In a move that will place further question marks over the Romanian government’s commitment to fighting corruption, the country’s new prime minister Viorica Dancila said on February 12 that she would ‘stand by’ her key economic adviser Darius Valcov, a convicted criminal sentenced on February 9 to eight years in prison for bribery, money laundering and other offences. Mr Valcov, a former finance minister, is currently free pending an appeal.
“I have never abandoned any member of my team when they have found themselves in a difficult situation,” Mrs Dancila told reporters. “Everyone in Romania has the right to the presumption of innocence until the appeal process has been exhausted.”
Mr Valcov – who besides his prison sentence was stripped of assets worth 1.5 million euros – will in the meantime continue draw a salary of almost 3000 euros per month as a prime ministerial adviser. The amount is almost 10 times the Romanian minimum wage.
The prime minister’s comments came on the same day that the opposition Save Romania Union (USR), together with some of Romania’s most respected intellectuals and members of civil society, launched a campaign to eradicate convicted criminals from public life.
“A year ago we were in the street protesting against changes to the justice system which favour corrupt officials,” said Dan Barna, leader of the USR, at the launch of the initiative. “Since then, nothing has changed. Two governments have been and gone but the assault on the justice system continues, all so that a group of corrupt politicians, led by [PSD leader] Liviu Dragnea can use their power to keep themselves out of prison and to continue to steal. We believe that there are now enough decent people in Romanian society who want to see the country’s political classed cleaned up. This initiative is for them.”
Called ‘No Criminals in Public Office’ the USR’s initiative seeks to change Romania’s constitution, inserting a clause that would bar any convicted criminal from holding any elected office. The party intends to collect half a million signatures over the next six months, forcing a referendum on the issue.