Romania: Further Corruption Fears

A new case of alleged bribe taking is causing concern as Bucharest begins NATO accession process.

Romania: Further Corruption Fears

A new case of alleged bribe taking is causing concern as Bucharest begins NATO accession process.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The arrest of a high-ranking security official for alleged corruption has renewed questions over the role played by Romania's intelligence services in the country's political and economic life.


Lieutenant-colonel Valentin Gabriel Carali, bureau chief for information division of the Romanian Information Service, SRI, is accused of accepting a bribe to influence the allocation of a state contract.


Carali was arrested by the National Anti-Corruption Prosecuting Office, PNA, last week as was Ion Gheorghe Dabela, director of the Autonomous Company for the Distribution of Thermal Energy, RADET.


The PNA has charged the duo with accepting 150,000 euro from a German company in return for using their influence to help the company win a 20-million-euro contract with the Romanian government.


The Carali case is not the first example of alleged corruption among the SRI ranks. In May 2002, a former officer was arrested for on suspicion of using information from the service's files to blackmail a businessman.


The officer in question had been dismissed from the SRI six months earlier for the same offence, but had allegedly continued the blackmail using stolen files.


Romania was invited to begin the process of joining NATO at the Alliance's recent Prague Summit, and this closer integration with the international community has renewed concern over the influence still wielded by secret service officers.


SRI sources insist that whatever problems may exist in their ranks are dwarfed by the threat posed by former employees of the infamous Securitate, which terrorised the Romanian people during the Ceaucescu era.


"Former officers have maintained their influence in the secret services, and over the last decade have established criminal networks which lie behind major privatisations, large-scale financial scams and any number of off-shore companies," claimed one SRI officer, who did not want to give his name.


In one high-profile case last year, Ristea Priboi - a former Securitate officer, Social Democratic Party deputy and close adviser to prime minister Adrian Nastase - was forced to resign as chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service, SIE.


The Associated Press reported that Priboi had "caused concern among US officials as he worked in the department in charge of intimidating journalists who worked for the Romanian service of the US-funded Radio Free Europe".


Priboi repeatedly denied the accusations, but declassified documents released a few days ago by senator Radu Feldman confirm that Priboi's work as a Securitate officer did include the repression of civilians.


Declassified documents record that, in 1989, the Securitate employed more than 15,000 people, of whom two-thirds were security officers. The communist-era Romanian Foreign Secret Service, CIE, employed a further few hundred officers who worked undercover abroad and enjoyed full access to the regime's foreign bank accounts.


"Former CIE officers are working with the international criminal cartels," said an organised crime analyst working for the interior ministry. "They launder drugs money, take part in weapons trafficking and other sorts of rackets using the operational structures they built up in the Eighties," he said.


Radu Timofte, SRI chief and a close adviser to President Iliescu, has estimated that around 15 per cent of SRI officers are former Securitate officers. Other former members of the Securitate joined the SIE.


Politicians and SRI chiefs claim that only those with specialist knowledge essential to the continuing function of the service were retained. They also insist that all officers in the former political police were purged, although there is no way of verifying that claim.


As for the remaining eight or nine thousand officers, "a significant number of former Securitate officers are operating through numerous so-called security agencies," according to an organised crime analyst in the interior ministry who wished to remain anonymous.


"These agencies are little more than parallel secret service structures. The former Securitate officers running them hire underworld figures and ex-convicts to carry out extortion and organised crime." Other former officers such as Ristea Priboi have entered politics, while the remainder have become businessmen.


Romania's candidature for NATO has created an imperative to confront the level of continuing Securitate influence, an issue which President Iliescu acknowledged in a recent speech to the Romanian parliament.


"There has been a lot of speculation about the danger posed by former Securitate officers," he said. "I can assure you that we are approaching this issue together with our NATO partners, with whom we already enjoy a constructive relationship in the area of intelligence. When and if problems arise, they will be approached using Alliance methods and procedures."


Those who think the government has shown little appetite to confront the former intelligence officers in the past now believe things could be about to change. "We shall have to wait and see if they are serious about removing these bad guys," said an SRI officer, who did not want to give his name. "But once Romania becomes a full member of NATO, I don't think they will have much choice."


Paul Cristian Radu is freelance journalist based in Romania.


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