Sorin Oprescu, mayor of Romania’s capital city of Bucharest, was arrested for 30 days on September 6 for allegedly taking a bribe, becoming the latest in a series of high-profile Romanian politicians facing jail time for corruption.
Oprescu was detained in the early hours of the morning following a meeting in which he was allegedly handed 25 000 euro, with some of the marked bills found in his car and the rest in his home outside Bucharest. Anti-corruption prosecutors then searched 13 different locations, including offices of municipal agencies, private companies and homes, interviewing dozens of people and detaining at least three.
Anti-corruption prosecutor’s office DNA said that it had four whistleblowers in its investigation, one of whom passed the marked bills to the mayor. Oprescu allegedly handed out city hall contracts in exchange for kickbacks from the companies doing business with the city, as a fixed percentage of their pre-tax profits, the prosecutors said.
While the exact total of briber allegedly received by Oprescu was not made public, one of the DNA whistleblowers said that they had paid the mayor about one million euro between 2013 and 2015 – the period covered by the DNA investigation – always in payments ranging between 20 000 euro and 60 000 euro.
A doctor by trade, Oprescu was a senior member of the Social-Democrat party, which currently holds the reins of government, with two terms as senator and rising to lead the party’s organisation in the city. He ran, unsuccessfully, for mayor in 1998 and 2000.
In 2008, he changed his tactics, resigning from the party and running as an independent candidate to win the election amid disarray in centre-right parties and against a Social-Democrat candidate that received lukewarm support from his own party. Oprescu was re-elected as he ran on an independent ticket in 2012, although he was backed by the government coalition at the time, between Social-Democrats and liberals.
Oprescu is the latest of senior-politicians investigated by DNA in recent years, some of whom – including former prime minister Adrian Nastase and several former cabinet ministers, as well as mayors and members of Parliament – have received jail terms, while others are still being tried in court or under investigation. Among the latter are also current prime minister Victor Ponta.
Although prosecutors have pursued politicians from all parties, the Social-Democrats have been hit especially hard, losing many senior members who have held influential roles over the years. Among mayors, Oprescu (although not formally affiliated with the Social-Democrats, he was seen as having a very close relationship with the party) joins the former mayors of Constanta and Iasi as high-profile targets of the DNA.
(Oprescu, centre, with Ponta in February 2014. Photo: Social-Democrat party via flickr.com)