Romanian mayors with graft records

Romanian mayors with graft records

Romanian mayor Dragos Vladulescu has a criminal conviction in a country with one of the EU’s worst corruption records, and yet local voters keep re-electing him and many think he’s doing a great job.

For Vladulescu’s admirers, what matters is that their mayor has upgraded or built new schools, clinics and even churches during his 14 years at the town hall.

On top of that, the Social Democrat has installed street lighting, mains gas and water supplies, as well as paving muddy roads in their community of Dragomiresti, which lies in lush hill country about 90 km northwest of Bucharest.

Voters in the wealthier European Union states to the west would take such services for granted, but not in Romania, which is still catching up after enduring a particularly brutal form of communism under Nicolae Ceausescu.

So when a court found Vladulescu guilty of conflict of interest in 2014 for granting public works contracts to a company owned by his son-in-law, people shrugged it off and two years later re-elected him for a fourth term.

Dragomiresti is by no means unusual in Romania, which came fourth from bottom of the 28 EU nations in a 2016 corruption perceptions index compiled by the anti-graft group Transparency International.

That year Vladulescu’s Social Democrat Party (PSD) was re-elected nationally even though its leader Liviu Dragnea has also got a suspended jail sentence: two years in a vote-rigging case.

Dragnea is now on trial for abuse of office and prosecutors have opened a separate inquiry on suspicions that he formed a “criminal group” to siphon off cash from state projects, some of them EU-funded. This involves a company once controlled by a county council that Dragnea headed until 2012. He denies all the charges.

All parties that have governed Romania since the 1989 fall of communism have been accused of favoring their own mayors and county administrations in allotting funds.

Dragnea created a multi-billion euro state-funded program in 2013 when he was regional development minister. Under this, money for rural and municipal infrastructure projects is now distributed to the counties by a deputy prime minister, without the need for overall government oversight.

Dragnea’s successor as regional development minister, Sevil Shhaideh, has denied preferential distributions. “The poorest counties, with the largest populations and areas and with the most administrative units, will get the largest allotments,” said Shhaideh, whose ministry drafted the PNDL allocations.

Shhaideh lost her ministerial post in a government reshuffle last October after prosecutors opened a corruption inquiry into her. She denies the allegations.

The European Commission has the Romanian judicial system under special monitoring, and the country’s prosecutors are vigorously pursuing corruption cases, sending to trial hundreds of mayors, county councilors and lawmakers from across party lines.

The bulk of investigations involve public contracts awarded to firms in return for bribes, fraud with EU funds, rigged auctions and conflicts of interest. Jail sentences are, however, frequently suspended with relatively few officials behind bars.