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You know, it’s relatively easy for me to sit here at my keyboard and remotely dissect all of the overwhelming number of serious problems with the Romanian justice system. But it’s quite another thing to hear about it from a true insider, in this case, Raluca Pruna, the “technocrat” Justice Minister.
Note: In this article, I won’t even refer to the huge glaring issues with the DNA (anti-corruption agency) that were covered extensively by me in other articles.
A million years ago (actually November 2015, just 7 months ago), Victor Ponta took the opportunity of the Colectiv fire to resign, an act that led to the dissolution of his cabinet. The Powers That Be decided that an unelected “technocratic” government was the best solution for Romania for an entire year, and so Dacian Ciolos was installed as the prime minister.
His original choice for Justice Minister was Cristina Guseth, the head of “Freedom House” [sic] and at least one other Soros-funded NGO. But when it was discovered that Guseth had almost no legal experience, her name was quickly withdrawn.
The next name out of the hat was Raluca Pruna. Although Pruna is a lawyer and member of the Bucharest bar, she’s spent most of the past decade serving as a legal expert in Brussels for the European Commission. Yes, she has a brother who is a prosecutor and her brother has a common-law marriage to another high-ranking prosecutor, but neither Pruna nor any of her immediate family are members of any political party AND it’s abundantly obvious that Pruna has the legal “chops” to hold the position.
Thus, she quickly became confirmed as the Justice Minister and has been taking an active role ever since. I’ve mentioned her many times in other articles and it seems pretty clear to me that a) she’s in way over her head, but b) at least she’s honestly trying to do her job.
And it’s the second part (trying to do her job) that led me to a most extraordinary interview.
Every Problem She Have Solution
In a very typical Romanian style for “solving” problems, PSD member of Parliament Serban Nicolae recently proposed a solution for the problem of severe overcrowding in Romania’s jail: simply decriminalize more offenses and grant wide-scale amnesties!
Yes, this PSD stalwart (the party of Ponta that just won a “landslide victory” in local elections) is floating the idea of a bill to decriminalize a number of acts and grant amnesty to large numbers of prisoners. My translation:
I sent a response to the Justice Minister’s report [on prison overcrowding] but I did not receive a response. Our prisons are now at 200% overcapacity. Punishment [for crimes] should be about restricting a person’s liberty, not inhumane, humiliating and degrading treatment. No, I am not avoiding this topic but saying this publicly: it’s time to talk about granting large-scale amnesty. By that, I’m referring to the forgiveness of small crimes because those prisoners aren’t a threat to people’s safety.
Well, that’s certainly one solution. But considering how many corrupt politicians and oligarchs are in prison for non-violent crimes, I don’t think many people in Romania are going to support a general amnesty for “small crimes”.
Furthermore, the ANP (Romania’s agency in charge of prisons) doesn’t list the number of prisoners or the type of crime, so it’s anyone’s guess who would potentially be affected by an amnesty.
Failure Is Always an Option
The esteemed Senator Serban Nicolae is referring to an extensive report that Raluca Pruna gave to the parliament (and media), outlining a number of truly troubling issues with Romania’s justice system. Her interview with HotNews (in Romanian) can be found in its entirety here but below are the key bits:
- 80 million euros a year – Later this year, the European Court of Human Rights will start fining Romania for every prison held in unacceptable conditions of detention. Pruna says that this will add up to 80 million euros a year minimum due to these violations.
- Laws on the books aren’t being enforced – Many of these date back to 2004 when Romania was doing everything possible to get admitted to the European Union. So the Romanian parliament appeased the EU but then never enforced the laws. Hopa!
- The war over OUGs – The Romanian parliament and government have a history of abusing “emergency government rulings” (OUGs) that supersede the normal parliamentary process of passing laws in order to “get things done”. But since the parliament never does anything, Pruna et al are constantly resorting to OUGs.
- Inhumane conditions – It’s not just crowded and uncomfortable in Romanian jails. Every three days, an inmate in Romania dies and countless others are sickened or injured.
- Missiles, Not Prisons – The ANP was planning on building a prison near Deveselu to ease overcrowding but the defense department (MApN) said it was “too close” to the American missile base (apparently 5 kilometers away is too close), setting back the construction as they now have to look for another site.
- The next MCV report will be bad – Of course! It always is. But few people care, and there’s even talk in the EU of scrapping it simply because everyone is getting sick of waiting for Romania to reform itself.
- Immunity for Lawyers – The parliament is considering passing a law to grant “super immunity” for lawyers for several crimes.
- Writing books to get out of jail – Although the law was never changed or modified, the furor over this huge scandal has died down finally.
