Wikileaks - XXXII

Friday, 02 September, Year 3 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu
    "50274","1/20/2006 17:55","06BUCHAREST111","Embassy Bucharest","CONFIDENTIAL","","VZCZCXRO7530
    DE RUEHBM #0111/01 0201755
    P 201755Z JAN 06



    E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/20/16

    Classified By: Charge D\'Affaires Mark Taplin. Reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)

1. (C) Summary. Former PM Adrian Nastase, whose reputation for shady dealing was already well-established with the Romanian public, is now caught in a political scandal that threatens both his political career and has set off more fierce infighting within the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Romania\'s main opposition grouping. The so-called \"Aunt Tamara\" scandal involving a highly suspect inheritance of one million Euros from an elderly aunt of Nastase\'s, has led the former Prime Minister to \"temporarily suspend\" himself from party duties. It has also strengthened the hand of Nastase\'s political foes, including PSD President Mircea Geoana, re-igniting smoldering tensions among rival factions within the PSD. Prospects for a criminal conviction in the short to mid-term remain slim given the arduous process for prosecuting such high profile cases in Romania. However, Embassy contacts assert that if the case against Nastase continues to gain momentum, the former premier could ultimately face conviction and become the poster child of Romania\'s heretofore lagging anti-corruption efforts. End Summary.

Nastase\'s \"Wealthy Aunt\" -- A Dubious Inheritance
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2. (C) Chamber of Deputies president and former PM Adrian Nastase on January 16 announced that he would \"temporarily self-suspend\" himself from his position as Executive President of the PSD while prosecutors investigate his suspicious inheritance from a recently deceased aunt. As Executive President, Nastase holds the number two position in the party, after the PSD presidency currently held by former FM Mircea Geoana. The issue of the inheritance surfaced when the government released publicly in early January the wealth disclosure statements of all elected politicians and senior bureaucrats. The aunt -- actually a relative of Nastase\'s wife -- had apparently lived modestly throughout her life but left the Nastase\'s nearly one million Euros in cash and other assets. When questioned by journalists as to how the aunt obtained the sum, Nastase claimed she had brought jewelry with her from Georgia and Moldova when she immigrated to Romania decades before. According to Nastase, the aunt sold much of the jewelry in 1999 to a \"close family friend\" and -- at the age of 91 -- \"invested the fortune wisely.\"

3. (C) While many details of the case remain obscure, the broad outlines of what the press has dubbed the \"Aunt Tamara\" scandal includes the purchase of properties at a fraction of their market price and a series of complex business transactions purportedly conducted by the elderly aunt. Observers noted that the aunt\'s \"prescient\" decision to invest in real property occurred within two months of her decision to bequeath her entire estate to Nastase\'s wife, Dana. In addition, the largest transaction involved the sale of jewels to a Nastase \"family friend,\" a classic indication of money laundering according to many analysts. Indeed, some aspects of the case had been under investigation by the National Anti-Money Laundering Office since 1999 - but the file was reportedly closed when Nastase became PM in 2000. The office reopened the investigation this January, but -- adding a new wrinkle in the deepening scandal -- media reported January 19 that key documents from the case, including documents regarding the source of USD 400,000 obtained by Dana Nastase from Aunt Tamara from the proceeds of the jewel sales, had mysteriously \"vanished.\" With the \"Aunt Tamara\" scandal on the front pages, other allegations against Nastase have also resurfaced, with newspapers printing complex diagrams of links between the Nastases and other \"close family friends\" who allegedly served as intermediaries for suspect financial transactions and real estate purchases. Many of the individuals were rewarded with senior government positions and/or lucrative government contracts while Nastase was prime minister.

