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Ever since Victoria Nuland decided to discuss the re-instatement of Laura Codruta Kovesi as head of the DNA (the National Anti-Corruption Directorate) last week, I started asking myself, “What do we really know about this agency?”.
The short answer is: not a whole hell of a lot.
Everyone (who hates corruption that is) is cheered on by the DNA’s impressive statistics. After a lackluster performance between 2003 (when it was founded) and 2008, with just 1500 cases sent to court, the DNA took off like a rocket, first under Daniel Morar (2008-2013) and now Laura Codruta Kovesi (2013-present), racking up about 1500 cases per year now.
The DNA has secured an impressive number of convictions, including one Prime Minister (Adrian “Fake Suicide” Nastase), cabinet ministers, members of parliament, mayors, and thousands of low-level politicians and government functionaries. But how exactly do they do this?
I decided to take a look, starting with their official website, which is PNA.RO not DNA.RO because the original title of the organization was the National Prosecution Office (PNA in Romanian).
Aside from a few “helpful” menus in both Romanian and English, things get murky very quickly. There are annual reports, which resemble crappy PowerPoint slides made in about five minutes, with lists of numbers of convictions, charges, etc, but some of these files are either missing or full of computer symbols when you download them. Sometimes, when you click on a link from the main website, you also get weird database errors. About all you can easily find is a compilation of each year’s statistics with no details (names, sentences, etc).
A Truly Thankless Task
So who works at the DNA? We know Kovesi is the chief prosecutor, but other than her two deputy chief prosecutors (Nistor Calin and Marius Constantin Iacob), you don’t learn much when you click on the relevant link. Trying to find out who the other prosecutors are is virtually impossible, especially as there are about 120 of them in total. To find out that information, you’ve got to worm your way through a number of off-site links to find the personal declarations of what they own and their potential conflicts of interest.
Out of curiosity, I downloaded Kovesi’s last two statements and saw that she owns zero houses and one tiny apartment (smaller than my last one in Cluj!) with just two rooms (bathrooms don’t count, so this probably means a bedroom and kitchen/living room) in Bucharest. She owns just one car, a Skoda Octavia, worth about 15,000 euros and has some moderate savings in Romanian banks.
Her salary is also listed as head of the DNA, and it amounted to 92,721 RON in 2014 (about 20 thousand Euros) a year. Jesus! No wonder Nuland and company love her so much. Assuming Kovesi isn’t taking bribes (and there’s no indication that she is), her “reward” for putting powerful man and woman in Romania in jail is to live in a tiny apartment while making less money than a manager at McDonald’s in London. With a salary that low, it’s practically a miracle that she isn’t corrupt.
Down the Rabbit Hole
But aside from information about the people working for the DNA, how exactly does the DNA obtain their convictions? And what evidence is used against people to obtain a conviction?
Further investigation into the DNA’s website is almost useless. The last information about individual convictions is from May 2015 in Romanian and June 2015 in English, for some bizarre reason. So that isn’t much help.
Other weird oddities include the fact that the domain (PNA.RO) was registered in 2002, i.e. a year before the organization came into existence, and that the website is maintained by the STS. The STS doesn’t really have an equivalent in America, but it’s both a military and an intelligence agency. The STS runs all the Romanian government websites, so that’s not the weird part.
The press is always alleging that the DNA’s office is overly reliant on the intelligence agencies in order to secure convictions. Indeed, the DNA never even tries to hide this fact. If you search for “SRI” from their main page, you’ll get hundreds of press statements that include this line:
Procurorii au beneficiat de sprijin de specialitate din partea SRI
Meaning that the DNA prosecutors benefited from the specialized support of the main intelligence agency in Romania, sort of the FBI and NSA rolled into one.
I realized that I wasn’t going to get many answers about how the DNA works from their own website, so I started digging into a case I already knew quite well, that of Sorin Apostu, the once great and mighty mayor of Unicorn City (Cluj-Napoca).
Back in 2011, someone made the huge mistake of inviting me to a (“public”) meeting at City Hall. Apostu and his flunkies were there but all the rest of the people in attendance were foreign men and women doing some kind of business in Cluj. I was shocked when I heard Apostu intimate that if anyone present (the foreign business owners) wanted to do business in his city, palms would have to be greased (they’d have to pay Apostu bribes). It wasn’t stated explicitly but it was definitely the message that came across.
At the end of 2011, I was overjoyed* when the DNA charged him with multiple counts of taking bribes (although not from foreigners). I was in the halls of the Cluj Court of Appeals the day the first day he went in to answer to the charges and the whole event was filmed by ProTV. A few months later, Apostu and his wife were convicted on several counts and sent to jail.
