How Will the PAS Anti-corruption War End?

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Cristian RUSSU
The ongoing events, which seem to be just a typical bureaucratic war, in fact reflect a bitter rivalry between groups of influence within the ruling party.
An uncompromising struggle against corruption, which has penetrated all spheres of the state, especially justice, has become one of the main slogans of the new leadership of the country. Until recently, all the efforts to reform the national justice system and investigative agencies were guided by the need to “clean them up”. Now it is obvious that these loud slogans were a banal attempt to retake control over one institution or another. The way in which the reset of, for example, the Higher Council of Prosecutors and the Higher Council of the Judiciary took place, more than eloquently testified to the true motives of the “reformers”. However, the recent scandals involving the National Anticorruption Center (NACC) and the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office reflect an entirely different trend, no less cynical. The fact is that the leadership of both structures was appointed by the new regime. Iulian Rusu, NACC’s head, took office thanks to the votes of 58 PAS deputies last February. By the way, he started his bureaucratic career only in October 2021, with only previous experience in non-governmental structures. More than enough is known about the young and ambitious Veronica Dragalin’s entry into power structures to understand whose ranks she belongs to. Nevertheless, the conflict between these appointees has probably surpassed all other conflicts in scale and resonance. This is partly due to the continuing intense internal rivalry within the ruling party, which was not solved completely with the reset of the government. The scandal became public on May 12, when the NACC head reported to the parliament. Then Iulian Rusu directly accused the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office of imitating a vigorous activity by ignoring the facts of big corruption and refusing to cooperate with the Center. Apart from mentioning the infamous National hotel case, the NACC chief talked about the launched proceedings on dubious natural gas transactions during the state of emergency, which, due to huge amounts of money involved, was later transferred to the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, where it safely “perished”. Rusu’s speech was most likely coordinated with some of the PAS parliamentarians, especially since the claims against Veronica Dragalin’s office were immediately supported by some members of the ruling party, including Dan Perciun. The latter even offered to summon Dragalin herself to report to the parliamentary plenum. Formally, on the hotel case, and not on the situation with the gas procurements, but the message was clear. Here we can recall that a month earlier the media outlets brought to light Spinu’s own accusations against a number of regime functionaries, including the head of the NACC and the deputy head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, Michail Ivanov, who had investigated his case. The tone of the statements of the former deputy prime minister was more like a direct threat to blackmail and expel his deputies from the party. At first, Veronica Dragalin stood up for her deputy, but the result was Ivanov’s sudden dismissal at his personal request and showing Spinu a foreign bank notice stating that he had no personal accounts. Maia Sandu put an end to the matter, saying that all these squabbles were nothing more than the work of external enemies. Apparently, the ex-vice premier’s dubious activities being covered-up caused discontent among one of the groups in the ruling party, which made Iulian Rusu headline the national news for several days. In addition, many people expressed displeasure with the performance of Veronica Dragalin who since February had actively promoted a bill to redistribute anticorruption powers in favor of her agency. The deputies’ attempts to curb the prosecutor’s appetite from across the ocean were met with public indignation from the latter. Maia Sandu invariably acted in her favor, and as a result her “wishlist” was finally approved in the parliament. As a thank-you to the president, Dragalin’s mother is said to have organized a forum of compatriots in the United States. However, the gauntlet thrown by Iulian Rusu was promptly picked up by the prosecutors. That same day, the formal head of the General Prosecutor’s Office, Ion Munteanu, called his colleague’s statements “inadmissible and illegal”, accusing him of interfering in the prosecutor’s office to justify the NACC’s existence. Veronica Dragalin called these attacks “unfounded accusations against honest and incorruptible anti-corruption prosecutors” and again cited limited powers. Things went as far as demanding the right to surveillance and wiretapping of citizens, inspired by the recent expansion of the SIS’s functionality. Much resonance was generated by Dragalin’s brazen antics of summoning Iulian Rusu’s subordinates to her “carpet” and demanding that prosecutors replace the actual head, followed by public and emotional admitting to the true objectives. Many in the media and social networks considered such behavior outrageous, infringing the law on state secrets and the principles of the prosecutor’s ethics. But it did not stop there. After half a year of silence, Renato Usatii stormed into the public and political life of the country, reporting in his usual manner about the fraudulent gas purchases by former Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu last winter. Usatii probably received the information from representatives of the group opposing Spinu in the ruling party that patronizes NACC, because such detailed information was available only at the offices of Rusu and Dragalin. To all appearances, the ongoing events, which seem to resemble an ordinary apparatus war, are only a reflection of the confrontation between influence groups within the ruling party, where each state institution is only a piece on the chessboard. In the case with the conflict of the anti-corruption agencies, we can talk about the loss of the NACC piece by the participants in the game in the near future. An unenviable fate awaits those employees of the Center who signed the collective report against Dragalin. On the opposite side were too many people directly related to the decision-making processes. We can recall that the current Prime Minister Dorin Recean has long promoted the idea of liquidating the NACC, following Romania's example, and establishing a new anti-corruption structure under a single leadership. But the main indicator of the practically decided fate of this institution is the position of Maia Sandu, who early in the spring demanded setting up an anti-corruption tribunal. August is likely to be an interim deadline to complete the next phase of restructuring the sphere of influence in PAS, when it will be necessary to report to the European Commission on the progress of justice reforms. By that time, as planned by the authorities, the renewed and functional (i.e. fully accountable) SCM and Supreme Court will be able to begin the procedure of appointing judges to the new anti-corruption structure with unlimited powers. Thus, in the coming months, under the guise of European integration reforms in the justice sector, we will witness another reshuffle as a new episode of internal confrontation in PAS. It is unlikely that such transformations will boost the motivation of Veronica Dragalin’s subordinates and rank-and-file employees of the NACC, on whose shoulders the functionality of national anti-corruption bodies rests. But the fate of many of them, as in the case of representatives of the previous judicial corps, is likely to be tough anyway.