SOURCES Behind the scenes of a decision that scandalized Romania: Cătălin Predoiu…

SOURCES Behind the scenes of a decision that scandalized Romania: Cătălin Predoiu (PNL) proposed the 250 thousand lei threshold for abuse of office / UDMR and PSD supported a threshold even twice as high at the coalition meeting / How did the amendments get from the ministry to the senators?

The decision to amend the Criminal Code to introduce a threshold for the crime of abuse of office was taken on Sunday evening at the coalition meeting at Villa Lac, and all information obtained by G4Media.ro indicates that the author of the controversial amendment is the Minister of Justice, Cătălin Predoiu, who sent it, along with other amendments, informally to the Senate on Monday.


The coalition meeting on Sunday evening at Vila Lac was attended by PSD leader Marcel Ciolacu, the secretary general of the government, Marian Neacșu (PSD), PSD senator Robert Cazanciuc, PNL leader Nicolae Ciucă, Interior Minister Lucian Bode (PNL), Justice Minister Cătălin Predoiu (PNL), UDMR leader Kelemen Hunor and MP Rozalia Biro, several political sources told G4Media.ro.


Ciolacu is said to have arrived later at Vila Lac with Alfred Simonis after discussing the abuse issue. Officially, the coalition meeting was about special pensions.


According to liberal sources, the proposal to impose an even higher threshold of €100,000 for abuse of service to be considered a crime came from UDMR leader Kelemen Hunor, supported by Marian Neacșu and Robert Cazanciuc (PSD). The UDMR leader, however, denies supporting a €100,000 threshold and points the finger at Justice Minister Cătălin Predoiu.


„That’s not true. Nobody proposed any threshold. Predoiu was given the task of coming up with a solution on Monday,” UDMR leader Kelemen Hunor told G4Media.ro. Other PSD leaders consulted by G4Media.ro also claimed that a threshold of one hundred thousand euros was not discussed.


According to the UDMR leader, all coalition leaders said during Sunday’s discussion that the proposal must come from the justice ministry and that the parliamentary majority would support what Minister Predoiu submits.


Justice Minister Cătălin Predoiu could not be reached to answer the question whether it was he who proposed the 250 thousand lei (50 thousand euro) threshold. According to government sources, the justice ministry has not formally sent a proposal with a threshold for abuse of office to parliament. According to the sources cited, the amendment was, however, drafted at the level of the justice ministry, but was not institutionally endorsed.


It is not clear under these circumstances how Minister Predoiu sent the proposal to the Senate and by what method he sent the amendments (personal mail, stick, other means of communication). What is certain is that, according to G4Media.ro information, it was a personal communication, not an institutional one. 


In a statement broadcast by Digi24 on Thursday, Justice Minister Cătălin Predoiu admitted that there had been an indicative discussion at coalition level and that the threshold set for tax evasion to be considered a crime was taken as a reference. This threshold is €50,000 in the case of tax evasion. Predoiu did not clarify whether this benchmark was proposed to the coalition by him or by the ministry he heads.


According to G4Media.ro sources, at the coalition leaders’ discussion on Sunday evening, Predoiu’s proposal was that the threshold should be 50 thousand euros, in reference to tax evasion. Predoiu would have been supported by the Liberals, but not by the PSD, who would have wanted a higher threshold, of 100,000 euros, a variant supported by the leader of the UDMR.


The amendments to the draft amendment to the Penal Code, including the threshold of 250 thousand lei (50 thousand euro), are listed in the report of the Legal Affairs Committee as having been adopted by PSD, PNL and UDMR members of the Legal Affairs Committee „accepted by majority vote”, so it is not clear who proposed the threshold for abuse. None of the coalition senators contacted by G4Media.ro claimed authorship, saying the proposed threshold was „assumed by the coalition”.

The secretary of the Senate Legal Committee, PSD senator Laura Moagher, told G4Media.ro that the amendments were presented by the chairman of the Legal Committee, liberal Cristian Augustin Niculescu Țâgârlaș.


„The first meeting on this issue was Tuesday afternoon. Only the Code of Criminal Procedure was voted on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning Mr Țâgârlaș (President of the Senate Legal Committee, PNL) came up with these amendments as being from the Coalition. And then, all members of the committee from the PSD PNL UDMR coalition adopted these amendments. The representatives of the Ministry of Justice have also agreed with these amendments and were present in the Commission to support this project. The amount of the threshold was not in question, but only the fact that we must have a threshold, in order to respect the CCR decision,” Moagher told G4Media.ro.


The proposal to amend the Penal Code sent by the Government to Parliament in December does not regulate in any way the threshold issue. Moagher explained that there are Constitutional Court decisions that require the legislator to impose a threshold for abuse of office to be considered a crime, but no value was indicated.


Liberals contacted by G4Media.ro claim that the chairman of the Senate’s Legal Committee, Cristian Augustin Niculescu Țâgârlaș, did nothing more than take over the amendments that were decided in the coalition meeting on Sunday evening at Vila Lac. They would have been presented to senators on Monday and a first discussion, including on the abuse of office threshold, took place on Tuesday. But it is not clear from whom exactly Țâgârlaș took these amendments. Contacted by G4Media.ro, Țâgârlaș said he received the amendments by email, but avoided specifying who sent the email.


In conclusion, all the information obtained by G4Media.ro indicates that the political decision to impose a threshold for abuse of office was taken at the coalition meeting on Sunday evening at Villa Lac. The proposal for a threshold of 250 thousand lei was informally drafted at the Ministry of Justice and communicated to the Senate, also informally, by the Minister of Justice, Cătălin Predoiu.

The Senate adopted on Wednesday in plenary the amendments to the draft law on the Criminal Code, including the introduction of the 250 thousand lei threshold. The bill will now go to the Chamber of Deputies. Following the public outcry, PSD leader Marcel Ciolacu backed down and asked the Justice Ministry on Wednesday evening to „publicly present an appropriate regulatory variant for the threshold for abuse of office, in line with the decisions of the Constitutional Court, the recommendations of the Venice Commission and the opinions of legal experts”.


Shortly after the PSD leader’s request, the Justice Ministry announced that it would support the adoption by the Chamber of Deputies of a 9,000 lei threshold for abuse of office. It was the first time the justice ministry had publicly endorsed a threshold for abuse of office, although informally the justice minister, Cătălin Predoiu, had also suggested a threshold of €50,000.


But the first indications that a threshold for abuse of office will be introduced emerged on Friday 24 March.


The Justice Ministry announced in a statement on Friday that „the criminal policy of the Romanian state is at a crossroads” and that a „concerted, structured and integrated effort” is needed to „evaluate the legislative status quo”.


G4Media.ro wrote at the time that one of the changes targeted by the coalition would be the crime of abuse of office, for which no ceiling has been set, in line with the CCR decision.


The Ciucă government changed the definition of abuse of office at the end of the year to take into account the CCR’s 2016 ruling, which decided that only conduct by civil servants that consists of „violation of primary legislation” – i.e. the law issued by Parliament, as well as government ordinances and emergency ordinances – can have a criminal consequence.


However, the issue of the threshold was not addressed in the draft law sent by the Government to Parliament in December.

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