PSD-PNL-UDMR offer to Brussels: can we steal lumps of €50,000 of your…

PSD-PNL-UDMR offer to Brussels: can we steal lumps of €50,000 of your money without going to jail?

Former PSD leader Liviu Dragnea dreamed in 2017 to partially decriminalizing abuse of office primarily for himself, to escape charges in the fictitious employment case. At the time, a group of PSD supporters initiated a bill setting the threshold for abuse of office to be considered a crime at 200 thousand lei. The damage in the former PSD leader’s case was calculated at around 90 thousand lei. The Criminal Code was never amended, and Drangea went to jail.

On Wednesday, the PSD-PNL-UDMR senators amended a draft law amending the Penal Code sent by the government to Parliament on the pretext of bringing it into line with Constitutional Court decisions. Several CCR decisions handed down since 2016 have invoked the need to set a value threshold for abuse of office to be considered a crime.

In other words, you cannot say that the act of a civil servant is an abuse of office if not a single penny of damage to the budget of a municipality, ministry or county council is recorded. However, the CCR’s decisions did not indicate any value threshold but left this decision to the legislator. When the Ciucă government sent the draft amendment to the penal code to parliament in December, it avoided the subject altogether.

The CVM had just been lifted and it was not the time to get out of hand by quickly legislating what even Dragnea failed to do: partially decriminalize abuse of office.

Note that the amendment introduced on Wednesday by the PSD-PNL-UDMR coalition in the Senate, and voted in plenary at lightning speed, has not been debated/discussed/put in decision transparency by anyone. The proposal came out of nowhere and flashed through the first chamber.

The coalition arbitrarily set a threshold of 250 thousand lei (50 thousand euros), even higher than the one Dragnea dreamed of five years ago. In other words, Ciolacu’s PSD, together with Ciucă’s liberals and the UDMRists would have succeeded in partially decriminalizing the abuse of office in a form even harsher than the one dreamed of by the great jailbirds of Romanian politics.

This scandalous amendment to the Criminal Code came about on the very day that the ‘head of the PNRR’ in Brussels was already in Bucharest to check how Romania was complying with the milestones agreed in the PNRR. Now, even if the topics under discussion with the Bucharest authorities are different (first of all the pension reform), it is hard to believe that the European official did not fully understand the message of the Bucharest authorities sent by the PSD-PNL-UDMR senators: Can we steal lumps of €50,000 of your money without going to jail?

A first response came from the head of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, Laura Codruța Kovesi, who raised the alarm in a point of view sent to G4Media.ro:

„What I see in these proposed amendments is the intention to partially decriminalize the crime of abuse of office. If adopted, these amendments would affect EPPO investigations and lower the existing level of protection of EU financial interests in Romania.

This is why we will closely follow the next steps of the legislative procedure and will be ready to bring this issue to the attention of the European Commission, including in the framework of the rule of law conditionality mechanism.”

Through informal channels, the reactions were most likely much clearer: we will cut your millions from the NRRP if the €50k threshold is not changed urgently. That is, you can keep it, but you won’t have anything to steal. Faced with this disarming prospect, I don’t think the PSD-PNL-UDMR leaders have ever thought the €50,000 threshold for abuse of office was such a clever idea.

The prosecutors’ associations have explained how a new criminal model can emerge: mayors, county council chiefs or other managers of public budgets can simply segment purchases below this threshold so that if the prejudice is no more than 50 thousand euros, they will not be criminally liable.

The PSD leader, Marcel Ciolacu, seems to have understood the danger first, before Prime Minister Ciucă, and reacted forcefully, asking the Ministry of Justice led by the liberal Cătălin Predoiu to „publicly present a suitable regulatory variant for the threshold value for abuse of office, in accordance with the decisions of the Constitutional Court, the recommendations of the Venice Commission and the opinions of legal specialists”.

Shortly afterwards, the Ministry of Justice publicly announced that it would support the adoption by the Chamber of Deputies of a 9,000 lei threshold for abuse of office.

Marcel Ciolacu thus positioned himself as the de facto leader of the government, which quickly resolved a crisis that the entire party he led generated. It is very hard to believe that without his knowledge and without Prime Minister Ciucă’s consent, this 50 thousand euro threshold could have been promoted. The PSD leader most likely understood that Romania risks losing millions of euros from the EU but also that the PSD risks being associated again with an anti-justice, pro-criminal party and irritating public opinion as Drangea did in 2017 without having a personal stake. It would have created a major crisis in the relationship with the EU shortly before he took over as head of government.

How does one explain, however, the vote through the Senate in daylight, not at night like thieves like in the case of GEO 13?

There was most likely a collective stake this time. The mayors and barons of the PSD, PNL and UDMR want to honestly steal millions of euros from the NRRP ( that’s where the bulk of the money is) but also from the national budget. They would also pinch at least 50 thousand euros with no sweat, without always looking over their shoulder that the prosecutors are knocking on their door. Then comes the election campaign. How else can the leaders finance four rounds of elections if not with the barons’ money? To get it, they also have to give them all the conditions to steal money legally.

So, was there pressure from the grassroots of the parties to impose the €50k threshold? Very likely. How was it calculated? I understand it was „borrowed” from the crime of tax evasion. Bad idea.

It remains to be seen whether the aberration will be corrected in the Chamber of Deputies, but most likely the PSD-PNL-UDMR coalition will rectify this threshold downwards, towards the one indicated by the Ministry of Justice, i.e. almost two average salaries. The political power in Bucharest has not folded under pressure from the street or public opinion, as it did five years ago.

Most likely, the mechanism of linking funds to respect for the values of the rule of law has worked once again. In any European state, the common sense answer to the question „Can we steal 50 thousand euros of your money without going to jail?” must be „NO”. No mayor or civil servant can steal 50 average salaries, i.e. the work of a normal person over four years, without being criminally liable.

This common-sense solution will also have to go through the Constitutional Court if the law is challenged again.

Note: President Klaus Iohannis was not in the picture on the partial decriminalization of abuse of office voted by senators. Nor could he. The President’s speed of reaction is at least a week after any event.


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