* – When I denounced Apostu for being corrupt, everyone in Cluj freaked out. At the time, he was Emil Boc’s #2 man, and Boc was the Prime Minister of Romania (he was formerly the mayor of Cluj and holds that position once again now). Due to the way Romania’s top-heavy federal government is organized, huge amounts of money was flowing from Bucharest to Cluj thanks to Boc, so I was persona non grata for a while until Apostu got charged by the DNA. Nobody ever apologized to me though for being fucking RIGHT about Apostu.
Therefore I decided to start with the Apostu case to see what could be learned. Searching the DNA’s website reveals nothing except press statements a) charging him with the bribery offenses and b) announcing his conviction. Okay, Apostu was convicted on several counts of taking bribes and money laundering, but what evidence did the DNA have? And how did they get it?
The DNA’s website has no concrete information, so I turned to the Cluj Court of Appeals. Their website is useless unless you know the case number, and you cannot search by name. It took me a long time to finally find it, which was made more difficult by the fact that it got transfered (for some reason I cannot discover) to the Tirgu-Mures Court of Appeals even though all the crimes happened in Cluj.
Apostu was convicted in the TM court and then he appealed his conviction to the ICCJ, effectively the Supreme Court of Romania. Again, their website is almost impenetrable but, after much valiant effort, I managed to find the Apostu case. If you’d like to read it for yourself, the case number is “1767/33/2011”.
But what’s in there? Again, almost nothing. It’s just a summary of the conviction, including the sentence and which fines Apostu has to pay (including some 300 lei to pay for a prosecutorial witness to travel to Bucharest). There are some rulings, including the court denying Apostu’s motions to introduce several defense witnesses, but no reason given why.
Furthermore, the names of the judges are missing. All you see is “bench number three” or which particular panel of judges heard the case. In fact, none of the courts ever tell you the name of the judge who hears a case. When any information is listed, it’s just “Judge Number 7” or something like that (the ICCJ seems to use multiple judges to hear cases while most lower-level courts use a single judge).
Literally the only other information to be found anywhere is in the media. Here’s the statement (in Romanian) that came out when the ICCJ sentenced Apostu to four years, minus time served. Note that there’s not a single shred of information other than the court’s published sentence (same as on their website) and a press statement from the DNA.
But if you look over here, you get a stenograma (transcript) of a phone call made between Apostu and one of the guys who was paying him bribes.
Clearly, the SRI (or one of the other Romanian intelligence agencies) wiretapped Apostu’s phone. But the DNA’s website has none of this information on there. The only conclusion is that the DNA released this information to the press before Apostu was convicted! Also included was prejudicial information about how DNA investigators found stacks of cash hidden under a towel when they searched Apostu’s home. He definitely looked guilty as hell before he had even been convicted.
Welcome to the Sausage Factory
Mind you, I loathe Apostu on a personal level, but I have to admit that he really didn’t get treated very fairly. First, prejudicial information about him was leaked to the press before his trial. Secondly, the court rejected ALL of his motions to introduce defense witnesses. Third, not a shred of evidence (aside from the phone transcript, which isn’t proper evidence in the legal sense) was ever shared with the public.
All we really know is that 1) The DNA accused Apostu, and 2) A court convicted him. We have no idea about anything else, including what Apostu’s defense was (or might’ve been), what evidence the prosecutors had (or didn’t have), who the prosecutor(s) was/were, or even the name of the judge(s) that convicted him.
The DNA is kind of like a weird sausage factory, pushing accusations in one end and magic, presto, convictions come out the other side! Everyone is happy with the tasty sausage (convictions) but nobody ever seems to ask how the sausage was made (how the judicial process works).
As explained in loving detail elsewhere, I’ve been through the meat grinder of the Romanian judicial system myself, and found it equally mysterious and opaque. I asked my own lawyer what the name of my judge was, and was informed that this information was secret. It still is, as I have no idea to this day what that lady’s name was who heard my case.
But this completely non-transparent method of justice is not healthy. Even a shithead like Sorin Apostu deserve his day in court and a chance to properly defend himself. And we, the public, deserve to know what evidence was used against him and who (prosecutors and judges) helped to convict him.
Justice Done Right
To give you an idea of how justice is supposed to work, it’s worth reviewing the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. In 2006, he was convicted on multiple counts of terrorism. But how do we actually know he was guilty?
