Graft Charges Fail to Halt Romanians' Political Careers

Only a handful of Romanian politicians under investigation by the country’s anti-corruption agency have pulled out of the campaign for the local elections in June.

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Investigations by the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, the DNA, have not stopped many Romanian politicians from campaigning for office in the June elections.

Ludovic Orban, who planned to run for the post of Mayor of Bucharest in the local elections for centre-right National Liberal Party, PNL, on Monday announced his retirement from the race after prosecutors indicted him for graft. They suspect Orban used his influence to solicit financial benefits, asking a businessman for 50,000 euro to pay two television channels to promote his campaign. “I could not ask voters to elect me when I am the subject of a criminal inquiry,” Ludovic Orban said. He has denied wrongdoing.
However, Orban’s decision is unusual. Most politicians or local officials who are under investigation still plan to run in the local elections. In Bucharest, only one of the seven mayors elected in 2012 is still in office. The others, the capital’s general mayor and six district mayors, are all being investigated for corruption. While three are not interested in joining the race for a new mandate, two have announced their intention to run for another term, despite the corruption charges.
The situation in Bucharest is replicated all over the country, where 21 of the 48 large city halls have been vacated by mayors suspended on corruption charges. In the past, many mayors have been condemned in court only to be resurrected at the ballot box. In town councils and city halls, corruption trials in Romania have often been the making of political careers, rather than their ruin.
The situation is most likely to be repeated in Craiova, a city in the south of the country. The mayor, Lia Olguta Vasilescu, is accused of using her influence to obtain money and other undue benefits and of money laundering. Despite the investigation and the grtavity of the charges, Vasilescu has announced that she will run for a new term in the local elections. “A phone survey conducted lately showed I have 82 per cent support. I will definitely run again as I want to continue my projects,” Vasilescu said, justifiying her decision.
Analysts say such cases expose a paradox in Romania’s campaign to improve governance in the country.

While the DNA has been spectacularly successful in prosecuting big names, including former prime minister Adrian Nastase, smaller targets have often bounced back. These leaders have exploited their control of local institutions – and a popular distrust of the central ones – to turn prosecutions to their advantage.

Last year, the National Anti-Corruption Directorate sent 1,250 people to trial on corruption charges, the highest figure yet. They included five former ministers, including ex-Prime Minister Victor Ponta – plus 21 MPs, the mayor of Bucharest, Sorin Oprescu, and many other lower-ranking officials.

BALKAN INSIGHT

13 April 2016