It’s shocking just how many high-level criminals under investigation by the Romanian authorities are allowed to leave the country. No, they don’t crawl under border fences or use assumed names; they use their own passports, which the vaunted DNA never bothers to confiscate.
Today, I saw that another similar case just popped up on my radar, the mysterious adventures of one Mihai Tanjala.
Cayman In, Fugitive!
The Cayman Islands, a quasi-independent country known best for its role in offshore banking (Panama Papers style) were forced to arrestMihai Tanjala on their territory back in December 2015. Tanjala, who was convicted of corruption charges (in absentia) in Romania in 2011, will be extradited to Romania after now losing his habeas corpus appeal despite trying to bribe his way out of trouble:
During the original hearing in December last year, Tanjala, pleaded with the court not to send him back to Romania, claiming his life would be in danger. At one point during the hearing, he offered to serve out his sentence in the Cayman Islands and pay for the cost of his jail time.
Tanjala had been living in the U.S. and seeking asylum prior to his arrival in Cayman. Court documents suggest he dropped his asylum application and paid US$50,000 to allow him to depart the country.
He entered Cayman undetected after previously traveling through Cuba and the Bahamas. It was not until he tried to enter Jamaica that officials spotted his name on an Interpol red list and found there was an international warrant out for his arrest.
Wait, what? Woah, hold on a second here. Time to backtrack.
Mihai Tanjala was born in 1957. He later attended the military academy and then went on to study at the shadowy ASE school in Bucharest, the secret training school for spies. By the time of the the 1989 Revolution in Romania, Tanjala was a counter-intelligence officer in the army.
The 1989 Revolution then occurred and Ceausescu and his wife were shot on live television. Romanian courts then went into overdrive to dismantle the much-hated security organs of the Communist regime. Of course, Tanjala and his buddies had no desire to lose their “important” jobs so Tanjala then immediately used his connections to form a rebranded version of his old outfit nicknamed “Two and a Quarter” (based on its unit number) inside the Interior Ministry. Today, it’s officially known as the DGIPI. One Romanian analyst said that the DGIPI is “more powerful than the SRI” and another journalist said it is the “most controversial secret agency in Romania”.
Back when it was still known as “Two and a Quarter”, what was their first order of business? I’m sure you can guess. It was to crush the June 1990 protests and thus bring to a swift end the six-month revolution, crushing democracy forever in Romania.
Following up on this “success”, Tanjala then joined the PSDR (today’s PSD) and become a useless MP. With his secret agency connections and political power, he amassed a bunch of money illegally (especially with help from Valerian Simica, a Romanian fraudster living in the United States) and then moved his family to the United States at some point before 2008 (all we know is that Tanjala befriended Simica in 2003 in Chicago and the two later collaborated in shady business deals). Tanjala then had a corruption case filed against him in Romania in 2008, causing him to immediately flee to the United States. Details of this can be found here in Romanian, including the fact that he was ultimately convicted of defrauding the Romanian state of more than 100 million euros.
The Romanian article also casually mentions that he owned an airfield in America. A little digging reveals that he bought the Seminole Lake Gliderport in Florida, apparently a popular spot for celebrities. Selling price? A cool 2.6 million dollars. Nice, eh?
Following his conviction in 2011, Tanjala was put on Interpol’s “red list” for wanted fugitives. Why wasn’t he arrested in the United States? Wait, maybe the US and Romania don’t have an extradition treaty. Oh wait, they definitely do, to say nothing of existing extradition treaties between the United States and the European Union (and its member states, including Romania since 2007).
So somehow, some way, despite the fact that the guy’s entire family was openly living in Florida under their real names, and that Tanjala was the owner of at least one valuable asset (the airfield), he was never arrested. Originally he filed an asylum appeal in America but this was denied and even his appeal was denied (PDF). Then, under some mysterious circumstance, he spent $50,000 to be able to leave the United States “legally” and travel to Cuba.
Uh, what? There was no direct travel between the United States and Cuba prior to 2016. So who was Tanjala paying the 50k to and why did this allow him to avoid arrest? And where did Tanjala go after the United States? Because it definitely wasn’t Cuba.
Apparently a fan of warm weather, Tanjala somehow entered the Bahamas without a problem and then from there went to the Cayman Islands, where he was completely ignored. Then, to his complete and total surprise, Tanjala tried to go to Jamaica and the the police in Jamaica actually bothered to honor the Interpol fugitive warrant. Jamaica then sent him back to the Caymans, where he is now. There’s no telling why he was in the Cayman Islands but it was probably to get access to the money that he stole from the Romanian people.
The “best” part of all of this dirty story is that the only reason Tanjala was ever investigated and convicted of corruption in Romania was because of the testimony of two other criminals, Crinuta Dumitrean and Alina Bica. Dumitrean was the head of ANRP, the government agency which handles the privatization of Communist era government-owned property (which is the agency that Tanjala defrauded for a cool 100 million euros) and Bica was the head of DIICOT, the thieving idiots who are kinda, sorta in charge of stopping terrorism and organized crime.
- Prior to 1989, Tanjala is paid to ruin the lives of people who disagree with the government in Communist Romania.
- Immediately following the revolution, Tanjala and his buddies form a secret police unit which plays an instrumental role in crushing democracy during the Mineriad of 1990.
- Tanjala then joins a political party for fun and profit, mostly profit.
- Tanjala goes to the United States in 2003 where he befriends another Romanian crook and ultimately goes into business with him.
- All goes well until his fellow crooks snitch on Tanjala in 2008, causing him to flee Romania.
- Tanjala hightails it to the United States where he lives a great life, flying around with celebrities at his airfield that he bought for more than 2 million dollars.
- Tanjala is convicted in absentia and put on Interpol’s fugitive list.
- Tanjala then pays someone $50,000 to leave the United States without being arrested.
- Tanjala travels the Caribbean, working on his tan and enjoying the good life.
- After leaving the Cayman Islands and heading to Jamaica, a miracle happens and a border officer actually checks Interpol and finds out Tanjala is on the most wanted list.
- Tanjala gets sent back to Cayman where he tries to bribe his way out of trouble.
- This week, justice is served. Tanjala loses his case and is set to be extradited to Romania.
Tanjala told the Cayman judge that he feared for his life if he is sent to Romania to serve his 5-year jail sentence. Considering the huge numbers of people dying in Romanian jails, he might be right.
But even if he does die, the people of Romania will never get their 100 million euros back and Tanjala’s family is still living the good life in south Florida.