Cablegate: Opposition Party Stalls On Key Anti-Corruption Law, Alleges U.S. Meddling

Published: Fri 13 May 2005 09:38 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/13/2015
1. (C) Summary: Deputies from the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) stormed out of the Romanian Parliament May 10 to avoid a vote on strengthened financial disclosure legislation, a key component in the new government's anti-corruption program. The PSD, which lost the 2004 presidential vote amid allegations of corruption, attempted to shift the debate from the disclosure law to alleged "U.S. meddling," referring to a letter from the Charge to Chamber President and former PM Adrian Nastase. The governing Liberal-Democratic (PNL-PD) Alliance plans to pass final legislation in coming days with the help of strict coalition discipline. End Summary.
A Silly Response to a Sensible Law
2. (C) The Romanian media has focused heavily on a dramatic walkout May 10 by the entire PSD opposition from Romania's Chamber of Deputies. Although such dramatic posturing hasbeen relatively common in the past, it is the first walkout since the new PNL-PD government assumed power in January. Surprisingly, it is also over the issue on which the PSD is most vulnerable - high-level corruption. The specific legislation relates to the disclosure of assets and income by government and elected officials to close loopholes in the current law. The law currently in force, crafted by the former PSD government, allowed officials to claim artificially low net worth figures by transferring assets to spouses and children or by investing in categories not covered by the current law, such as art or stocks and bonds. The new bill - issued by the government as an emergency ordinance - closes those loopholes. Officials would be officially required to publish asset declarations on the websites of their institutions. Investigations of false statements would be carried out by a panel of two judges and a prosecutor attached to the Court of Appeals. This degree of specificity has obviously touched a raw nerve within the opposition PSD.
3. (C) The first blow against the bill came on April 20, when the Senate gutted key measures, passing a revised draft that widened the loopholes found in the original law. Justice Minister Monica Macovei called the changes "opaque" and expressed hope that the Chamber of Deputies - which has final say on the proposed legislation - would change the proposal to its original state. Charge d'Affaires wrote a letter to Chamber President Nastase appealing to him to take a leadership role when the bill reached the lower house. Shortly after the letter was sent, PSD Senator and former Defense Minister Ion Pascu told Charge that the letter caused somewhat of a stir among more "energetic" PSD members, notably outspoken Deputy Victor Ponta. However, he said that the party recognized it as a continuation of the Embassy's long-term efforts against corruption.
Throwing down the Gauntlet
4. (C) The PSD subsequently shared the letter with the other parliamentary parties. The day before the bill in its original state was due to be voted on in the Chamber, the entire text of the letter was printed in "Tricolorul," a daily newspaper owned by extreme nationalist leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor. In the newspaper, Tudor also alleged American interventionism, calling Charge "worse than former Soviet Commisar Visinski in 1945." Tudor's vitriol thereby sparked a public debate over the letter, thereby detracting from the actual content of the legislation. On May 10, the PSD cited the allegations against the U.S. as a pretext to walk out of the Chamber just as the vote on the bill was beginning. Even Chamber President Nastase departed, leaving the PNL-PD-led coalition to pass the bill article by article, as required by parliamentary procedure. Tudor's extreme nationalist Greater Romania Popular Party (PPRM) remained in the Chamber, but voted against the measure and spoke out against it.
5. (C) The final Chamber vote on the legislation, which must now be voted on in its entirety, is now slated for May 17. The PNL-PD led coalition is calling for strict voting discipline by its membership, which holds a thin majority in the lower house. The PSD, which will meet to discuss its strategy against the bill on May 16, may choose a second walk out if as expected the governing coalition turns out in force to support the measure. Minister Delegate for Relations with the Parliament and PNL deputy Bogdan Olteanu told PolChief that the measure will absolutely pass. He also noted that, as the bill was introduced as an emergency ordinance, it is already in effect and that officials in Parliament and throughout the country are already obliged to post their assets on the internet. He opined that the government's biggest problem is not the Parliament, but rather with the many local officials who are having difficulty completing the forms or who are clearly falsifying their claims.
Text of the Letter
6. (SBU) The complete text of Charge's letter to Nastase is as follows:
Begin text: Dear President Nastase:
I am writing you in your capacity as President of the Chamber of Deputies and in anticipation of a vote in that body in the near future on a draft law changing requirements for wealth and interest declarations for government officials.
As you know, the Plenum of the Senate recently voted to make major amendments to the bill proposed by the government. To be precise, I understand that the Senate voted against inclusion of an estimated value for securities, jewelry and art from statements. Another change eliminated a requirement that statements be complete, accurate and public. A third change struck out the need to declare the incomes of children of those making declarations.
We were profoundly disappointed by the actions of the Senate in this matter. I am sure that comes as no surprise, given the long history of discussions between the U.S. Embassy and the Romanian government on the subject of fighting corruption in government, as well as personal conversations between you and Ambassadors Crouch and Guest on that subject.
I strongly encourage you to take a leadership role in this matter in order to secure passage of strong conflict of interest and wealth declaration legislation in the Chamber. Passage of such legislation should aim at fulfillment of conditions requested by the EU to bring Romania into conformity with the Aquis chapter on Justice and Home Affairs. However, it is just as important that the Romanian people be assured that their elected and non-elected officials are neither profiting from their positions, nor taking decisions based on their personal interests. I can also assure you that the foreign investor community, including U.S. firms now looking at Romania for possible sites for their operations, would welcome such legislation as a sign of Romania,s seriousness in creating a hospitable business climate.
Sincerely, Thomas L. Delare Charge d,Affaires End text
7. (C) Comment: PSD accusations of U.S. meddling were clearly a ploy to divert attention from the party's opposition to legislation that PSD members believe will disclose too much about personal finances, at least some of which has no doubt been gained from dubious business practices. The Embassy has sent many letters to the Parliamentary leadership in the past on issues of adoptions, tax issues, language content in advertising, etc. This is the first instance that there have been charges made of "meddling". One PNL-PD politician joked to PolChief that he is eager to see the value of Nastase's famed art collection, although he harbored little hope that true figures would be reflected in any of the opposition's disclosure statements. He asserted "they will still be able to hide everything, even under the new law." Editorial positions on the issue have been widely in favor of stricter legislations, with the U.S. role in this dustup being generally praised and that of the PSD negatively caricatured.
Perhaps realizing his mistake press reports on May 13 report Nastase's new desire to engage in a constructive debate on the bill when it comes up for a second vote.
8. (C) Post's informal poll of average Romanians finds that few believe the PSD had any other motive for opposing the revised assets disclosure legislation than to protect the interests of individual wealthy politicians. For a party that lost the December 12 presidential elections largely over the issue of corruption, the PSD's decision to engage in melodramatic behavior over this particular anti-corruption legislation shows a disappointing resistance to learning from past mistakes.
9. (U) AmEmbassy Bucharest,s Reporting telegrams, as well as daily press summaries, are available on the Bucharest SIPRNet website: www.state.sgov/p/eur/bucharest
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