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Over the past few days, I’ve been keeping a sharp eye on Victoria Nuland, the tip of the spear of America’s policy in this region. In her speech at the American Embassy on Monday (still not on the Embassy’s website), Nuland had plenty to say on a number of topics, including the much-lauded DNA (the anti-corruption prosecution unit of the Romanian justice system).
Re-translating back into English from Romanian:
The United States is very impressed by the work that the DNA has performed. We support the anti-corruption prosecutors by both helping them prepare for the task as well as offering technical support.
An unknown journalist named “Dan” then asked Nuland:
The United States has made repeated statements in support of the ongoing effort to combat corruption in Romania. The DNA enjoys strong support from the public but there are also some critics. For example, some [DNA] prosecutors have been criticized for making arrests too soon and being too dependent on the security agencies.
The term “security agencies” refers to the Romanian version of the NSA, primarily the SRI. A lot of DNA prosecutions have been based on wiretaps and recorded phone conversations.
Here’s Nuland’s response to the question:
We support the DNA both by helping them prepare for the task as well as giving technical support.
Twice repeating the exact same phrase that the United States gives “technical support” to the DNA is obviously a sly wink that American tech is being used to wiretap phones and perform other “SigInt” on politicians and big actors in Romania.
One more question from an unknown journalist:
Do you think that [Laura Codruta] Kovesi should be nominated for a second term as chief of the DNA?
And the punchline, from Nuland:
The United States doesn’t tell Romania what its options are. This decision should be made by the Romanian authorities.
This statement from Nuland comes at the same time that Kovesi was given a meaningless award much trumpeted in the Romanian press:
Laura Codruta Kovesi, chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), has been designated ‘European of the Year’ in 2016 by the Reader’s Digest magazine.
First of all, if you go to Readers’ Digest’s website, you won’t see any mention of this award, or of any “European Person of the Year” Award. The reason for that is that each edition of RD is a quasi-separate entity and this “award” is largely a quixotic way to try and boost sales for the flagging publication.
Secondly, the owner of RD Romania is Tarasgo Media Group, first founded in 2013. It now owns all of RD’s back catalog for Romania, Poland and Hungary. So this award has nothing to do with RD (the main one in USA and UK) and is essentially just a shiny trophy to give to Kovesi. So far, so good.
But RD Romania is going to include this New York Times interview with Kovesi (from 2014) in its next issue. Let’s have a little look, shall we?
This calm and self-effacing lady has become the most feared and, for some, the most hated person in Romania,” said Vladimir Tismaneanu, a professor of politics at the University of Maryland who headed a commission set up in Romania to examine crimes committed before the 1989 fall of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Ms. Kovesi, he added, has set off the biggest “political earthquake” to shake Romania since 1989.
Wow, she sure is amazing, eh? Second only to shooting the leader of the country on live television.
But enough joking around. Let’s get to the heart of the matter:
Those caught in Ms. Kovesi’s sights and their allies take a rather different view. They denounce her as a Stalinist and accuse her agency, which is known by its Romanian initials as D.N.A. and relies heavily on wiretaps, of reviving methods used by Mr. Ceausescu’s feared and omnipresent security service, the Securitate.
Ms. Kovesi, in an interview in her office adorned with religious icons, dismissed the allegation as absurd. She said that she and her team of prosecutors “graduated after 1989, so we have no idea what Securitate methods are.” Wiretapping, she added, was “not invented by D.N.A., but is used all over the world” by democratic countries with no history of Communist repression.
I’m hardly one to defend crooks like Dan Voiculescu and Adrian Nastase, both of whom have been caught by Kovesi’s DNA, but her statement above is entirely disingenuous.
First, Kovesi graduated university after 1989. She was in high school during the Communist era, and played on the national junior basketball team that competed abroad, which means she would’ve been well-indoctrinated at that age AND personally subject to extensive security checks.
Secondly, Kovesi’s father was a powerful state prosecutor from 1980 to 2010, so he damned well sure was taking advantage of Communist-era spying and wiretapping.
Third, Kovesi is now divorced (as of 2007) but her ex-husband was an informant for the SRI and clearly took part in this wiretapping/spying Securitate apparatus of the Romanian state. And, although the two are divorced now, Laura Kovesi took the unusual step of keeping her ex-husband’s Hungarian name as a condition of her agreeing to the divorce.
Back to the NYT’s hagiography of Kovesi:
The author of many articles on arcane legal issues and a recipient of commendations from the United States, Ms. Kovesi keeps a wall around her personal political views, avoiding the emotional hyperbole that often dominates public discourse in Romania in favor of clipped legalese.