For one thing, we don’t have to rely just on the FBI, federal prosecutors, media press reports, or his extensive Wikipedia entry. We can actually see the evidence for ourselves. Furthermore, we know who the prosecutors were (including lead prosecutor Robert A. Spencer), the name of the judge who heard the case (Leonie Brinkema), what Moussaoui had to say for himself, what questions the prosecutors asked him in court, and everything else.
Except for a few pieces of evidence from the CIA which were ruled as classified, everything else is out there in open for anyone to read. The official government website with the info is a little slow, so if it won’t load for you, try this website. Look at all that evidence! Look and read what Moussaoui actually said in court!
Spencer: Do you remember the testimony of Lt. McKeown?
Moussaoui: The woman like was talking about, “Where are my boy, where are my boy?”
Spencer: Right. Sobbing in that very chair because the people under her command were killed. Do you remember that?
Moussaoui: I think it was disgusting for a military person to pretend that they should not be killed as an act of war. She is military. She should expect that people who are at war with her will try to kill her. I will never, I will never cry because an American bombed my camp.
See? You don’t need to rely on press releases from the government to understand how and why Moussaoui was convicted. You can read the information for yourself. And the same is true for thousands of other non-terrorism cases.
For example, let’s take a look at a corruption case in America, that of William Jefferson. Just like Apostu, he was a politician accused of corruption. And, just like Apostu, prosecutors found stacks of money hidden away in his house when they searched his residence.
It takes about five seconds of searching on the Fourth Circuit court’s helpful website to find Jefferson’s case (United States v. Jefferson, 534 F. Supp. 2d 645, 647-48) with all the substantive information. You have to register for PACER (the website all American courts use to store information) to get the trial transcripts, but it’s all there.
You don’t have to register for PACER to read the details (PDF) of the evidence against him, which is far more substantive than a short press release saying “Yeah, he was taking bribes from this guy and you’ll just have to trust us that it really happened”.
Is the American justice system always fair? Absolutely not. But at least it is transparent. Even tiny cases like divorces or minor thefts are in the public record, available for anyone to review at any time. There’s no such thing as anonymous judges and anonymous prosecutors.
And even if a defendant gets a bad deal in court, he (or she) AND the public can always get access to the records of their trial. In Romania, not even the defendant can get access to the transcripts and complete record of their trial! I know this from personal experience, plus hearing from various people who have been convicted.
Adrian Nastase, in particular, has written thousands of words complaining about the Romanian justice system and how it works. I’m convinced of his criminality due to the Adrian Balaban Grajdan monkey business alone but if you read Nastase’s verbose complaints on his website, you almost feel sorry for the old guy. In particular, you can see how the prosecution was allowed to bring 970 witnesses against him while he (Nastase) was only allowed to have 5.
Is that fair? I’d say no. Apostu, likewise, was denied his own defense witnesses. I too was denied the ability to introduce any evidence in my own favor, and I too was also not allowed to address the prosecutor directly or rebut any of her statements slash “evidence” against me.
I was just an ignorant foreigner but Nastase was (is?) a law professor, and it really does seem like he got railroaded, especially on the “Zambaccian” case and the “Aunt Tamara” case (he had many large cases with cutesy nicknames).
Again, I loathe both of these men on a personal level, and have seen enough evidence from their public acts as politicians to convince me that they have done criminal harm to Romanian society. But convicting corrupt officials and politicians isn’t about my personal feelings, or vendettas, or even pleasing Victoria Nuland and the CMV folks from the European Union.
This should be about real justice, where public evidence in open court convicts criminals of wrongdoing, with the defendant given a fair chance to defend themselves. I don’t want Nastase or Apostu (or even Moussaoui) convicted because they are bad guys. I want them to be convicted because a preponderance of the (public) evidence against them proved their culpability.
To my own sorrow, I realize now that the DNA’s activities are for more corrosive and toxic than the acts of corruption by politicians and government officials which are being prosecuted at a rapid-fire pace.
To steal money from the public and abuse power is a serious offense. But setting up an opaque prosecutorial organization that uses hidden tactics and evidence supplied by the intelligence agencies to secure convictions of corruption is actually worse.
A politician taking a bribe is an individual act that harms Romania while a prosecutorial agency working hand-in-hand with shadowy intelligence agencies to obtain convictions in an opaque and mysterious manner is doing collective harm to the country.
As usual with projects supported by Victoria Nuland, what looks good on the surface, with impressive numbers and stats and bold words about freedom and justice, has no genuine fairness or democratic concepts at its core.
Truly a tragedy for the vast majority of Romanians who do want more fairness and real justice in their country.