Plus, Czechs follow through on threat to boycott EU fiscal treaty and an Azeri dream to pierce the sky.by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Kelly Klein 31 January 2012
1. Former Romanian premier Nastase convicted in graft trial
The sentence is being seen as a legal breakthrough because Nastase is the first prominent politician to be convicted of corruption, although several trials of lower-ranking ministers are in progress. Romania’s perceived sluggishness on combating corruption has been a sticking point in the country’s relations with the EU for years and is holding back its accession to the Schengen area.
Nastase, a Social Democrat, served as prime minister from 2000 to 2004 and ran for president in 2004, losing to Traian Basescu. He was found guilty of illegally raising more than 2 million euros during his presidential campaign by pressuring state agencies to send participants to a construction symposium and pay a “tax” for taking part, according to Realitatea.
Nastase labeled the verdict “a political, a dirty decision” by his political opponents and a payback “for all these years when I had the courage to stand up to Basescu and his people.” Nastase was previously investigated and cleared of corruption allegations in a 2006 case involving his wealth disclosure statements, when more than 1 million euros of new assets declared by his wife was explained as an inheritance from her aunt.
Nastase is free pending his appeal of the verdict.
2. Czechs bow out of new EU fiscal pact
The meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on 30 January ended with the Czech Republic joining Britain as the only members opposed to the proposed new fiscal discipline treaty.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas cited three main objections to the treaty: the limited role for the country in euro zone summits, the treaty’s scant attention to debt criteria, and the complicated Czech ratification procedure, Lidove noviny reports.
Necas said President Vaclav Klaus would be required to ratify the treaty. Klaus, a longtime skeptic of EU political integration and the euro, has already said he would not do so, the Czech Press Agency reports.
Under the treaty, the euro zone countries will hold summits at least twice a year. The leaders reached a compromise on the question of non-euro zone members taking part in the summits, providing for EU-wide summits ahead of the meetings for countries using the common currency. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk last week warned he might not sign the treaty unless Poland were offered a role in euro zone governance.
EU leaders will sign the treaty at their next summit on 1 March, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said.
Last May the Financial Times applauded Latvia for outpacing the other new Central and Eastern European members as it managed to secure three-fourths of EU structural funds potentially available over the 2007-2013 budget cycle by the end of 2010.
Now it appears Latvian officials may have cut a few corners in the labyrinthine process of applying for EU money. The European Commission temporarily suspended fund payments to Latvia late last week over concerns about the country’s system for checking how the money is spent.
The commission held up 259 million euros for projects Latvia has implemented, according to the Baltic Course. The Finance Ministry will monitor spending decisions by ministries and government agencies more closely, as it tries to convince EU officials that the current system is working well, according to the report.
The ministry has been given three months to come up with a better monitoring system, the Associated Press reports. Current EU-funded projects will not be affected by the delay, the ministry said.
4. Kilometer-high tower will soar over Azerbaijani dream development
A city being built on man-made islands in the Caspian Sea near Baku will include a 1,050-meter tower, its developer says.
Construction work on the Khazar Islands project began 10 months ago, according to the Azeri Press Agency. When finished around 2023, the city will consist of 41 islands in a 24-square-kilometer archipelago, at a cost of $100 billion, lead developer Avesta’s president, Haci Ibrahim Nehramli, said.
The city’s crowning structure is a tower, originally planned to be 560 meters high but now stretched to 1,050 meters, ArabianBusiness.com writes, easily topping the 828-meter Burj Khalifa spire in Dubai, currently the world’s tallest building. Kingdom Tower, to be built near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, may reach 1,000 meters or more.
The first of a future 1 million residents of the Khazar Islands complex will move into their new apartments in 2013 or 2014, Avesta marketing director Kenan Guluzadeh told APA. Avesta reportedly hopes to raise $30 billion through the sale of apartments and a similar amount from foreign investors.
5. Gambling – back in the cards for Kyrgyzstan?
Casinos could return to Kyrgyzstan, Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov is reported to have said 30 January, just a month after a law banning gambling took effect.
Babanov said casinos could be built in Tamchy village on the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, Times of Central Asia reports. Babanov opposed the gambling ban passed by parliament in September on the ground that it would hurt the country’s economy. He said casinos could attract more tourists to the salt lake and boost tax revenues.
The head of the Kyrgyz gambling association, Mirlan Tashmanbetov, claims more than 12,000 people lost their jobs when the casinos were shuttered on 1 January, 24.kg reports. Around 150 former casino workers rallied today at the government building in Bishkek, calling on the government to compensate them for lost wages and help them find new jobs, 24.kg writes. Supporters of the ban say casinos are hotbeds of corruption and accuse Babanov of lobbying for the gaming industry.