Romania has been hit by another scandal, with a judge charged with wrongful conviction and abuse of office over his conduct in a high-profilereal estate development case.
Judge Corneliu-Bogdan Ion-Tudoran, from the Bucharest Court of Appeal, is at the centre of a controversy over the Băneasa mixed-use scheme in the nation’s capital. Co-ordinated by businessman Gabriel Popoviciu on 221 hectares owned by the University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine through a joint venture, the work was Europe’s biggest real estate project and Romania’s biggest-ever private development. From 2005-2020, net salaries and related taxes and contributions paid as part of the development accounted for €1.3bn.
Tudoran heard separate criminal and civil law cases related to the development and Popoviciu was sentenced in June 2016 to nine years imprisonment. The results also included the restitution of land to its original state, its sequestration by the Romanian state and payments of €300,000 to both the state and the university,
In June last year, however, Romania’s High Court annulled the judgment in the civil case. Tudoran provided the statement of reasons for the decision on the civil side of the Popoviciu-Baneasa case almost a year after his ruling. By this time, he was retired and resident at a psychiatric hospital and the statement was brought by his son on a USB stick to the Bucharest Court of Appeal.
Last month, Tudoran was charged with wrongful conviction and abuse of office in connection with the way he judged the case. Charges include allegations about the invention of evidence to justify the confiscation of lands and buildings of Romania’s largest shopping complex. The enforcement measures taken after the case were annulled. The latest charges risk further undermining his ruling.
Abuses in the Băneasa case date back to the investigation phase. National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) prosecutors opened the file for “abuse of office,” although initially the Prosecutor General’s Office had investigated and rejected the case. In 2008, the DNA reopened the case on the grounds that the damage exceeded €1m. However, the report on the damage was not put together by DNA specialists until 2010.
Serious irregularities are alleged to have been made in the criminal investigation by DNA prosecutor Nicolae Marin. The main prosecution witness admitted in court that he had not been bribed, in contradiction to what was alleged. A former Romanian minister of education and other witnesses told the DNA that the land in Băneasa was never public property and that the prosecutor’s office could not therefore support the abuse of office claim. According to the Romanian media, university professors were allegedly threatened with arrest by Marin if they did not vote in the senate that the University was constituting itself as a civil party, as requested by the DNA. Allegations about such threats were revealed during the July 2012 senate meeting, which was recorded and submitted as case evidence.
The judge is accused of hatching a story to prove that the land was public property of the state and enable the renationalisation of University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine land that the state had no legal right to own. This land had been part of the Băneasa estate of Countess Maria de Montesquieu (Bibescu), expropriated by the Romanian state after World War One. Part of the land passed into public property by expropriation and about 302 hectares were later handed over to the Herăstrău High School of Agriculture.
A Romanian government decree of 1942 established that the faculties of agronomy had full ownership of real estate given to it in current or future endowments. The nation’s communist regime later nationalised the patrimony of educational institutions, which became entirely the property of the Romanian state. However, this was in contravention of Romania’s 1948 constitution, which guaranteed the right to property. In 1995, a new Romanian education law ruled that higher education institutions had rights of private property to properties given to them after 1942.
Tudoran allegedly decided to confiscate university land based on an invented document relating to a donation by Countess Maria to the Romanian state. However, no documentation of this was submitted in the Băneasa file and DNA prosecutors asserted that they had not heard of one. Romania’s Ziarul Cetățeanul online newspaper obtained historical documents claiming that the lands in Băneasa had not been donated but were expropriated by the Romanian state.
Romania’s Section for the Investigation of Justice Criminal Offences has also brought a separate case against Tudoran, alleging that he transferred into his son’s name of his son an apartment worth more than £100,000 in the Romanian ski resort town of Sinaia. The charges allege “influence peddling and false statements”.
Whatever happens to these allegations and the latest charges, Romania once again has to climb a mountain of corruption charges. In this case, they go to the heart of its governance and judiciary. They also erect another potential barrier to the foreign investment that the former communist nation so urgently needs.
|Andrew Cave has written about business for The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph for 24 years, working as US business editor in New York and associate City editor in London. Andrew has also written regular columns on leadership for Forbes magazine for six years.