She might keep “a wall around” her political views in public, but not when she’s down at the American embassy being a snitch, as we’ll see in a moment.
Let’s take a moment to review the brief but amazingly stellar career of Laura Codruta Kovesi:
She graduated in 1995 with a law degree from Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj. After graduation, she was hired on as a prosecutor for the court in Sibiu. She was soon promoted to being the head of DIICOT (organized crime and corruption) prosecutions for the court in Sibiu. During her time as a DIICOT prosecutor, she clearly pissed off two of her colleagues, Ciprian Nastasiu and Angela Ciurea (link in Romanian), who have made a number of accusations against Kovesi that she overlooked cases involving the energy sector (Kovesi’s brother is a bigwig at TransGaz), and that she was rated tenth out of 16 prosecutors in the area in terms of successful prosecutions.
In 2002, Laura married Eduard Kovesi, who was the director of RDS&RCS Sibiu, one of the country’s largest providers of telephone and cable television services. Eduard Kovesi was still apparently an SRI informant at this point.
In 2006, Laura got a job as the chief prosecutor for the ICCJ, effectively Romania’s Supreme Court. Woah. The only way to get this job is by direct appointment from the President of the country, Traian Basescu. So what made Basescu pick this relatively young women (age 33 at the time) with only limited experience to be the “Attorney General” of Romania?
From here (in Romanian):
Kovesi was picked to become the Chief Prosecutor by Vasile Blaga, leader of the PDL [Basescu’s party]. Blaga is close friends with Kovesi’s father.
Not only that, but:
Kovesi also got support from PDL leader Emil Boc, who also backed the nomination of Kovesi for the job. Emil Boc spent a year in the same law faculty as Kovesi at Babes-Bolyai University.
Mind you, this is the same Emil Boc who once wrote a praise poem to Ceausescu back when he [Boc] was the local Communist Party student leader in Cluj. I’ve met Boc a few times and he’s a charming guy but he still plays Romanian politics in the old Communist style.
Kovesi’s term as chief prosecutor lasted for three years so in 2009 Basescu recommended that she be given a second mandate. The CSM (see below) issued a statement opposing her nomination but Basescu went ahead and re-confirmed her as the Chief Prosecutor.
One of Kovesi’s jobs as Chief Prosecutor was choosing the head of the DNA (the anti-corruption agency she now runs). Her – and Basescu/American Embassy’s – pick was Daniel Morar. He first became the DNA chief in 2005 (before Kovesi’s promotion) but the “problem” was that his term in office was only three years, by law. Therefore, in 2008 the issue became what to do to keep Morar in office. America LOVED Morar, and so when his term ran out, Kovesi used a number of legal tricks (in Romanian) to extend his time in office. Again, the CSM voted against extending Morar’s time in office, but Kovesi (with Basescu’s support) got him reinstated.
Somehow Morar managed to remain the head of the DNA for eight years (in violation of two 3-year terms as dictated by law) until March 2013, when he was nominated by Basescu to become a justice of the Constitutional Court, the position Morar currently holds. Among his many faults, Morar cost the Romanian taxpayers 1.4 billion (old) lei as described in my post Incompetence on Every Level.
Note about the Romanian justice system: Both judges and prosecutors are considered “magistrates”, and their governing body is the CSM (Supreme Council of Magistrates). The CSM have a particular reason to loathe Kovesi (explained below) but legally represent the opinion of the senior judges and prosecutors in the country. It’s telling that they continually opposed the reign of Morar/Kovesi. The ICCJ is effectively the “Supreme Court” of Romania but the Constitutional Court is the highest court in the land and can overrule the ICCJ.
As Morar went off to become a judge on the highest court in the land, Kovesi became the DNA prosecutor in 2013. Her first three-year term is about to expire, and now everyone is going crazy in Romania about whether or not she’ll be re-appointed to a second term, hence the heavy push from Nuland this week, plus “prestigious” awards from the likes of Readers’ Digest. I fully expect to see more positive write-ups in the USA-friendly press in the coming weeks.
On one hand, it’s obvious that the American Embassy loves Kovesi, as do the EU’s CVM people, but a lot of Romanians are rightly suspicious that she isn’t as clean as she appears to be. Also, lots of powerful Romanians are (rightfully) afraid that they’ll be the next person to get prosecuted by her increasingly all-powerful DNA wiretapping/spying apparatus. The issue is complicated, as this journalist accurately summarized (in Romanian), so it remains quite uncertain whether Kovesi will get to keep her job as head of the DNA.
Meanwhile, back in 2011, Kovesi realized that it was kind of embarrassing to be the Chief Prosecutor for a country without having a doctorate degree. After submitting her thesis “Using Penal Law to Combat Organized Crime” to the University of Timisoara, with a preface from George Maior (head of the SRI), she got her doctorate. The only problem is that it looks like she plagiarized (in Romanian) big parts of her thesis.
