Politicians’ corrupt presents

Politicians’ corrupt presents
10 January 2009 | 21:46

Although the law restricts public clerks from keeping certain presents they receive from some people, they are not in a hurry to obey it. The legal entities also do not hurry to make someone responsible for such actions. Even though some presents constituted a cause for opening a case, the charges brought didn’t refer to corruption or protectionism. They were rather related to smuggling. According to experts, this is due to a simple reason – the laws on gifts are not functional. Moreover, the special fund designated for collecting the “restricted” gifts is invisible.

 

Pistols as gifts, “suspected” of smuggling                     

 

The most popular gifts among politicians are guns, including the ones for hunting and swords, according to lawyer Nicolae Railean, former police commissioner. However, as explained by the lawyer, if one year someone received a simple weapon, then the next year the weapon is polished with gold, platinum or diamonds and its price can be up to 30 thousand Euros.

 

In fact, for two guns received as a gift from foreign politicians, former Moldovan minister of Defense Valeriu Pasat was filed a legal case. Pasat, however, was and is still charged with the illegal introduction of these weapons into the country.

 

One of the laws that regulated the gifts received by state clerks so far is the one on fighting corruption and protectionism, approved in 1996. Article Nr. 8 of the above mentioned law stated that “the gifts that value more than one minimum wage […] received for carrying out work responsibilities from natural and legal persons from other countries are placed into a special fund”. Otherwise, if the violation “is not a punishable criminal act, it is followed by dismissal”.

 

As lawyer of Valeriu Pasat, Alexandru Tanase, told us his client was initially charged with not placing the guns in the state reserve, however, the charges were later withdrawn. “From the point of view of the Criminal Code, it is not possible to legally integrate the fact of not placing the objects into the special reserve”, Tanase also said.

 

It seems that the former minister of Internal Affairs Gheorghe Papuc is in a similar situation. Even though the Prosecutor’s office has not presented an official release for this matter, at the beginning of July, the information that Papuc is suspected of smuggling weapons appeared in the press. This is also a case of having illegally introduced two guns on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, which Gheorghe Papuc received as a gift from the head of the Odessa Police and Ukraine’s minister of Internal Affairs when he was a minister.

 

According to the daily publication “Timpul”, referring to a press agency, Papuc allegedly declared that “the prosecutors’ charges are not serious, and they are based on cases of decorating the ministers of Internal Affairs from some CIS countries with a nominal parade weapon”.

 

The General Prosecutor’s Office press service has refused to tell us if this case, like others, violates the laws that stipulate certain restrictions for receiving gifts. The press service of the same institution even refused to offer us an example of sanctioning a clerk for keeping a present received during official meetings. We remind the fact that, since the beginning of the current year, the Parliament passed on three laws in this context. These are as follows: the law on conflict of interests, the law on the public clerk’s conduct Code, which will be in force starting with January 1, 2009 and the law on preventing and fighting corruption, on the basis of which the law on fighting corruption and protectionism from 1996 was abrogated.

 

Invisible fund

 

As for the repealed law, most of the question marks are raised by the “special fund” into which politicians were suppose to deposit the gifts that valued more than a minimum wage. Even the presents received by family members from people in the country or abroad, with whom the clerk had professional relations, had to be transferred into the same fund.

 

The attempt to try to find out, from other state institutions, who manages this fund, how many presents were transferred in it and, in general, if this fund was even created, led to nothing. “I believe it doesn’t exist, because I’ve tried to find out at least something, but it was pointless”, Alexandru Tanase, lawyer of Valeriu Pasat, told us.

 

Experts from the Center for Analysis and Corruption Prevention (CACP) claim that this fund doesn’t exist and never existed. “Since it was approved 12 years ago, the law has been dead because the Government made no effort whatsoever to enforce it”, CACP expert says. Despite this fact, the institutions and the clerks in charge can create an internal regime, where they would record the information about the gifts received by the institution’s employees and their whereabouts. The legislation doesn’t prohibit keeping such a record and any honest clerk could take the initiative in this context.

 

The Romanian state institutions work, in fact, similar to this way, based, however, on a law regulating to the measures concerning gifts. It stipulates that a commission of three persons is created within every institution, which evaluates and keeps record of the goods received by clerks, except for medals, decorations, etc. and office supplies estimated at about 50 Euros. Eventually, at the end of the year, the good’s situation is solved. In other words, if the good’s value established by the commission is more than 200 Euros, the person who received it can request to keep it only if he pays the difference. Otherwise, the goods remain in the institution’s property or can be transferred for free to an institution in the related field or sold at an auction. Moreover, the authorities publish at the end of every year the list with the respective goods and their destination on the institution’s official website or the Official Monitor.

 

Many men, many minds

 

“The present that you receive forces you to something, because you are somewhat dependent on the person that offers it to you”, Zoia Jalba, independent politician in the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, believes. Although she was not able to offer a concrete example, the politician is certain that there are cases of gift offerings at a central level, which she considers a part of society’s scourge, known as corruption. Zoia Jalba has also mentioned that “we have the so called “offer of gifts”, especially when solving a problem”.

 

The law on conflict of interests is mentioned that receiving gifts during official meeting or diplomatic missions is prohibited, if their value, for one time, is more than one average national wage (around 2300 lei) and are transmitted to the management of the institution under consideration.

 

According to Angela Starinchi, head of the department of foreign relations, protocol and mass media of the Center for Fighting Economic Crimes and Corruption, all of the presents received by the institution’s management during official meetings, both local and abroad, are stated in the protocol room or the institution’s museum. She mentioned, however, that they are not expensive objects and are usually protocol goods related to etiquette, like various paintings, pens, decorative plates etc., all bearing the institution’s logo. “Such sets are used by any organization. We also give such gifts, and we are brought such gifts as well”, Starinchi explains. The head of the department also mentions that there is no record of the gifts because they are usually meant for the institution and there are not so many delegations, which would require such a record keeping.

