- October 26, 2015
- Posted by: admin
- Categories: News Romania, SEE News
Corrupt politicians are churning out books to reduce their sentences
THE makers of the Romanian edition of the board game Monopoly may want to consider altering the “Get out of jail free” card to one reading “Wrote a book in jail”. A change in the law in 2013 allows convicts to claim 30 days off their sentences for every work they publish while in prison. This has led Romanian tycoons and politicians imprisoned on corruption charges to indulge in a frenzy of scribbling. It is a system as corrupt as they are.
Among those who have taken advantage of the loophole, or hope to do so, are Adrian Nastase, a former prime minister; Gheorghe Copos, a businessman and former government minister; Gigi Becali, another tycoon-cum-politician; and Ioan Niculae, reputedly the richest person in Romania. Gica Popescu, a former star footballer convicted of money laundering, is on the verge of early release after penning no fewer than four titles. Other hopeful authors include bigwigs in sports management and yet more politicians.
Before 2013 a clause in the law permitted reduced sentences for those who produced works of academic research, but the criteria were narrow enough to prevent abuse. The new law, too, was supposed to be accompanied by strict guidelines determined by the ministry of justice and approved by government. This never happened. Until the loophole is closed, those with the means to do so will continue to pour out valueless work.
Prisoners are not allowed computers and prison libraries are basic. Manuscripts must be written with pen and paper. According to Romanian journalists, wealthy prisoners generally hire outside academics as “research supervisors”. They, or other ghostwriters, do the actual writing; the work is then smuggled into jail, where the prisoner copies it out by hand. A publisher is paid to print a few copies, which are presented to the parole board, which (with no guidelines or expertise) judges whether it is worthy of a reduced sentence.
Most of the work has met with derision. Mr Copos, who wrote about the matrimonial alliances of medieval Romanian rulers, was accused of plagiarism. Mr Becali produced a picture-heavy book about his relationship with Steaua Bucharest, the football team which he controls. Realini Lupsa, a pop singer, wrote about stem cells in dental medicine. No one knows how many people have taken advantage of the system. One recent report put the figure at 73, with some prisoners producing up to five books in only a few months.
Cristi Danilet, a member of Romania’s judicial council (which oversees the country’s judges), says he cannot work out whether “incompetence or political interference” has allowed the loophole to be left open. Another source, who requested anonymity, argued for the latter. Victor Ponta, the prime minister, is due to go on trial soon for corruption, the source noted; it is hardly surprising that politicians are not eager for a change.
At some point, the loophole will be closed. Romania’s National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) has been clamouring for the law to be fixed since April. In the past couple of years the DNA has emerged as one of the most powerful institutions in the country. In the first nine months of 2015, says Livia Saplacan, its spokeswoman, it indicted 15 members of parliament and nine out of the country’s 41 provincial heads, as well as sending Mr Ponta to trial.
The DNA has lent a newfound credibility to the Romanian judicial system. But it is still too early to say whether it will bring about a fundamental change in the corruption ingrained in its political and business culture. Politicians are already mobilising to curb its powers. Some worry that the DNA’s information, much of it gleaned from Romania’s intelligence services, is giving the spooks too much power. Romanians are delighted that the rich and powerful are being sent to jail, says Oana Popescu, the head of Global Focus, a think-tank. But they are resigned to the fact many of them will wriggle their way out early. “It is the Romanian way,” she sighs.
24. October 2015