4. (C) Revelations of the inheritance sparked a flood of media coverage, which included televised news footage of the aunt\'s small flat in a communist era apartment bloc and recollections by her neighbors of occasional visits by the Nastases in chauffeur-driven limousines. Former President and PSD founder Ion Iliescu joked to the press that \"he himself had many aunts\" but \"regrettably no rich ones.\" However, once the initial cynicism over the revelations settled, both the press and many average Romanians reacted with indignation and calls for a full investigation and possible prosecution. British Ambassador Quayle, in a widely covered interview with a Romanian wire service, questioned rhetorically how it was BUCHAREST 00000111 002 OF 004 possible \"that Romanian politicians were not corrupt,\" while \"their relatives had become very rich without explanation.\" Respected news analyst Mircea Dinescu commented that Nastase\'s fortune was probably \"much greater than reported.\"

5. (C) Although some international media reported Nastase had actually resigned from his senior party position, he in fact did not. PSD interlocutors tell us that the party\'s internal regulations include no provision for what Nastase has characterized as \"self suspension.\" These same contacts predict this will mean little more than Nastase\'s voluntary absence from a few official party functions. Moreover, Nastase has not even hinted that he would resign from his more important position as Chamber of Deputies president. Nonetheless, ruling Liberal-Democratic (PNL-PD) Alliance politicians have vowed to press for his removal, although legal provisions would only allow for such a move in the event of a criminal conviction.

Mudslinging in the PSD: The Politics of \"Dossiers\"
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6. (C) The scandal has re-ignited smoldering tensions within the PSD, leading some members to speculate that President Traian Basescu was behind the revelations, with the goal of dividing the opposition. Indeed, Nastase claimed publicly to be a \"victim of a campaign\" orchestrated by \"Basescu\'s entourage,\" which used \"information collected from the intelligence services.\" Without providing details, Nastase also pointed to \"enemies within his own party.\" PSD contacts say he likely meant PSD President Mircea Geoana, and several party power brokers who now support Geoana, including former Transport Minister Miron Mitrea, former Interior Minister Ion Rus, and PSD Chamber of Deputies faction leader Viorel Hrebenciuc. Embassy contacts also tell us that despite Geoana\'s tepid public support for Nastase, he received the news of his party rival\'s travails with glee. Indeed, one Geoana aide told PolChief that Geoana viewed the scandal as an opportunity to purge the PSD of some of its most corrupt elements, including his number one challenger for power within the party. In the weekend immediately after the \"Aunt Tamara\" revelations, the PSD leadership convened to discuss Nastase\'s possible removal from his senior party position. His agreement to \"self suspend\" was viewed within the party as an acceptable compromise.

7. (C) Meanwhile, the Romanian High Court issued a verdict against PSD leader for Bucharest Dan Ion-Popescu, ruling that the latter could not account for personal assets of over USD 1.5 million claimed on his legally required wealth declaration statement. The Court ordered the freezing of many of the assets, until Popescu could account for their acquisition. Long-standing cases against Mitrea, Hrebenciuc, and others have also resurfaced in the media. One PSD aide asserted that this heightened coverage is a result of the party\'s infighting -- \"rival party strongmen are slinging mud against each other.\" He continued that each senior party official had \"a collection of sensitive files\" on fellow party members, including potential rivals.

8. (C) While the scandal intensified, former president and PSD founder Ion Iliescu stepped forward to assert that the \"time was ripe\" for the PSD to seize the offensive in the anti-corruption battle. He publicly called on the PSD to initiate effective anti-corruption legislation and strive to create transparent public institutions, noting that the Romanian public deserves to know about the wealth of public figures. Although Iliescu did not directly defend Nastase (the two men feuded when Nastase was PM and Iliescu was President), he observed that allegations of suspicious accumulations of wealth were not unique to the PSD. Exercising his position as the PSD\'s pater familias, Iliescu insisted that the party should take a \"break\" from mudslinging, assess the impact of the recent revelations about Nastase and other leaders, and discuss the PSD\'s future. He vowed to remain silent about the corruption revelations until early next week, concluding that as a committed social democrat and party founder he would support any internal reforms that would strengthen the PSD and increase the party\'s diminished public credibility.