 

The Executive’s press service announced us that one of the prime minister’s councilors, who could have told us something about the gifts, is on vacation. However, we found out from the protocol Service of the Government Apparatus that the more personal objects, like perfumes and other cosmetic products, are obviously kept by the person receiving them. We couldn’t discover more information, because, as it happens many times, the offer of gifts takes place in the absence of the employees of this service.

 

Dumitru Braghis, Social Democratic Party politician, declared that he was unaware of what happened to the gifts from the time he was in charge of the Executive, because the Office took care of that.

He also said that the only gift he had kept from that time is an office supply set. “I haven’t really received so many gifts and I didn’t have time for delegations, when I was a prime minister”, the politician concluded.

 

A book and a map

 

According to the Romanian press, president Traian Basescu, during his meetings, received 81 objects as gifts, including portraits, paintings, miniature boats and tanks, but also icons, valued up to 300-400 Euros. Out of them, Basescu decided to keep only 5. Therefore, Basescu took the steel sword with a one meter sheath, bearing his name inscription, received in February 2007 from the Polish president Lech Kaczinsky, valued at 190 Euros, but also the set of white boxing gloves offered by world champion Lucian Bute, whom he decorated in November. Basescu also included in his personal collection the 200 Euros gold coin, issued by Emperor Traian a few years after conquering Dacia and received in February 2007 from the National Bank of Romania governor Mugur Isarescu, a painting of 80 Euros and a box with three bottles of French wine, worth 150 Euros.

 

Judging by this concrete data, we’ve tried to find out what gifts President Vladimir Voronin received during his official meetings, as well as what happens to them. Therefore, according to the Presidency’s press release, the state’s first person received in October 2006 from US Ambassador to Moldova, Heather Hodges, a three-dimensional map of the Republic of Moldova (1: 250 000 scale) with the size of 120×145 cm. It was created by the US National Agency of Geospatial Research (NGA) for which digital prelevation of field data was used, that gave the three-dimensional effect. The same source informs that there are only 4 copies of the map: “the first copy is at NGA Headquarters, the second is at the US Embassy to Chisinau, the third, from now on, is in the president’s office, and the forth copy will be donated to the Ministry of Defence of Moldova, with whom the US NGA has close cooperation relations”.

 

It is not known yet if Vladimir Voronin takes the map with him, after his presidential mandate ends or not. It is certain, though, that the price of it is over the legal admissible limit of what a clerk can receive as a gift. All this being said, the law doesn’t stipulate what should be exactly done with this kind of objects.

 

Ghenadie Sarodoev, Head of the dynamic Geomorphology Laboratory, part of the National Academy of Science Institute of Ecology and Geography, cartography expert, was not able to tell us about how much such a map would cost but, he told us, as a clue, that creating an electronic map of the same scale would cost around 2500 Dollars. The US Embassy to Moldova also couldn’t tell us how much a map offered to president Voronin would cost.

 

A year later, the head of state received another worth being mentioned gift. We are talking about the German edition of Dimitrie Cantemir’s work “The History of the Ottoman Empire”, published in Hamburg in 1745, which he received from two directors of a Turkish constructions company. This book was later donated to the Library of the Academy of Science, a fact confirmed by its employees. We were not able to find out in what conditions the donation was made, because a couple of telephone numbers from the Presidency’s apparatus were “on vacation”.

 

Tatiana Placinta, head of the National Library’s old and rare book Department, was not able to tell us the material value of this work, due to a number of bibliographic criteria she had to take into account while calculating the cost. She mentioned, however, that a patrimonial book is priceless. Other libraries were also not able to tell us how much would Cantemir’s “history” cost, but they have mentioned that it must be very expensive, given the fact that it’s over 250 years old.

 

Voronin also received a horse. This was written in Timpul newspaper on November 24th, 2006. The horse’s fate and the location where it’s taken care of remain unknown.

 

All are new and all are old

 

Experts in legal matters believe that the new legislation in the field of preventing and fighting corruption doesn’t contain directly applicable regulations, which failed to establish a clear mechanism in recording and declaring gifts.

 

The new law on preventing and fighting corruption doesn’t mention anything anymore about the special fund. Instead, receiving gifts from any person for the execution of working responsibilities or based on social status, except symbolic actions of attention, are considered acts of corrupt behavior and are punished according to the Criminal Code. Cristina Cojocaru, expert at the Center for Corruption Analysis and Prevention (CCAP), when referring to this law, declared that its final version is even worse than its project. Even though in the CCAP’s expert analysis Report for the project Law on preventing and fighting corruption, it is mentioned that it is more actual than the old one, it still contains norms with a corruptible potential. The analysis especially refers to establishing accountability for violating the project’s stipulations, where the various forms mentioned are not concrete, which will lead to the possibility of a convenient interpretation of these stipulations. As reasoned by the experts, the accountability is the project’s most problematic matter, namely due to the lack of description of the specific nature of the various forms of judicial accountability indicated in this project.

 

Independent politician Zoia Jalba mentions, referring to the recently approved legislation on the public clerk, where the gifts are also stipulated, that it is nothing more than a bunch of “strange things discussed in the Parliament”. The politician argues its attitude with the fact that “the parliamentary majority, knowing very well that things will not improve, make the modifications in the legislation only to create a fake wall in front of the international organizations, to make them believe that things are getting better in the Republic of Moldova”.

 

 

Published in Romanian on August 14th 2008

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