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BUCHAREST, Romania – In another blow to Romanian businessmen and women who wrote ‘scientific’ books while behind bars using a loophole in the law to shave time off their prison sentences, investigators are now prosecuting one such author on plagiarism charges.

Until February this year when the loophole was overturned prisoners were able to exploit the Romanian law to cut their jail sentences by 30 days for every book of scientific value they published.

Romanian businessman Gheorghe Copos, who wrote five such ‘prison books’ is being prosecuted for allegedly plagiarizing academic papers in a book he wrote while serving jail time, which skimmed 30 days off his initial four year sentence.

Between January 2013 and December 2015, over 180 prison authors published 415 such books, a process helped due to a lack of academic checks in signing off the works as worthy of reducing sentences.

Adrian Moraru, Director Adjunct at the Institute for Public Policy, says: ‘There’s more than one [author] being investigated…I heard about a guy who was preparing three books in advance — so that he would be able to produce them while in jail [to cut his sentence].’

The use of the loophole was popular with well-heeled businessmen and politicians, and its exploitation appeared to correlate with Romania’s intensive corruption purge in recent years, led by specialized agency the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA).

Could the prosecution of Copos mean a wave of businessmen returning to jail in the coming months?

Copos, who was sentenced in 2014 to four years in prison shaved a total of 150 days off his sentence from his five published books, and was released in April 2015 after serving only a third of his sentence.   

The book he allegedly plagiarized is called Matrimonial Alliances as a Policy of Romanian Kings in the XIV-XVIth Centuries, originally written by MA history student Catalin Parfene in 2005.

Parfene claimed that Copos would not have had access while locked up to the documents that had been used for his book, and that the references within Copos’ book stopped the year Parfene finished his dissertation.

Marian Popescu, president of Bucharest University’s Ethics Committee, told local media: ’It is not a classic copy-paste issue, we are talking about a professional author who made a lot of unacceptable paraphrazing from Catalin Parfene’s dissertation thesis.’

Part of the criteria for producing books in prison was that manuscripts were handwritten. Though it’s believed that many authors used ghostwriters or assistants beyond prison walls to worm their way out of serving full sentences.

In other high profile prison book cases in the soap opera of Romanian politics, Steaua Bucharest football club owner Gigi Becali shortened his sentence by publishing four books, and later said publicly: ‘I do not have the gift of writing…[the ghostwriter] writes and I claim the days. Until Parliament changes the law, I won the day.’

Other prison authors were especially industrious. Businessman Dinel Staicu published ten books behind bars while serving his sentence for fraud; while Dan Voiculescu, one of Romania’s richest men imprisoned August 2014 published eight books.

Will Romania’s prison authors come to regret the books they wrote? If the prosecution of Copos is a sign of things to come, perhaps they will.

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