- The whole “abuse of office” deal is hopefully resolved for now – Which I’ve discussed at length elsewhere.
- The wiretapping scandal redux – Discussed at length here. Pruna now estimates that four agencies will now EACH have to have their own wiretapping department: the SRI, DNA, DIICOT and the Justice Ministry.
- Nepotism is now legal – Described in English here.
- Insults and Calumny – Apparently Ponta and his minions have spared no effort to insult and slander Pruna. So professional!
Now We’re Talking Serious Money
Pruna admits that she doesn’t know how much the ECHR is going to fine Romania this year, but she based her figures on a recent ECHR ruling against Italy which set the fine as 8 euros per prisoner per day. By Pruna’s calculations, that would cost Romania 80 million euros a year because so many of Romania’s prisoners are being held in illegally cramped and inhumane conditions.
The kicker here is that the ECHR warned Romania about these impending fines back in 2012, you know, when the Ponta coup happened. Pruna is clearly frustrated by the fact that the parliament has done literally nothing since 2012 and now the ECHR fines are virtually inevitable.
Remember, Romania has, by far, the worst track record in the ECHR of any EU country and nearly all of those adverse rulings (“guilty” rulings) are about how Romania is mistreating its prisoners.
The biggest ongoing issue is that EU rules stipulate that each prisoner be held in a cell that measures at least 4 meters by 4 meters. Pruna described how the geniuses at ANP would lose a case at the ECHR and then “resolve” the problem by giving that prisoner his own 4×4 cell while moving his cellmates into another, already overcrowded cell.
Furthermore, conditions in prisons are absolutely horrific, ranging from brutally hot cells (in a week where 6 non-prisoners died from heatstroke in Romania), substandard food, a lack of medical treatment/facilities, and not enough beds to go around, forcing prisoners to sleep on the ground. And many of these prisoners are being held in their cells 23 hours a day because there isn’t anywhere for them to go or anything for them to do. And then if that wasn’t enough, the guards regularly beat the shit out of prisoners too.
Again, I have no idea what crimes these prisoners have committed as I can’t find any official breakdown. But in a country with almost no murders, almost no armed robberies, where raping children is rarely prosecuted, and beating children is effectively legal, I have to imagine that the majority of Romania’s prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent offenses like burglary, being a Gypsy, being mentally handicapped, corruption and drug trafficking.
According to this site, Romania has just 28,393 prisoners, fewer people than would fill a single municipal stadium.
Raluca seems fairly competent when it comes to international legal matters but she said one thing that requires further elucidation.
Question: There was a whole debate, or argument you could say, before the Constitutional Court’s ruling on abuse of office. Mrs. Kovesi, the head of the DNA, and several journalists warned about decriminalizing abuse of office. Did your office evaluate the risk of the complete decriminalization of the offense of abuse of office?
Pruna: No. We did not have any indication that there was a risk that the court would rule to completely decriminalize abuse of office, and I don’t believe it would be easy to do this even if they wanted. As I have explained already, at least one judge on the court said after the ruling that the text of the Romanian law was copied word for word from a UN treaty known as the Merida Convention that Romania has already ratified.
The Merida Convention can be found here (PDF) and in English it says (Article 19):
Abuse of office is defined as…a criminal offence, when committed intentionally, the abuse of functions or position, that is, the performance of or failure to perform an act, in violation of laws, by a public official in the discharge of his or her functions, for the purpose of obtaining an undue advantage for himself or herself or for another person or entity.
If you remember my original article, you’ll see what a fine example of Romanian legal hairsplitting this is.
What Pruna is saying is that:
- The original text of Romania’s abuse of office law was amended by the Constitutional Court;
- And this is okay because verbiage was copied exactly from a treaty that Romania already ratified;
- So therefore one legal thing (a treaty) cut and pasted into another thing (a law code) equals “no more debate necessary”.
Can’t Touch Me
The whole “super immunity” issue for lawyers is a bit complicated. The bill is still before the parliament but what it boils down to is that a 1995 law will be amended so that prosecutors can no longer seize letters and other forms of communication (i.e. wiretaps) between lawyers and their clients. Sounds good, right? Obviously prisoners should have confidential access to their lawyers.
But the prosecutors have never been able to seize just any letters or wiretap any attorney-client communication. They can only do so when they’re evidence of a crime committed by the attorney. Considering that the Bucharest bar, DNA, and Pruna’s Justice Ministry have all opposed this “super immunity” law, I can’t figure out who exactly supports it and why they want to pass it now.
Knowing Romanian politicians, I am sure this is a sneaky back door to get their corrupt colleagues out of trouble so they can steal more money.
