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Martin Banks

EU REPORTER (24.01.2018) – http://bit.ly/2DCxam1 – A former high-level counter-terrorism chief in Romania has voiced “serious concerns” about the independence of the country’s judiciary and “interference” by its intelligence services, writes Martin Banks.

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday (24 January), Daniel Dragomir (pictured) said the EU should consider taking punitive action against Romania unless these and other pressing issues are addressed. He said: “The EU should take all necessary punitive measures, but especially should start by not being lied by Romanian authorities. In a Europe based on freedom, in is impossible to have a Union as long as the Romanians are not free.”

Dragomir was deputy head of Romania’s counter-terrorism unit from 2001-2013 but quit because he says he was “disillusioned” with the “unconstitutional” way the security services were operating.

He told the meeting, organized by Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), he wanted to raise awareness, particularly at EU level, of major problems of a member state gearing up to assume the EU presidency.

One includes increasing “collusion” between the security services and the judiciary in Romania which, he says, is designed to “eliminate” the opposition and all voices of dissent. This might include the media, public figures and members of the public.

He called this trend ‘Securitate 2.0’, an indirect reference to the country’s former dreaded state police whose practices he believes are now increasingly being employed in Romania.

“This collusion is happening even though Romanian law forbids it,” he told the half-day conference at Brussels Press Club. Another “huge” issue of concern, he said, was the recruitment by the security services -sometimes by blackmail – of judges and prosecutors. “This reminds you of something that might be happening in Russia, not an EU member state,” he said.

Dragomir, a military academy graduate who rose rapidly through the ranks, also compares prison conditions in his homeland to the gulag, the government agency in charge of the Soviet forced labour camp system. He showed photographs taken of detainees in Romanian jails, some held eight to a cell measuring less than 10 square metres.

Another concern, he told the meeting, was the “mis-use” by the Romanian authorities of Interpol’s Red Notices and the European Arrest Warrant often merely for “politically motivated” reasons. Romania, he pointed out, is third behind Turkey and Russia in the number of applications for such notices/warrants.

What he calls “large scale” surveillance, including physical and electronic, of the population is also commonplace in Romania, he said. He cited his own case as an example of “serious shortcomings” in the penal and judicial system, saying that soon after leaving his post with the counter-terrorism unit, he was arrested and detained for one year on “trumped up” charges.

Five of the charges were subsequently withdrawn and he was given a suspended sentence for the other. His wife was also arrested but not detained. “This means that I remain under preventive control and have to report once a week to the police in Bucharest,”he said. While he strongly denies any wrongdoing and is appealing his conviction, is also still subject to travel restrictions.

The EU, he argued, has a “key role” to play in ensuring the issues highlighted are addressed by the authorities in Romania. One suggestion is a moratorium on extradition to Romania of suspects “until such time as the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, deems that the Romanian penal system fully meets EU standards.”

Brussels, he said, should also consider a reassessment at EU and member state level of official responses to European Arrest Warrants initiated in Romania. “The concerns I have raised today are not some fantasy but a fact of everyday life in Romania,” he said.

Speaking at the same event, Willy Fautre, director of HRWF, spoke about the “lack of fair trials and the deplorable prison conditions” in Romania. Fautre also raised the case of Romanian businessman Alexander Adamescu who is based in London and faces a European Arrest Warrant against him for allegedly being an accomplice in a fraud case, a charge he denies.

He said: “The UK (in a Brexit process) should not deport Adamescu on the basis of Romania’s poor record in terms of fair trials and the deplorable detention conditions which have been confirmed by new European reports. This is all the more so given that he says loud and clear that he is innocent and that this is a political-financial settlement of scores.”

Fautre told the meeting that “the worsening of some fundamental issues is increasingly recognized by international institutions. He pointed out that, in November 2017, Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the Commission, said in the “Commission reports on progress in Romania under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism”: Challenges to judicial independence are a serious source of concern.”

Fautre said the Commission noted that the overall reform momentum in the course of 2017 had stalled, slowing down the fulfilment of the remaining recommendations,and with a risk of re-opening issues which the January 2017 report had considered as closed.

The Brussels-based Fautre added, “This negative state of affairs had also been repeatedly raised by the European Court in several judgments.” He also cited comments made by Timmermans as recently as November when the Dutch official said, “Romania has met some of our recommendations, but there is not enough progress yet on others. Challenges to judicial independence are a serious source of concern.”

Similar concerns were voiced by another speaker, David Clarke, a political expert on Eastern Europe and former special advisor at the UK foreign office from 1997 to 2001. He said the recent rise of the populist right populist right in Hungary and Poland has raised the alarm about the future of democracy in Europe, as constitutional safeguards, media pluralism and civil society come under sustained attack.

But there is another threat hiding: the abuse of anti-corruption laws in Romania,a country often lauded as an example of successful reform in central and eastern Europe. But by ‘turning a blind eye’ to this, he warns the European Union risks encouraging other countries in the region to follow Romania’s example, using the “fight against corruption” as a smokescreen to weaken democratic standards. It is an environment that provides the perfect breeding ground for the type of creeping authoritarianism we are seeing in Hungary and Poland, notes Clarke.

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