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Romanian Minister Guilty of Corruption, Albanian Judge Appointments Raise Eyebrows

Plus, Bosnian lawmakers are set to dilute an anti-corruption law and Hungarians and Serbs take a new approach to past crimes. by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, Vladimir Matan, and Molly Jane Zuckerman 15 July 2013

1. Romania transport minister gets prison in corruption trial

 

Relu Fenechiu
Romania’s transport minister has received a five-year prison term after being convicted of corruption, Deutsche Welle reports.

 

Relu Fenechiu was found guilty of selling used electrical equipment that he passed off as new to the state-owned Electricity Maintenance Subsidiary Moldova (SISEE) between 2002 and 2005. He becomes the country’s first high-ranking official to be convicted while in office, the German news agency notes.

 

Also convicted were three former SISEE managers for skirting purchasing laws in order to benefit Fenechiu’s companies, as well as two of the minister’s former business partners, according to Romanian business daily Capital. The equipment was kept in mothballs, the newspaper writes.

 

Prosecutors had asked for a 15-year sentence for Fenechiu and demanded that the defendants repay the state damages they estimate at 13 million lei ($3.8 million) plus VAT, according to Capital. Both sides said they would appeal the verdict, with prosecutors seeking a harsher penalty.

 

Fenechiu, who has denied wrongdoing, was appointed transport minister in December. Upon his conviction he was dismissed from the cabinet by Prime Minister Victor Ponta, but he has vowed not to resign from parliament. He is a member of the National Liberal Party, the second-largest in the legislature.

 

Ziare.com writes that Fenechiu’s eight-month ministry was plagued by controversy surrounding the murky privatization of the national railway company. He has also been praised, however, for unblocking developmental funds from the European Commission, which stopped sending aid to the country in October over concerns that the money was misused.

 

2. Albanian judicial appointments raise questions

 

Recent appointments to Tirana’s appeals court have critics questioning the president’s ethics, Balkan Insight reports.

 

A judicial governing body led by President Bujar Nishani appointed several new judges in early July, many of whom have handed down controversial verdicts favorable to the outgoing ruling party in high-profile cases.

 

The presidency is a nonpartisan office in Albania but Nishani was a member of the then-ruling Democratic Party when he was narrowly elected president by parliament in July 2012. The Democrats lost recent elections to a Socialist-led coalition.

 

One of the promoted judges presided over the trial of 28 people, including top government officials, in connection with a 2008 explosion at an ammunitions depot that killed 26 people. The verdict was widely derided as too lenient. Another promoted judge had assessed a heavy fine against a television station that had reported on a sex-for-jobs scandal involving a government minister, according to Balkan Insight.

 

A respected political commentator in Albania, Mero Baze, wrote that Nishani seemed to be trying to help outgoing Prime Minister Sali Berisha hold on to power despite having lost elections.

 

“The way things are going, the new majority’s first battle with public opinion will be whether to keep [Nishani] in office,” Baze wrote, according to Balkan Insight.

 

Nishani said the judicial promotions were made on merit.

 

3. Bosnia set to weaken anti-corruption law

 

Bosnia’s parliament is poised to dilute an anti-corruption law, despite protests from domestic and international organizations, Balkan Insight reports.

 

Lawmakers are expected to vote today to remove the Central Election Commission’s authority to rule on possible conflicts of interest among members of parliament. The amendment under consideration would give the power to a new body that would include members of political parties and officials from Bosnia’s anti-corruption agency, according to Balkan Insight.

 

The measure has already been approved by one house of parliament and has the backing of the ruling, Bosniak-dominated Social Democratic Party and the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, a Serb party.

 

In a letter to lawmakers, the EU and U.S. envoys to Bosnia and representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, a human rights and good-governance watchdog, said the move would compromise a body charged with scrutinizing potential corruption in parliament. The signers urged legislators to have the law reviewed by the Council of Europe’s legal and constitutional advisory commission.

 

In a June 28 interview, Valentin Inzko, the international community’s high representative in Bosnia, told Austria’s Der Standard newspaper that corruption in Bosnia’s politics “is almost like the air we breathe.” The high representative is an office established as part of the Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war.

