Romania’s secret services under parliamentary scrutiny

When a country looks inward to examine their own secret service agency, it does not always make for comfortable viewing. Romania has been watching with interest as a parliamentary committee has been examining the activity of the SRI, Romania’s national intelligence agency.  

The parliamentary committee, known as the SRI Control Commission, is chaired by Claudiu Manda. Mr Manda, a Senator from the Social Democratic Party (PSD) was voted into the leadership of the committee in a plenary meeting in September. The committee has been busy in recent months conducting an investigation into the conduct of the SRI.

The need to take a closer look at the Romanian intelligence services has been evident since April 2015, when General Dumitru Dumbrava, the head of SRI’s legal department, stated in an interview that the SRI would not “withdraw from the tactical field once the indictment was presented to the court” and that the SRI maintained its “interest/attention until the final resolution of every case is reached”. He also stated the SRI was profiling judges to detect patterns of criminal behaviour, regardless of reported suspicion. Given that the SRI is prohibited by law to interfere with courts and prosecutions, these comments caused alarm, both inside and outside the country. This raised serious concerns about the independence of the whole Romanian judiciary as the SRI is prohibited by law to interfere with courts and prosecution. Fears were hardly allayed when, at the SRI’s 25th anniversary, Eduard Hellvig, the current SRI Director, made matters worse, by explaining that magistrates had to be monitored “to avoid situations like in the past when the judges and prosecutors forgot on the road that they serve the Romanian State and had other preoccupations than to serve the Romanian State”. The respected judge Dana Girbovan, president of the National Union of the Romanian Judges (UNJR), has been vocal on behalf of Romanian judges campaigning against the covert involvement of the SRI in the judiciary.

It certainly seemed the parliamentary committee would have plenty to examine. 

Former intelligence officer Daniel Dragomir also testified at the parliamentary commission. He presented them with a list of 65 people he believed should also testify, so that the commission could better understand what he calls “the parallel state”, trying to control the state’s official power structures. The list included active and retired intelligence officers, politicians, as well as business people and journalists. Mr Dragomir also asserted that the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA)’s indictments are actually drafted by SRI employees. He told the commission that DNA employees only sign the indictments and send them to court. Mr Dragomir has also faced charges and was acquitted on 21 December 2016. Ovidiu Putura, former state secretary at the Ministry of Justice and the former head of security in that institution, testified to the parliamentary committee about the SRI’s role in his own case. Mr Putura claimed that a High Court Judge took a break for tea, claiming he was not feeling well, just before deciding Mr Putura’s case. Mr Putura asserted that during this break the judge met with a senior figure from the SRI. 

Mr Manda and Mr Putura went on to discuss whether this SRI manager was in fact the same person who used the term “tactical field” to refer to the way the SRI sees the judiciary and prosecution process, meaning General Dumitru Dumbrava. Whether or not it was actually General Dumbrava, the parliamentary committee heard that a High Court judge in a very high profile case was taking instructions from the SRI regarding what the verdict should be. The parliamentary committee also heard that it is not only the judiciary that the SRI has sought to interfere with. Adrian Sarbu, the former head of CME Media International, testified and gave the committee several examples. 

The first was that in 2010 the SRI was interested in controlling the leadership of Realitatea TV via Sebastian Ghita. Another was that people from the SRI leadership got involved with the Intact Group. The third was that former SRI Deputy Director Florian Coldea told Mr Sarbu he had a solution for Dan Voiculescu, before the court passed its sentence against Mr Voiculescu. Mr Sarbu also claimed that the SRI attempted to get involved in the editorial control of media institutions, via people close to the Service. 

Twat

He referred to an article in which former SRI Director George Maior allegedly confirmed that there are undercover officers in the media. When Dumitru Iliescu, the former head of SPP (Romanian’s Protection and Guard Service) testified, Mr Manda reported that Mr Iliescu also referred to “the parallel state” and an attack on the fundamental institutions of the state. Mr Iliescu testified to the committee and later to journalists, that the SRI was involved in several files against politicians, including Catalin Voicu (PSD) and Dan Voiculecu, the former CCR judge Toni Rake and the labour minister Lia Olguta Vasilescu. Mr Iliescu commented that the common thread running through each of these cases was that those accused were deemed awkward for the SRI. In the case of Catalin Voicu, he said the SRI’s Florian Coldea demanded Daniel Morar arrest Mr Voicu. When Mr Morar refused, Mr Coldea is said to have gone to the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA)’s head Laura Kovesi to find a way to arrest Mr Voicu. Horia Georgescu, the former president of the ANI, testified to the committee about further overreach of the SRI. He said that in 2011 he had signed a protocol between the ANI and the SRI. 

The SRI has denied the existence of such a protocol. He indicated to the committee that this protocol is in the ANI archives, in the classified section. Mr Manda said that the Committee is also examining protocols signed between the SRI and other institutions. The parliamentary committee has not yet concluded their investigation but they have already taken some votes. The committee voted 5-3 in favour of demoting General Dumbrava. The SRI has not yet responded to the resulting request. Last week they voted 4-2 in favour of asking the SRI to declassify General Dumbrava’s testimony to the committee, so that the public may hear it. The SRI did agree to this request but the declassification has not actually happened yet. There may still be more to learn about the SRI’s conduct but it does seem we have heard enough to be concerned that old habits die hard, and that Romania’s intelligence services have quite a way to go before they reach European norms.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today. 

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

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