Jailed Romanian businessman dies as anti-corruption fight in spotlight
Controversial Romanian businessman Dan Adamescu died Tuesday morning while serving a jail sentence for bribery. He was 68 years old.
Adamescu, one of Romania’s richest men and an outspoken critic of Romania’s anti-corruption drive, made his fortune leading a business empire that includes prominent Bucharest hotels and shopping centres, an insurance company and Romania Libera, a centre-right newspaper. He was sentenced to 4 years and 4 months in prison last summer for bribing two judges involved in handling insolvency cases of his companies.
Other charges Adamescu faced was the mismanagement of his Astra insurance company which allegedly caused damages of $190 million.
His daughter-in-law Adriana Constantinescu announced his death on a local TV station. She said that he was being treated for an infection and that he had been in a medically induced coma since last December. The businessman had been ill for some time and was being treated at a private hospital in the capital.
In November last year a local court rejected a parole request made by Adamescu, while his family claimed that his health was deteriorating due to poor conditions in jail.
His son Alexander Adamescu, a German citizen living in London, is indicted in the same case as his father, also on bribery charges. Romanian authorities want to extradite him from the UK under a European Arrest Warrant. The family claim to be victims of political persecution and say that the state is trying to close down Romania Liberba, which they believe the government view as an inconvenient opposition voice.
An article published this week, for example, states: “The real reasons for [Alexander’s] extradition is to try and close down Romania’s oldest newspaper, Romana Libera, to stop it exposing corruption in this EU country.”
However, a long-standing political analyst speaking under the condition of anonymity, says: “Romania is in the European Union, so if this were true there would have been some credible proof that he is being prosecuted for his political stance, there would have been a major scandal in Romania — but there was nothing.”
He added: “Romania Libera was indeed critical of the Social Democrat government but they were, and are, far from being an influential media.”
Alexander and his wife Constantinescu, recently featured in the UK newspaper The Telegraph claiming that the Romanian government tried to kidnap her from a London street. She told The Telegraph: “There was nothing random about this kidnap attempt – it is symptomatic of the attempts by the Romanian prosecutors and intelligence agents to intimidate us and show us what they are capable of doing.”
While the political persecution narrative made headlines in the UK and wider Western media, the case was not hotly debated in Romania. Some critics claim that a public relations firm are running a carefully orchestrated campaign to discredit prosecutors and to prevent Alexander from being extradited in a clear-cut case.
Over the past few years the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), a unit charged with investigating high-level corruption, has scalped thousands of high-profile figures on graft charges. It has been diligently prosecuting politicians, mayors, judges and businessmen at an unprecedented rate: over 90% of those indicted by DNA are convicted. In 2015 it even set their sights on then-serving prime minister Victor Ponta.
An article in The Guardian highlighting Alexander’s plight, titled: ‘Romania’s corruption fight is a smokescreen to weaken its democracy’, is written by David Clark, who works as an associate for London-based PR firm Champollion — which has represented Adamescu in the past. In a phone call, Champollion said that Clark has not received any work from them since 2014. Alexander awaits a court hearing in April in London.
“If you look at the numbers of people being investigated from different political parties, you can see that nobody is being left aside,” says Laura Stefan, an anticorruption expert and a former director in the Romanian Ministry of Justice, “so I don’t think the political victim argument can be substantiated.”
“In order to be a political victim you have to have a political opponent…but who is the actual enemy? Everybody who is investigated by the DNA claims to be a political victim,” Stefan adds.
The death of Adamescu comes at a time when Romania’s anti-corruption efforts are in the spotlight, as the newly elected Social Democrat (PSD) government try to push through amnesty laws that would free thousands of prisoners and pardon some due to their age or conviction type. Critics argue that it would potentially free some jailbirds allied with the government.
Tens of thousands of Romanians — including President Klaus Iohannis — have taken to the streets to protest against the proposed law changes. Iohannis is now calling for a referendum, while PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, who is serving a two-year suspended jail sentence for election fraud, argues that it is not a matter of national interest.
Dragnea’s conviction means that he cannot legally serve as prime minister. Critics, however, argue the law changes could potentially help Dragnea’s case to take the premiership position in the future. Experts and campaigners voiced their concerns following PSD’s landslide win in the December general elections, saying that the new government would try to push-back against the country’s anti-corruption fight.
In response to his father’s death, Alexander said in a statement: “[My father] believed in justice till the end, he was convinced that he would be acquitted because he couldn’t conceive the fact that in a fair state, he could be condemned without proof, unfortunately he died losing faith in Romania and his lust for life.”
In 2013, Forbes Romania estimated Adamescu’s net worth to be $1 billion.