Romanian Prosecutors Train Sights on Media Moguls

Romania’s anti-corruption drive is hitting more and more of the country’s media moguls – a large number of whom are now already in jail or facing major corruption charges.

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Many media moguls are investigated for corruption charges. Photo:

The detention this week of the owner of Romania’s main media company, Adevarul Holding, Cristian Burci, is only the latest case of a media tycoon being investigated for corruption in Romania – a move affecting not only their reputation but also their businesses.

Burci was arrested on Wednesday and the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism, DIICOT, is investigating him for tax evasion worth some 8 million euros. After DIICOT prosecutors searched the editorial office of Adevarul, the newspaper was quick to remind readers that it was not being targeted in the investigation.

“The DIICOT investigation targets no trademark owned by Adevarul Holding Company, as it concerns former businesses of Cristian Burci in a completely different area, namely railway businesses, which Burci sold before purchasing Adevarul Holding in 2012,” a statement from the newspaper read.

However, this is not the case with the majority of targeted media owners. Most of them have been investigated or jailed for charges directly related to their media businesses. “Many media owners have been arrested, creating an unprecedented situation for the media sector in Romania,” the media watchdog ActiveWatch said. “Up to 70 per cent of those who own the big media groups are now either in jail or are being investigated for different criminal charges, such as tax evasion, money laundering, blackmail or other corruption charges,” it added.

Dan Diaconescu, TV host and owner of OTV, a channel known its sensationalist reporting, was jailed last year for seeking bribes from a mayor and a businessman in exchange for not broadcasting compromising material about them. OTV had its license withdrawn on several occasions by the Romanian media authorities and finally closed after failing to pay fines issued by the audio-visual regulator.

Another media tycoon in prison is Dan Voiculescu, a businessman and politician jailed two years ago for involvement in the fraudulent sale of a state institution, money laundering and influence peddling.

He is also being investigated for complicity with blackmail in a case against the chiefs of the media company Antena Group, who allegedly threatened to go public with compromising material about cable provider RCS&RDS, with which Antena group was in dispute.

Antena Group is part of Intact Media Group, founded by Voiculescu, which media analysts have accused of taking a lead role in putting pressure on the justice system. Two months ago, the tax authorities evicted Voiculescu’s TV stations from their headquarters following a court ruling to recover damages in a money-laundering case involving Voiculescu. In response, Antena’s TV stations accused the government of planning to stop them from broadcasting and of attacking freedom of expression.

One of the most powerful media businessmen in Romania, Adrian Sarbu, head of Mediafax group, is also being investigated for tax evasion and money laundering. Investigators say Mediafax Group set up a scheme to avoid paying taxes that included creating dummy companies in the names of people who lacked any financial means. Mediafax filed for insolvency before Sarbu was investigated. Later, most of the editorial team left to create another media agency.

The long list of names of media moguls being investigated for different criminal charges suggest that the bulk of media institutions in the country are under the patronage of persons connected to crime.

“For years, there has been underground discussions about media corruption but evidence of corruption mechanisms rarely come out in public,” Razvan Martin, from media watchdog ActiveWatch, noted. “However, these corruption cases have revealed that a part of the press is financed illicitly by barons, politicians, or businessmen, often using public funds.”

The Romanian Center for Independent Journalism says the media in the country can now be divided into three broad categories. “There are media owned by people who have businesses in totally different areas, and with political connections, who sustain their media businesses by financial means from those other areas,” it explained. “There are media that function as blackmail structures, and three are media that try to be decent but who find it impossible to survive without compromises,” the latest report of the Center said. “In the first case, there is no interest in journalism itself, as the press becomes part of a mechanism of underground persuasion for obtaining business advantages,” analyst Alexandru Lazescu said. “In the second category, the professionals involved in media blackmail are not necessarily interested in publishing the information; they call you and tell you that, if you don’t pay, the information will become public,” Lazescu added.

Balkan Insight

29 April 2016