Spotlight on Geopolitics

Smuggling as usual

A little over six months ago, Romania and Bulgaria’s applications to join the Schengen zone were delayed by the political leadership of the EU’s most powerful states like Germany and France. In the eyes of these countries’ officials and intelligence experts, Bulgaria and Romania are not yet in a position to efficiently police their own borders, nor have they even seriously attempted to do so.

The EU’s flat refusal to include Romania within the Schengen zone has generated quite a stir in Bucharest. The president lambasted France’s attitude, whilst the opposition used the event to incriminate the lack of progress in Romania’s fight against the massive corruption which has long plagued its border police and interior ministry officials.

In truth, no political party or state institution – secret services included – is blame-free. As I have proven as early as 1997, Romania has become a fiscal paradise and a haven for Arab smugglers, who over the years have contributed heavily to the fortunes of political parties, individual politicians, policemen or secret service bosses alike.

In 1998, during one of Alina Mungiu-Pippidi’s talk shows, I had explained on national television how it all worked : untold quantities of smuggled merchandise were being regularly introduced into the country by Arab intermediaries through military ports and airports under the protection of Romania’s state secrecy laws and military secret service. The very next day, the Romanian intelligence service (SRI) intercepted an illegal transport of this kind in a military airport and arrested colonel Trutulescu of the military secret service for smuggling a large quantity of cigarettes for his Middle Eastern accomplices. This, to be sure, was only the tip of the iceberg, as the politicians protecting and benefiting from the smuggling trade were never brought to justice and continued their activities unabated.

Hopes of a major clean-up after the September 11 terrorist attacks were dashed, as well. Initially, the SRI took action against the most notorious members of the Arab community involved in major smuggling operations. Thus, on the 3rd of November 2001, a SRI press release announced that

“former honorary consul of Lebanon to the Moldovan Republic, Mahmoud Ahmed Hammoud is banned from entering Romania. […] Hammoud was last week expelled from the Moldovan Republic on charges of having ties with terrorist organisation Hezbollah and other criminal activities such as white slavery, drug dealing and illegal cosmetics businesses on both Moldovan and Romanian territory. The decision to ban M.A. Hammoud from entering Romania was taken at the request of the Romanian Intelligence Service and serves national interests only, according to the Interior Minister Ioan Rus.” (source: Evenimentul Zilei, English news edition)

Back in 1997 I had uncovered Hammoud’s illegal cosmetics smuggling trade by accident, due to the fact that it had directly affected my own small import/distribution company. Hammoud’s protection, which spanned the whole political spectrum, was however iron-clad in Romania. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, he and his brother were even able to obtain a court ruling according to which I owed them damages for affecting their “good name”. In the nineties, their company, Niran, was given office space free of rent within the headquarters of the Democratic Party in Brasov, the same one that is now in power Romania under the slightly modified name of PDL (or Democratic Liberal Party).

As historian Marius Oprea, former presidential national security adviser, has demonstrated in 2001 and again in 2005 on the basis of official documents, the cosy relationship between Arab smugglers and Romanian politicians, secret service officers and interior ministry officials, continued unhindered even after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when the intermediaries used in smuggling operations were identified by the SRI as members of Hezbollah, Hamas or the Syrian secret service. Mr. Oprea wrongly believed that Arab smugglers in Romania were involved only with neo-communist politicians. In fact, as the above example proves, they were able to penetrate most political parties, from the Social Democrats to the current Romanian presidential party, PDL.

One would have expected that after 2007 when Romania became a member of the EU, the toxic relationship between Arab smugglers and politicians would, at long last, become a thing of the past. As the latest events in Bucharest and the port of Constanta illustrate however, major scale smuggling benefiting Romanian parliamentarians and Interior Ministry officials continues “as usual”.

This latest case and others that will undoubtedly come to life in the months ahead prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the relationship between Arab smugglers and Romanian politicians has become symbiotic and that the bonds between them seem stronger than the formal ties between Romania and the other European Union members.

Ironically, the Romanian government has recently announced massive retrenchments in the police force due to budget cuts. The state budget, however, had been deprived of around 50 billion euros over the past twenty years as a direct consequence of the above activities, according to estimates published in Evenimentul Zilei. Those funds would also have gone a long way to alleviating the plight of the health and education systems, savagely hit by closures and cuts. A state is deemed civilised only if it is able to provide adequate care for its elders and properly educate its youth. For two decades now, Romania does neither, and every time an economic crisis hits, it has to call the IMF to its rescue.

One could conceivably argue that Romania is fast becoming another problem member of the Union, uninterested in the further progress of European integration. If we tried to explain Romania’s extremely low absorption rate of the EU’s substantial structural readjustment funds, it would look as if the illicit millions derived by many of its officials from smuggling operations are by comparison much more attractive.

The EU is directly affected by these activities, as it loses around 500 million euros per annum in custom duties representing Romania’s contribution. This being the situation, I think it is the right time for a crisis cell to be established within the SitCen, as the only proper way to uncover and subsequently help clean up the Romanian interior ministry, secret services and political class of their entrenched rogue elements. So far, in spite of a few people placed under arrest in anti-corruption actions of no major consequence, the only people to suffer adverse effects were the ones who uncovered the system, such as Marius Oprea, former minister Ioan Rus who has been marginalised in his own party, or myself. (sources: Romania libera, Evenimentul Zilei, Agero-Stuttgart)

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