9. (C) Many PSD party activists welcomed Iliescu\'s efforts to still the PSD\'s troubled waters - fearing that continued public bickering could release a tsunami of allegations that would further damage the party. Longtime Iliescu ally and BUCHAREST 00000111 003 OF 004 former Culture and Religion Minister Razvan Theodorescu publicly echoed the sentiments of many within the PSD\'s national and local leadership, as well as rank and file party members, when he publicly called for Iliescu to \"return to the forefront\" as the party\'s \"spiritual leader,\" asserting that \"no other leader (in the PSD) has the competence, influence and charisma of Ion Iliescu.\"

Lotto Loser? Vice Premier\'s Number May Be Up
10. (C) As media coverage of the Nastase scandal and other allegations concerning PSD leaders intensified, the National Anti-Corruption Prosecutor\'s Department (DNA) announced January 20 that it was also investigating possible criminal offenses, including tax evasion, by Conservative Party (PC) Vice Premier George Copos. He is also suspected of criminal collusion with the national lottery president. Although the PC is a member of the governing coalition, Embassy contacts note that as one of the wealthiest individuals in Romania, Copos maintains \"friends of all political persuasions.\" The timing of the prosecutor\'s public announcement also coincides with an escalating war of words between PC leader Dan Voiculescu and President Basescu. In their latest exchange, Voiculescu accused Basescu of being \"a hypocrite\" and Basescu, for his part, has made no secret of his desire to drive the PC from the governing alliance.

Prosecutors Prepare their Case
11. (C) The General Prosecutors office announced January 12 that it had reopened an earlier file against Nastase over a suspect property purchase, a prime piece of downtown Bucharest real estate, and would broaden the scope of the investigation to examine other \"dubious transactions,\" including the \"Aunt Tamara\" dossier. Nastase accepted an \"invitation\" to answer questions by prosecutors on January 17. Embassy contacts assert that Nastase can expect future summons from the prosecutors.

12. (C) While many analysts noted that most of the currently discussed allegations against Nastase had been widely known for several years, it is not out of the question that Nastase could actually wind up in the docket on at least some of the charges under investigation, particularly given the wide publicity of the current scandal. A key factor is the DNA\'s new head, Daniel Morar, an aggressive and effective prosecutor. Another element is the EU Accession report currently due for May. Given that the EU has singled out entrenched corruption as a major problem in Romania, a successful prosecution of a prominent and powerful public figure - like Nastase - could send a strong message to Brussels that Romania is, finally, getting tough on corruption. Nastase - essentially impregnable during his 2000 to 2004 tenure as PM - now faces bitter rivals within his own party as well as a lack of political clout generally that will make it difficult for him to derail a prosecution, as his detractors assert he has done in the past. The court of public opinion may also help determine whether Nastase gets his day in court - whether he wants it or not. Media coverage of the current spate of scandals has been intense and shows no signs of abating, helping to focus widespread public anger about corrupt public officials.

13. (C) Nevertheless, a successful prosecution is far from a slam dunk. Missing key documents in one case (see paragraph 3) will increase the difficulty of a successful prosecution. Additionally, a thorough and accurate investigation of the myriad of complex and often interlocking allegations against Nastase could last at least one year. A thoroughgoing investigation will require detailed analyses by accountants, tax experts, real estate evaluators and others - providing ample time for other files to \"vanish.\" As one wag recently noted to PolOff, law offices have lately been flooded with politicians and their family members attempting to jiggle and reconfigure complex transactions. Furthermore, Nastase, despite his somewhat faded luster, retains influence in some circles and, according to PSD insiders, has a stack of compromising \"dossiers\" in his possession that he could use to help derail an investigation, or put his rivals under the hot lights.

Comment: Will Nastase Fall?
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14. (C) As one top pollster told PolChief, Nastase\'s popularity has taken a nose dive with the recent revelations. He added that a poll expected to be released in coming days also shows that the PSD had taken a hit, with its figures similarly down as a result of the scandal. Indeed, this is the most serious political blow delivered to Nastase since his defeat in the December 4, 2004 presidential elections. His wealth and influence may allow him to remain a power within the party. However, many doubt that he will be able to recover fully, as senior PSD leaders as well as rank-and-file members increasingly view him as unelectable on a national level. By now, much of the Romanian public has heard of Aunt Tamara and her family jewels, much to the discomfort of the former prime minister and her unfortunate heir Adrian Nastase. End Comment.

15. (U) Amembassy Bucharest\'s reporting telegrams are available on the Bucharest SIPRNet website:

Category: Breaking News
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