The Wire: Part Deux
The issue kicked off earlier this year resulting from a combination of a) people getting tired of the DNA using the SRI (a secret military organization similar to the NSA) to conduct wiretaps and b) a court ruling saying that the SRI couldn’t provide wiretaps to the DNA except in certain circumstances.
I’ve already written about this extensively but the issue is still on Pruna’s plate and she addressed it in her interview.
A few quotes (my translation):
The Romanian people surely need to understand that this [court] ruling has a cost. Protecting people’s human rights has a price. If you want a country that respects human rights, that isn’t going to come for free. Romania doesn’t exist in a vacuum and Romania shouldn’t treat human rights like it did 15 years ago.
Nice. She then goes onto slag France’s record on human rights before going back to talk about Romania:
But to continue, I don’t think the court’s ruling will affect any ongoing prosecutions. But we know there will be a cost going forward. Right now, we don’t have any hard figures from the [criminal] court. But there are ongoing efforts to determine what needs to be doing and to make a decision about what to do, what type of system [of wiretapping suspects] would be good. Look, we had an infrastructure in place, which was the SRI and it was the only one that the country had. But now it can only be used for cases of terrorism and violations of Title 10 of the penal code, serious crimes that threaten the safety of the state like attacks against groups of people, espionage and being a traitor.
As I mentioned before, the SRI is a truly weird organization. Spying and terrorism I can understand, but shit like being a “traitor” and engaging in “war propaganda” is just bizarre.
Q: Ok, so the SRI can run the wiretaps for those crimes. But where can the prosecutors find wiretapping experts?
Pruna: The answer is the police. Because the police are part of the DOS, the Special Operations Directorate, which can perform wiretaps. And I believe that we should inquire as to whether the Interior Ministry has overstepped its bounds. I believe it has, but I don’t have any hard figures.
Q: Overstepped what bounds?
Pruna: Overstepped the bounds by using wiretaps on a regular basis for criminal prosecutions that were previously done by the SRI. And now the DOS is doing these wiretaps using the SRI’s infrastructure. What I can say for sure is that the prosecutor’s office, not referring to the DNA but the “regular” prosecutors, the ministry and DIICOT do not have the specialists necessary for wiretapping and so they’ll have to hire some.
Q: But equipment will have to be bought too, right? Not just hire new employees.
Pruna: Yes, definitely. And this will incur additional costs for the government budget. But, of course, everything that we do comes with a cost. But the cost isn’t really the most important factor. What matters most is whether we truly need three systems or four: one for the ministry, one for DIICOT, one for the DNA and one for the SRI.
I have no idea what “specialist employees” and “equipment” that Romania “needs” to spy on tens of thousands of people but I do know what happened over in the United States. According to the New York Times, the NSA (America’s SRI) simply went to the big network providers (AT&T and Verizon in America, the equivalent of Orange, Romtelecom and Vodafon in Romania), put a special “tap” on their line, and that’s it.
The rest is all done with computers. The NSA is more interested in recording ALL communication, including emails and web traffic, while the SRI/DNA/et al are more interested in just recording phone calls because apparently nobody has ever seen The Wire or understands how to use a burner phone. After all, idiots like Sorin “Watermelons” Apostu are the norm, not the exception.
Look, I’m not an expert on this shit but it seems pretty clear that nobody, including Pruna, understands this stuff. She famously estimated that giving the DNA the power to run its own wiretaps would cost a billion dollars (equal to the cost of Facebook’s entire global infrastructure) just to have a different government employee sit at a computer terminal and scan/analyze wiretaps. All I do know is that the Romanian government is colossally inept at operating even simple computer systems.
Mind you, the SRI is already wiretapping 20,000 or more people per year in their honorable effort to root out spies, war propagandists and traitors. Only God knows how many people will have their phones tapped once the Justice Ministry, DNA, and DIITCOT get in on the fun too.
You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream
I realize that relatively tiny changes in Romania’s justice system are going to be overshadowed by the Brexit, but it’s still worth noting just how truly fucked up it really is. Even Raluca Pruna, who badly wants to get the hell out of Romania in October and go back to her job in Brussels, is frustrated as hell about the current situation.
And while immunity for lawyers and arguing over “abuse of office” prosecutions probably bores most people, forking over 80 million euros to the ECHR every year should, theoretically, get someone’s attention.
As I’ve said before, the one thing you want to avoid at all costs is getting involved in the Romanian judicial system. At this point, my “professional” advice to you is that if you’re unfortunate enough to be charged with a crime/violation, pay the bribe rather than risk getting bogged down in this swamp where you will risk serving time in an overcrowded prison that’s probably to kill you.