Well today is the Fourth of July, otherwise known as Independence Day in the United States, or, as my friend calls it, “Happy America Day”, which doesn’t mean a whole lot to me here in Romania but it’s still a faint but pleasant reminder of where I came from when someone sends me a message wishing me a happy holiday.
I was hoping for a present of a different sort today, the conviction of Renu Fenechiu, perhaps the most corrupt politician currently in office in Romania. He was in court today awaiting judgement but it was postponed until July 12.
Interviewers from the media asked him before entering the courthouse this morning if he was afraid of the upcoming judgement from the court, to which he replied rather enigmatically, “Only a stupid person wouldn’t be afraid.” It was unclear from the context whether or not he was implying that he wasn’t afraid.
The case in front of the court carries the nickname “The Transformer” Case (all high-profile cases in Romania get a nickname from the media) and has to do with some electrical transformers that various companies all controlled by Fenechiu sold to the local electrical company back in 2002-2003.
What’s alleged is that these transformers were extremely old and rusty (pictures of them can be found here) but were sold at prices as if they were new. In the end, the state (which controls the electric company which bought Fenechiu’s transformers) is claiming damages of 1.5 million euros.
It’s pretty damn obvious that Fenechiu is guilty. For one, he has no paperwork proving the origin of these transformers, which have never been used to date by the electrical company and are, at best, a source of spare parts. Fenechiu bought the transformers from a local gypsy that deals in scrap metal.
Furthermore, other companies controlled by Fenechiu “coincidentally” built luxury villas (palatial houses) for three bosses who worked at the electrical company. It seems pretty clear what happened – Fenechiu somehow got his hands on some transformers that had been sold for scrap. He convinced his buddies at the local electrical company to buy them (with government money) at a hugely inflated price and in turn the bosses at the electrical company got nice new houses to live in.
Again, this all occurred back in 2002-2003 but the case wasn’t even filed with the DNA (national anti-corruption agency) until 2010, some seven years later. And it’s taken another three years for the case to proceed to (hopefully) get a final verdict here on July 12. I don’t know what all the delay has been about but I do know that just this morning six new witnesses who have never previously given testimony were in court doing just that (giving testimony).
It’s another farcical example of Romanian justice that it takes 10 years to prove (or disprove, should Fenechiu somehow escape justice) that the sale of the transformers was a misuse of public funds. And it’s some pretty bizarre and shameful shit that the prosecution had no fewer than six new witnesses (one of which was in charge of procurement for the electrical company back in 2003) on what was thought to be the last day of trial. What the hell kind of cross-examination (if any) was going on today?
On top of all the Transformer Case hullabaloo, Slick Rick Fenechiu has been up to his ears in dirty business for decades. Just browsing through what journalists have uncovered (in other words, I haven’t done any original research myself), it’s abundantly clear that Fenechiu has been the PNL’s bagman in Iasi County for years.
For instance, when Fenechiu was just a lowly member of parliament, he used government funds to open a non-existent office, supposedly to meet with his constituents. Instead of anyone actually working there, the building was rented for parliamentary business on paper only yet some 2.500 euros were spent on renting the place and “staff salaries”.
That’s just a drop in the bucket, of course. Journalists have caught members of his staff illegally pressuring people to vote for Fenechiu. Likewise in another location journalists found staffers stuffing ballot boxes with votes for Fenechiu in 2008.
Fenechiu’s buddy and fellow PNL member Radu Priscaru, the “governor” of Iasi County was arrested in 2006 for accepting bribes to manipulate land deeds and declared at the time that Fenechiu was involved in the business as well. Fenechiu was also investigated by the DNA back in 2008 for the Fortus scandal when a business that was making 190 million euros one year suddenly was bankrupt a year later.
And probably my “favorite” of Fenechiu’s tricks was to get a get a government agency called OCPI in Iasi County to buy a building for 1.5 million euros from Fenechiu’s friend Michel Nseir. It turned out however that the building was in terrible condition and in danger of collapsing and so the government had to spend an extra 3 million euros to renovate and upgrade it to make it serviceable.
And lest we forget, Fenechiu has been the (national) Transportation Minister since December 2012. While in some countries that might be a minor cabinet post, here in Romania the Transportation Ministry controls a massive slice of government spending, over 1 billion euros in this year’s budget alone, more than what the military gets.
And one of Fenechiu’s first moves upon becoming the Transportation Minister was reinstating his buddy and fellow PNL member Cornel Poterasu as the head of Otopeni Airport. He had previously lost his job (in August 2012) when a Japanese exchange student had been kidnapped, raped and then murdered after being picked up at the airport, which caused an international furor.
Besides just allowing this lapse in security, Cornel Poterasu had previously been investigated for a potential conflict of interest in 2009 when somehow, mysteriously the case disappeared.
There’s also a lot of dirty business about the recent privatization of CFR Marfa (freight division), wherein the previous independent manager had refused to sign certain contracts only to have Fenechiu’s man sign them. And then last month, CFR Marfa was “privatized” in a highly controversial move, sold to a billionaire Romanian named Remar Pascani.
Quite frankly if there were more time in the day I could list all of the scandals, vote rigging, shady business deals and cronyism that Fenechiu has alleged to have been involved in but there just isn’t time.
What’s surprising to me and to most commentators is that Fenechiu hasn’t taken the “Felix route”, referring to how Dan Voiculescu (codenamed “Felix” when he was a Securitate informant) keeps on resigning from the senate (he’s done it three times) in order to get a verdict delayed. In Romania if you’re a member of the government, one court has jurisdiction to investigate you but if you resign from your post, the case gets kicked out to another court and thus you effectively get a two or three year delay.
Either Fenechiu knows something that we don’t know and therefore has nothing to worry about or else he truly is a fool as he’s about eight days away from getting put away for a long time (the prosecutors are calling for a 15 year sentence for Fenechiu).
Who knows? Maybe after all these years of being a thief and a crook, his conscience has gotten the best of him and he’s craving some punishment in order to atone for his sins.
Either way, he’s vowed not to resign and Ponta (who’s argued publicly with Fenechiu back in the days before the PSD-PNL alliance) has agreed to keep him on despite the high-profile Transformer Case, which in and of itself is once again doing serious harm to Romania’s MCV interim reports and Romania’s international reputation for transparent and honest governance, which admittedly can’t sink to much lower depths, so we’ll just have to wait and see what ends up happening. The smart money however says Antonescu is going to give a discrete little phone call to Fenechiu this week and tell him to fall on his sword and then this whole mess can get swept under the carpet.