as a sitting member of parliament he has immunity to most criminal charges. Therefore the parliament has a quick little debate (along with plenty of grandstanding by Victor Ponta) and votes to strip Boldea of his immunity. The prosecutors move in to serve their warrants and hopa, where did Boldea go?
Turns out he got the hell out of Romania, driving off in his expensive car to Turkey. This ignites a media firestorm as literally everyone and their brother starts asking how he escaped and whose fault it is. Apparently nobody thought to get an injunction against him and so he crossed the border legally. You should resign and quit your job in disgrace! No, you should resign and quit your job in disgrace! Even Mark “My Dog Gets Lonely” Gitenstein weighed in with lots of stern lecturing on the subject. But despite all the bickering and screaming, Boldea is gone.
DIICOT troops surround Boldea’s house and swarm inside to seize all of his pirate treasure. The most hilarious image of the week was watching a porky DIICOT cop wearing a bulletproof vest climb over the fence of Boldea’s house with extreme difficulty. They know nobody’s home and yet they’re wearing all their gear for the cameras to look tough and cool. Too hilarious. Meanwhile a couple of laptops are seized and not much else.
Boldea’s brother and father and everyone he’s ever known is questioned. Where did he go? Where could he go? For God’s sakes, he’s not even that old and he doesn’t speak English that well. Where can a fugitive Romanian even go to? Reports are that he made it to Istanbul in Turkey. Where is he going? Middle East? America? Asia? No, turns out he’s in Africa. He’s in the Congo! He is inside the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to vicious and bloody warfare and not much rule of law. The little white boy from Galati is now free!
Except of course he didn’t go to the Congo, that was all a rumor that got blown up into a massive frenzy in the media. Turns out he actually went to Kenya, a far better place. But what’s he doing down there? Nobody knows. Someone convinces Boldea to go to the Romanian consulate in Nairobi. On the phone are some Romanian officials who tell him (and this is my favorite part), “Hey you better come home to Romania or else you’re going to get arrested in Kenya and be locked up in some shitty African jail with a bunch of black people for a while.”
Frightened to death of jail in stinking Africa, he allows himself to be escorted first to Amsterdam and then on a connecting flight directly to Bucharest. His police van is then tailed by two RTV guys on a motorcycle who follow the vehicle literally 1 meter away the entire time while simultaneously broadcasting live footage of the “follow”. One guy on the motorcycle was driving but the second guy not only had the huge camera (I saw it on another network’s shot) but he had this dangerous backpack portable broadcast equipment on him, which puts out an alarming amount of radiation. Nonetheless, it’s Princess Diana style paparazzi time! Driver of the police van swerves and accelerates rapidly, so do the RTV motorcycle and other media cars. Live footage of the streets of Bucharest from Otopeni to the courthouse doors on your TV screen.
Everyone gets interviewed! Fellow passengers who flew on the Amsterdam-Bucharest flight, members of the Boldea family, people who once knew them, people who were in Nairobi asking him what he was going to do. Boldea gets whisked into court where we are treated to live footage of the outside door of the courthouse. Yes! Sources say, sources say. Sources say Boldea’s exhausted from his fugitive run. Can he please have some more time? Yes he can! Sources say Boldea cried in front of the judge. Poor little guy, he spent 3 days outside of Romania, get him some mamaliga right away! But after the dickering and negotiating, the papers are stamped, Boldea remains locked up and the slow, cumbersome wheels of Romania justice begin to grind their way towards their final destination, whatever that is.
And that right there is the case in summation. In the last few months, there has been a tidal wave of arrests, cases and all kinds of seeming crackdowns against corruption against politicians and former politicians. Hell, even the former Prime Minister just got convicted not too long ago. Boldea is one of the “little fish” as all signs point to the fact that the “bigger fish” in this situation is Mircea Toader, another PDL politician from Galati and alleged fraudster who is old friends with President Basescu. Reading between the lines, it looks like Boldea was just Toader’s protege and that Toader “showed him the ropes” on how the game is played. But for now, Toader has no legal problems and Boldea is locked up in jail.
The “problem” with corruption cases, much like lustration or “de-nazification” or even South Africa’s post-apartheid cases is that when one style of governance is prevalent, everyone in power is guilty. That is to say, literally everyone currently a “big cheese” or power player in Romanian politics is guilty of some kind of corruption, either directly or indirectly. The senior editor of Adevarul wrote an excellent article (in Romanian) talking about how all of the major political parties are organized on a “graft” system, in which the more money you kick up to the party, the higher on the electoral lists you rise. This is exactly how mafias work as well, by the way, and it does nothing but ensure more corruption and criminal activity.
Therefore the question becomes where do you draw the line between “the kind of corruption we accept” and “the kind of corruption that requires criminal prosecution”? When Boldea was still running around free in Africa, he was making noises that he would bring down Toader and the lovely Roberta Anastase with him if he came back to Romania and was going to be prosecuted. But Boldea is the “little fish” and it’s pretty obvious why he got thrown on the chopping block. But exactly how do you draw those lines? If you threw out every politician with illegal dealings somewhere in their career the only person left on the floor of the parliament would be the janitor. And even he once stole some toilet paper from work :P
Right now Romania is caught in a vise. On one hand, Daddy Mark and Our Great Father in Washington as well as the Wise Old Elves in the European Union want to see some corruption arrests and convictions. It looks good in the newspapers and it helps smooth the way for some long-term objectives like accession to the Schengen zone. On the other hand, the political party system in Romania is organized specifically so that the wealthy fraudsters and criminals rise to dominate positions and survive specifically on kickbacks and influence peddling.
I mean last year I watched with my own eyes the Lord of Cluj, the mayor himself, sit there and brag to a bunch of foreigners that he could charge any fees or set taxes at any levels that he saw fit on a case-by-case basis. Of course this was a stupid move as he should’ve realized that almost no one in the room was a Romanian and so we just found his remarks offensive and even ominous instead of receiving them as Romanians would, that he was signaling his power and influence over us and that the “unspoken hint” is that we would have to join in his system of kickbacks in order to get business done in this city. And Cluj is no tiny little village here! This is a major city in the country with a mayor belonging to the (then) dominant party.
But of course Apostu (the mayor) is behind bars now too. I think it’s more due to the fact that he was stupid (as is his current replacement, who has difficulty even speaking coherently) than his being a “little fish”. If you truly want to rise high in the mafia you’ve got to have a little cunning and smarts mixed in with your colossal greed. But Apostu did what Romanians are supposed to do, which is when a bigger fish than you tells you to bend your neck and submit, you do it. Apostu wrote a sad little pathetic letter (by hand) and apologized for being a worthless worm. So have dozens of other politicians around the country who got on the wrong side of the political need to have some arrests and convictions for corruption.
What sets Boldea apart is that, for a couple of days, he didn’t submit. He got in his car and he fled the country (legally! LOL) and it was only the the fact that all Romanians become unbearably homesick when outside the country combined with the threat of spending time in an African jail where they never ever serve mici that he came back home and did what he was supposed to, which is meekly take your punishment and cry and apologize.
But at the end of the day, nothing has really changed. Some other criminal in Galati is right now whispering in certain people’s ears about rising up in the party and taking Boldea’s place. And the circus will go on, as it always does.