By Paul Ciocoiu
A two-year prison sentence handed down this week for former Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on a corruption charge sends a clear message that nobody is above the law, analysts say.
Nastase, who led a social-democrat government from 2000-2004, was sentenced Monday (January 30th) for illegal fund raising during his presidential campaign in 2004. He had been indicted three years ago on charges of using his influence as president of the Social-Democrat Party (PSD) to get various goods, financing and other illegal benefits. He is eligible to appeal the sentence.
“It is a first for a [high-level official] in post-communist Romania. Nastase is the first former prime minister to receive a jail sentence,” Evenimentul Zilei senior political analyst Mircea Marian told SETimes, adding that the verdict removes Nastase as a serious challenger inside the PSD.
The verdict can also be placed within the current context of Romania’s efforts to join Schengen, which has been hindered by the Netherland’s opposition citing insufficient anti-corruption efforts.
“The sentence is due to improve the country’s image abroad in terms of its anti-corruption fight, and comes right before the European Commission’s interim report [on the country’s judicial system] in February,” Marian said.
Iulia Enache, Mediafax foreign affairs department head, agrees.
“At least theoretically, this sentence can be interpreted as a gesture to win Holland’s good will, if we think of the reasons it mentioned when opposing Romania’s accession to the borderless area,” she told SETimes.
“Now it is hard to say if the Dutch will loosen up, but Nastase’s sentence can be used by other countries which support our accession to Schengen as an argument to pressure Holland,” she added.
However, Romanian Academic Society justice expert Laura Stefan told SETimes that she does not believe the verdict will have an impact on the EU, but it will send a message to domestic politicians.
“This should be an alarm call for all the political parties, since 2012 is an electoral year — especially for those in the ruling coalition,” she said.
Cristian Ciuperca, a justice editor with the newspaper Romania Libera, agrees that although the verdict sends a signal abroad, the strongest effects will be internal.
“It can be used as a signal the big fish are finally punished in Romania, that justice does its job. But I am afraid Holland [is using] justice as a mere pretext and its opposition is rooted in something else,” he told SETimes.
“The sentence clearly affects Nastase’s political career because, even if he may not go to jail in the end … he will be then prohibited from holding public offices and even running a political party,” Ciuperca said.
On the street, however, not all are as optimistic.
“Why did it take them three years to get to a verdict which is not even final?” Bucharest resident Marius Pintea asks.
“I do not think Nastase will go to prison. The so-called big fish are caught in Romania, but they escape through the net in the end,” he told SETimes.