A Romanian scandal that threatens press freedom that the UK could stop in its tracks

alexander-adamascue

Alexander Adamescu: Facing extradition from the UK using the European Arrest Warrant

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

Romania is not particularly high profile. It is  best known for Bram Stoker’s Dracula stories and the infamous  rule of Communist President Nicolae Ceaușescu overthrown and killed in a revolution in 1989.

Now it is seen as a NATO ally, a democracy with free elections and in European Union circles as being tough on corruption.

But beneath the surface there is growing evidence that Romania is about to go the same way as Hungary and Turkey with a crackdown on the freedom of the press, arbitrary arrests and flouting the rule of law.

The issue is becoming deeply personal – and this blog has decided to take up the issue – over the plight of a German businessman who with his father owns Romania’s oldest newspaper, Romania Libra. The paper  has been a thorn in the side 0f successive  governments by exposing corruption  and political intrigue. I have written both a news story and a large  feature in Tribune this week on the case.

Alexander Adamescu currently lives in St John’s Wood in London. His father Dan is in hospital in Romania while serving a prison sentence for corruption based on the uncorroborated evidence of one person that he tried to bribe an official. His son is now – two years later -facing a similar charge after a flimsy examination of the evidence in a 30 minute hearing called at two hours notice in his absence.

The Romanians are  using the European Arrest Warrant – which faces only a very limited challenge in the British courts- to try and extradite him to Romania and this spring there will be a court hearing.

Alexander Adamescu has applied for political asylum to Theresa May, has asked the all party Romania committee to take up his case in Parliament and appealed to the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn as a backbencher took up his father’s case in 2014 and was heavily critical of Romania’s judicial process. So far British politicians have not acted.

In the last year there have been more sinister developments – reminiscent of Russia’s secret service – affecting his family. He believes his wife, Adrianna, was the subject of a bungled kidnapping  outside his St John’s Wood flat this March.

As she got out of her car and approached her flat two masked men attacked her and tried to drag her to a waiting car.

She said: “They were both wearing bandanas and gloves. They drove in a Mini Cooper with fake number plates – as I was later told by the police – and didn’t steal anything from me despite the fact that I was wearing diamond earrings, and had my car keys in my hands.”

“When they approached me, I threw myself to the ground, and fought with them until my neighbour Kymone Hansson, hearing my screaming and came running out to me. At the same time, a cab driver with a passenger in the back seat pulled over next to me and called the police. That was the moment I was saved. The two men ran to their car and quickly drove away”.

The Met Police were able to trace the car but not the people and the case has been left on file.

Later there was a second incident which can be directly attributed to the Romanian authorities. Adrianna was returning from Bucharest and was stopped at the airport before she could board the plane. The authorities said her four year son could not leave the country because he was Romanian (he was born in the UK). As he is four they could not detain him so she quickly left the airport with him and drove across the border to Bulgaria and returned from there to the UK.

The issue of prison conditions in Romania- where nearly 500 people have died over the last five years often due to the lack of medical treatment –  has already been challenged in the High Court in London by the international human rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson ( who also represented Alexander Livenenko’s widow in the recent public inquiry into his poisoning by plutonium). He has taken up the cases of other people being extradited by the Romanians and the prison.

Romania’s cramped and unsanitary prison conditions mean that pre-trial detention has also become a kind of punishment. Prison standards are so bad that between 1998 and 2015, the European Court of Human Rights found Romania guilty of 178 violations of Article 3 of the ECHR prohibiting inhuman or degrading treatment. The court recorded 27 violations in 2015.

.Serious questions about the role of the independent judiciary, the misuse of the European Arrest Warrant and the freedom of an independent press to investigate the government are all at stake. Even the role of major accounting firms working in Romania like KPMG have been questioned.

Journalists on the paper have published an open letter accusing KPMG of aiding and abetting members of the Romanian government to rig insolvency hearings to destroy and silence their newspaper, infringing on the publication’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression.

“There is no doubt about it – this is a case of privatized censorship. KPMG has been used as a front by certain members of the Romanian government to take over control or shut us down,” said Sabin Orcan, chief editor of România Liberă.  “Our publication has survived more than 140 years of the worst types of oppression, including during the Soviet period. But who knew it would be the accountants who would deliver the death blow to freedom of the press in Romania?”

KPMG, to be fair, did find problems with the insurance company that bankrolled the paper, but recommended changes that amounted to a rescue plan for the company. The government vetoed the plan which shows where they stand.

All this suggests that the British government should act to stop this move. Given that it is committed to leaving the EU it should be possible to overrule this action or grant him political asylum.

