By Ana Maria Luca
The arrest of policeman suspected of having sexually assaulted children has shaken Romania’s police and exposed rifts inside the country’s Social Democrat-led government.
The arrest of a traffic policeman suspected of sexually assaulting two children last weekend has shaken Romania’s police force and added to tensions in the centre-left government.
The suspect was arrested on Monday after police circulated a still from a surveillance video of a man sexually assaulting two minors, a boy aged nine and a girl aged five, in an elevator last Friday.
Besides sparking outrage among Romanians, worried about the ethics of their police force, the case has caused skirmishes in the Social Democrat-led cabinet as well as in the ruling party, with Prime Minister Mihai Tudose opposing measures taken by Interior Minister Carmen Dan.
Police said DNA tests showed that the same man was a suspect in another assault case in 2012 involving a seven-year-old girl, and might have been involved in several other sexual assault cases going back to 2009, which are also being reinvestigated.
He was recognized by co-workers and his immediate superior turned him.
The suspect had worked in the traffic brigade since 2010 and had been a gendarme before that for 20 years.
Interior Minister Carmen Dan on Tuesday asked for the resignation of several police officials, including the national police chief, Bogdan Despescu.
However, Prime Minister Mihai Tudose on Wednesday told the cabinet that he was unwilling to fire Despescu – and praised the police for catching the suspect in only two days.
“I gave the police chief a week to come back with a list of measures that he took to clarify the situation,” Tudose told the cabinet meeting.
The Interior Ministry issued a statement on Monday saying that the police service needed reform and reorganization, and that any chiefs deemed responsible for hiding problems would be asked to resign.
Among the officials that Dan wanted to fire was the head of the Traffic Brigade where the suspect worked in the past eight years, but also the head of the Homicide Department, who had no connection to the case.
However, the minister also criticized the ruling Social Democrats for proposed amendments to the penal codes that he deemed a threat to the rule of law.
On Tuesday, however, Dan announced that none of the police chiefs she had asked to “take a step back” had actually resigned and requested Despescu’s resignation instead.
Tudose did not agree with Dan’s decision, and asked Despescu for a report on Wednesday morning. Moreover, he did not consult with the Interior Minister on the case.
Voices within the police are also calling for reform of the force. Iulian Surugiu, leader of the police union, on Tuesday blamed the paedophile case on 28 years of politicians working against the police service, adding that the psychological testing system for the police needed updating.
Marian Godina, a traffic policeman and a well known blogger, said, as a policeman himself, he could not understand how the man suspected of sexually assaulting minors could work as a policeman for so many years,
“I think there are many cops who are ashamed today,” Godina wrote on Facebook on Monday. “If I weren’t a cop, I would feel the same disgust towards the police,” he added.
Tensions in the cabinet, however, run deeper than the scandal in the police force. On Monday, Tudose asked the Social Democrat leadership to approve a government reshuffle and deemed some ministers and dignitaries incompetent.
“I can’t win the race if you’re making me drive a Trabant,” Tudose told a Social Democrat leadership meeting on Monday, referring to the cheap, popular small car produced between 1957 and 1990 in former East Germany.
Interior Minister Dan is one of Dragnea’s close allies. She was prefect of Teleorman County while Dragnea served as head of the county council.
Tudose was appointed Prime Minister in June 2017, after the Social Democrats impeached their own government, led by Sorin Grindeanu.