Luckily for Kovesi, the special Ethics Committe of the Education Ministry ruled (in Romanian) that Kovesi had NOT plagiarized her text. Some unknown sycophant on Kovesi’s Romanian Wikipedia page writes that the accusations of plagiarism are “easy to prove” as falsehoods, but I disagree. The case that she plagiarized looks pretty strong to me. As for the Ethics Committee, just a year later they would famously clear Ponta of plagiarizing in probably the stupidest and most obviously corrupt decision of their existence.
Kovesi may not be loyal to any party (the DNA under Kovesi’s watch prosecuted Basescu’s brother, among others) but she’s a solid friend to the United States Embassy. If Nuland’s pointed comments this week didn’t otherwise prove it, a number of Wikileaks cables reveal it in greater detail.
From March 2009:
The mid-February interim European Commission monitoring report provided little comfort to Romanians expecting the EU to quickly lift the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism.
Mind you, that was 2009! The CVM is still very much in place, and there is little hope that Romania will be declared to have a fair and transparent judicial system by the EU anytime soon.
Other reports receiving press play included the near-simultaneous release of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA)’s annual report and the State Department Human Rights Report for Romania, which continued to note the shortcomings of Romania’s justice sector. The DNA report elicited unexpected comments from Prosecutor General Laura Kovesi, who criticized her erstwhile ally, DNA Chief Prosecutor Daniel Morar, for the low productivity of DNA prosecutors. Kovesi subsequently apologized for her comments.
Nice. Kovesi “unexpectedly” dared to criticize the Embassy’s pick for DNA chief and then had to retract her comments.
Our pick-up team of justice sector reformers is fraught with bad chemistry; many simply do not play well together. Morar’s survival is due to the courage of Prosecutor General Kovesi who defied Predoiu to extended Morar’s appointment twice on a temporary basis. Kovesi herself will face a battle to renew her mandate later this year.
The big issue in 2009 was a complete overhaul of several sections of law in Romania. The issue is too complex to get into here, but you can see from this cable that Kovesi and Morar (plus various individuals allied with Monica Macovei) were part of the American government’s “pick-up team” (a basketball term) of justice “reformers”.
Essentially, in 1996, a law was passed to give magistrates (prosecutors and judges) a huge increase in their salaries, which included a gigantic “stress” bonus because of how difficult their jobs are (seriously). In 2000, the Justice Minister (Rodica-Mihaela Stanoiu) issued an executive order to cap these bonuses by including their benefits (including the “stress bonus”) in their regular pay. A bunch of magistrates resisted, suing the government to get their bonus money.
In 2008, Kovesi got the issue brought in front of the ICCJ but the ICCJ judges, who themselves were part of the lawsuit to get their money, unsurprisingly ruled that the 2000 ruling was invalid. Basescu then intervened and got the case brought in front of the Constitutional Court (the highest one in the land), which ruled in 2009 that magistrates should be denied the bonuses due to the 2000 amendment.
So what did the vaunted Romanian judicial system do? Simple. They began to steal money from their budgets to pay themselves. The Justice Minister (Predoiu) then openly criticized the magistrates, who went on strike. Everyone began suing everybody and the case wound up in front of the ICCJ, which again, was composed of judges who are litigants in the self-same case! Kovesi said the bonuses were illegal and ordered the magistrates to quit striking, but they ignored her. Ever since then, the CSM has been incredibly hostile to Kovesi (and her protegee Morar) and the justice system is more fucked up than ever.
In 2002, one of the key ICCJ judges who was in favor of the bonuses, was involved in a DNA case involving influence trafficking, and Kovesi has gotten her revenge against other recalcitrant magistrates as well.
As I’ve said about a billion times, even before I myself got personally caught up in the shit swamp that is the Romanian “judicial” system, the entire thing is rotten from top to bottom. With literally millions of cases backlogged, justices regularly being bribed (and openly asking for bribes), zero access to the court records of any prosecution (even the DNA doesn’t publish those), lawyers, prosecutors and judges who are ignorant of the laws, and almost no accountability anywhere to anyone, it is impossible for a person to find something akin to real justice in Romania.
From what I can tell, Kovesi is less sleazy than most, but I wrote this article in a futile effort to oppose her ongoing beatification by the United States and the openly maleficent Victoria Nuland. Romania isn’t 1920s America and Laura Kovesi is not Eliot Ness. The only hope for the Romanian justice system is to tear the entire thing down and rebuild it from scratch, with complete transparency and openness on every level.