 

In its most recent profile of Bosnia, Transparency International writes that the independence of the anti-corruption agency that would be part of the new commission “has been questioned. The current institutions responsible for implementing anti-corruption laws suffer pressures from the executive. Other institutions in charge of implementing anti-corruption legislation are either under full control of the government, or do not have the capacity or authority to efficiently implement the laws.”

 

4. Serbia-Hungary reconciliation hailed as example for region

 

In a region where memorials are often used to perpetuate a sense of victimhood and to condemn neighboring ethnic groups, Serbs and Hungarians have hit upon a new approach.

 

In Serbia’s northern Vojvodina province, the site of World War II-era hostilities and atrocities involving both groups, each has offered a memorial to the other, the Southeast European Times reports. The monuments were dedicated in late June by Hungarian President Janos Ader and Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic.

 

Hungarians have established a museum to Serbs killed in the town of Curug during a 1942 operation led by Axis power Hungary, which controlled the town. In turn, Serbs erected a memorial to the thousands of Hungarians killed in retaliation when Hungary lost control of the region in 1944.

 

“Today we turn to each other, we look each other in the eye and say that what we leave behind to future generations does make a difference, and we say that we can only leave behind mutual respect and the truth,” Ader said, according to SETimes.

 

Serbia’s parliament also passed a declaration on June 26 denouncing the wartime violence against Hungarian civilians in Vojvodina.

 

The approach is a marked departure for the region, where groups erect monuments to fighters only to see them vandalized or demolished by others who argue they memorialize terrorists. In November, Serbian police removed a monument in the southern town of Presevo to ethnic Albanian insurgents who had fought Serbian forces in 2000.  A similar memorial is being built by Albanians in another southern village of Serbia.

 

One elderly Hungarian present at the late-June dedication said past memorials to Curug’s massacred Hungarians have been vandalized.

 

“It is a feasible pattern on how one can get over the painful past,” Hungary’s ambassador to Serbia, Oszkar Nikowitz, told SETimes. “If Serbia applies the same method with its other neighbors it has had historical disputes with, I am convinced it will improve the general atmosphere in the region, it will do a lot of good to the reputation of the country and bring it closer the its objective: European integration.”

 

5. Turkish magazine hails Azerbaijan’s Aliev as president of the decade

 

Ilham Aliev
Azerbaijan’s strongman leader, Ilham Aliev, has been named president of the decade by readers of Ekovitrin, a Turkish magazine, according to news.az, a pro-government news website.

 

Almost 271,000 people took part in the magazine’s survey, which judged leaders of “Turkic countries, the Middle East, and the South Caucasus,” news.az writes.

 

Aliev was praised for economic development policies that pushed down inflation, poverty, and unemployment. He has also lured investment and helped Azerbaijan become a major gas exporters to Europe, Ekovitrin writes, according to news.az.

 

Noting Baku’s hosting of various international forums, news.az reports, “The magazine praises Azerbaijan’s role as a venue for discussions on the intercultural dialogue, global political and economic problems.”

 

No mention is made of Aliev’s description by Reporters Without Borders as one of 39 “predators of freedom of information” worldwide. The group cites arrests of critical bloggers, violence and death threats against independent journalists, government control of television stations, and the blocking of websites the government finds objectionable.

 

Also ignored is the country’s designation as “Not Free” by Washington, D.C.-based pro-democracy organization Freedom House. In the most recent edition of Nations in Transit, its annual review of democracy development in Central Europe and Eurasia, the group notes the Aliev regime’s detention of political opponents, perfunctory court proceedings, a lack of pluralism, and widespread corruption.

 

“The government of Azerbaijan maintained its authoritarian rule in 2012 through a system of political patronage fed by oil revenues and premised on repressive measures that stifle political dissent,” Freedom House writes.

 

A ceremony will be held in Istanbul this weekend to present Aliev with his award, according to news.az.

Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan and Molly Jane Zuckerman are TOL editorial interns.
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