 

 

 

 

No Corruption Please – We’re British: Cameron and the Westland Choppergate scandal

David Cameron meeting the Indian PM on his " successful" business trip

David Cameron meeting the Indian PM on his ” successful” business trip

My ex Guardian and Exaro colleague David Pallister has been assiduously  following the latest  Agusta Westland scandal which led the Indian government to cancel an order  for 12 helicopters to ferry Indian VIPs after allegations of corruption.

His latest article on the Exaro website reveals that proceedings investigating alleged corruption involving a middleman and another British businessman  and Indian  officials are continuing in both India and Italy.

My grouse is not with the pace of investigations in India or Italy into what the Indian press have dubbed the ” choppergate scandal” but the British government’s attitude to what is going on.

David Cameron in 2013 visited India with 100 business people to pledge that he wanted India to be a “partner of choice”  with Britain. As you can hear here Mr Cameron praised Westland to the skies and said any  corruption problems about the order were of course a matter for the Indians and the Italians. Nudge, nudge, it’s those bloody foreigners you know.

.To quote: “AgustaWestland is an excellent company, with highly skilled workers who make brilliant helicopters. Britain has … some of the toughest laws in the world, so people know if they do business with British companies, they have protections.”

How odd it must have seemed to the Indians that one of the people under investigation in the corruption scandal was British.

Now the Indians have requested more information from the British for a criminal investigation. We know this because the Indian Parliament has recorded this in a written answer to MPs.

“MEA (ministry of external affairs ) has also been requested to take up the matter with the government of the UK, as well as requesting its co-operation in verifying the allegations, and helping us by providing relevant information relating to the alleged involvement of a middleman and/or of any Indian individual/entity.”

Roll on this year and nothing much has happened. So I chose the appearance of  Guardian despising Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, at a press gallery lunch in Parliament to ask  him what was happening.

His reply was that he was ” unaware of any request” and repeated the Cameron line.

“I am not aware of any request from the Indian Ministry of Defence for help about this, but I will check to see whether this is correct.”

He added: “As I understand, the court case ( In Italy – at the Agusta end) is about recovering money [by AgustaWestland] after the contract was cancelled by the Indian government.”

Bloody foreigners again. His ” check ” meant according to his top special adviser that he was still sticking to the story. But he helpfully added that Vince Cable’s Business, Innovation and Skills department may know more. Guess what they parroted the same line that it was a problem between the company and the Indians. Yes those bloody foreigners  are at it again. It was becoming obvious we were not helping the Indians get to the bottom of it  at all.

This rather arrogant and even Imperial attitude towards corruption as a problem for others might be rather comic if it  did not have serious repercussions for British workers and jobs. The cancelled helicopters were being assembled in Yeovil at the time.

The latest news as reported by the Times of India is that the Indian government has won its case to get most of its money back and the Indians are considering whether to put the British company on a blacklist for future orders.

So what Cameron hailed as a wonderful business trip to boost British jobs and exports could end up with one of the Britain’s  more successful exporters being blacklisted by one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Well done, Dave!

All Hail the Anti Corruption App

Offered a dodgy deal in Dubai ?  Given an expensive Rolex as a present?   Pressurised to give a backhander to get your visa stamped? Taken out to a very expensive meal?

All these dilemmas might well face business people working to secure a contract abroad – or even now possibly in a few cases in the UK.

 Bribery  and corruption according to the  Institute of Business Ethics  is the top ethical concern now  for 80 per cent of major FTSE companies who might well be worried their staff could be tempted by an offer they can’t refuse.

Interestingly company action seems to have been boosted by the implementation of the Bribery Act in 2012 which makes it an offence for a commercial company to allow their employees to bribe other people on their behalf.
Companies are expected to have procedures in place and The Institute of Business Ethics neat solution is a free App which can be  put on any business phone – offering instant advice on what to do when you are put in a difficult position.

The App offers sane advice on how to handle the situation – including a sensible warning to pay up if you are threatened with violence- and report the incident later. Life in a foreign country is too precious to risk for the sake of a few pounds.

Details of the app and the toolkit on the Institute of Business Ethics website

IBE’s Director, Philippa Foster Back CBE OBE, says “Any one, at any level, in any organisation, can be offered a bribe. The SayNo Toolkit supports staff by giving them clear and easily accessible guidance about what can or cannot be accepted. Not only will the App provide an adequate procedure to combat bribery, it could also help to minimise the risks of corruption taking place.”

 

Two criticisms can be made.about the effectiveness of the new app. What happens if the firm itself – through either its legal or human resources department – turns a blind eye to what is happening.
The toolkit does not suggest going elsewhere or reporting it say to Public Concern at Work a charity which also can handle such issues and can help businesses manage such problems. The second is that it is not clear whether an individual employee could order one of these free apps if his or her firm does not go along with the scheme – which means people miss out on a valuable guide.
However the Institute of Business Ethics, a non profit making company, should be congratulated for a clever idea that might just help cut down bribery and corruption before it starts.