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E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/12/2016 TAGS: MOPS, MARR, PREL, PGOV, IZ, RO SUBJECT: TIT-FOR-TAT: ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER AND CHOD ON THE BLOCK
Classified By: DCM Mark A. Taplin for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) President Basescu September 12 suspended Defense Minister Theodor Atanasiu from his duties pending the outcome of a criminal investigation in a domestic spying scandal. The President justified his move as necessary in order to preserve evidence and to prevent the Minister's continued presence in office from influencing the investigation. Atanasiu was accused of dereliction of duty, crime against persons and the public interest in tacitly acknowledging that he had received intercept reports from the the MOD's intelligence service of conversations conducted by presidential administration officials, including key Basescu advisor and communications director Adriana Saftoiu. After Atanasiu had claimed during a July news interview that he knew presidential aides were leaked negative information about him to the Romanian media, two alleged victims, Saftoiou and Deputy Eugene Bejinaru filed formal complaints. Atanasiu has been replaced on an acting basis by MOD State Secretary Claudiu Dobritsoiu. If Atanasiu is not reinstated,
SIPDIS a new Defense Minister must be named within 45 days under Romanian law.
2. (C) In a separate--but related--move, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) began investigations of the outgoing Chief of the General Staff, Eugen Badalan, following an investigation conducted by the Defense Ministry's Anti-Fraud Section. Badalan is accused of damaging state interests by exchanging scrapped army vehicles for tires from the Tofan Group in the year 2000. The case against Badalan and 11 other individuals, including the head of the army's logistics agency, was the first case investigated by the MOD Anti-Fraud Section. Badalan has been relieved of his duties and has been replaced by Vice Admiral Gheorghe Marin, former Chief of Staff of the Romanian Navy.
3. (C) The chairman of the commission that investigated Gen. Badalan, Col. Tene, confirmed to Poloff September 11 that Defense Minister Atanasiu had personally initiated the Badalan investigation following a request from the DNA. Tene said that while the DefMin's approval is not required to forward a case to the DNA, it does require the approval of the person who appoints the investigative commission--who was in fact the DefMin. Tene said that the section had finalized two investigations and was conducting four additional investigations of high-ranking past and current military officers, including a sitting Senator from the Social Democratic Party (PSD). (Note: While he did not specify whom was under investigation, PSD Senator Mahail Popescu, the former CHOD, is one of the few individuals who could fit this description.)
4. (C) Comment: Atanasiu's brazen admission of spying on fellow government officials provided Basescu an opportunity to move him out of the way after the Defense Minister's break with the President and the Romanian military over Romania's Iraq troop presence. Atanasiu--a close political ally of Prime Minister Taraceanu-- has announced he will challenge his suspension in court, but odds are he will not return to the Ministry. Given the DefMin's personal involvement in opening a six-year old case against former CHOD Badalan, chances that the first case initiated by the MOD's Anti-Fraud Section was a random event are low. This week's twin shake-up at the Ministry of Defense will provide political theater in coming weeks, but it is first and foremost a reflection of the continuing bitter political competition between the President and the Prime Minister. While the changes are unlikely to have a major effect on Romania,s overall security orientation, the two palaces have competing visions of defense policy priorities and we will need to stay fully engaged in looking after our own equities in the weeks and months ahead. End Comment. Taplin