A letter sent last week by Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, to the president and the prime minister of Romania in which he criticises the country’s fight against corruption, is generating turmoil and diplomatic confusion.
In the letter sent to the Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis, and to the Prime Minister, Viorica Dancila, the former mayor of New York speaks of the “continued damage to the rule of law in Romania committed under the pretext of the application of the law”.
Specifically, it attacks the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office of Romania (DNA) for its “excesses”, allegedly using information from the secret services for its investigations.
In the letter, which was published by the Romanian site Mediafax, Giuliani claims that “many innocent people” have been imprisoned in Romania in recent years and says that this can be remedied by an amnesty of those convicted of corruption who have suffered such abuses. Failure to act on the issues, he says, could affect investment in the Balkan country.
According to the news portal Politico.eu, Giuliani was acting on behalf of the Freeh Group, a consultancy run by former FBI head Louis Freeh.
The Romanian press suspects that Freeh represents Gabriel Popoviciu, a controversial Romanian businessman, sentenced in 2017 to seven years in prison for fraud in a real estate operation.
The controversial words of Trump’s adviser contradict the position of the European Union and the United States on the question of corruption in the EU country.
In addition, they occur in the midst of the latest tension between Romania and the European Commission over the plans of the Romanian Social Democratic government to soften anti-corruption laws, which have been met with massive protests in the country.
The Romanian government decided this year to dismiss – against the will of Iohannis – the anti-corruption general prosecutor, Laura Kovesi, who has been praised for her work both inside and outside Romania.
The leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and “strong man” of the government, Liviu Dragnea, defended Giuliani’s words and said the country should listen to him and allow laws to be adopted that soften corruption offenses.
“He has put his finger on the wound,” said Dragnea, a politician whose convictions for corruption and abuse of power mean that he is barred from assuming the office of prime minister.
Meanwhile, the US embassy in Bucharest distanced itself from Giuliani’s criticism of the Romanian Justice system.
In a statement, the legation emphasises that the judicial reform promoted by the Romanian government could negatively affect relations between the US and Romania in terms of the fight against corruption, trafficking in arms and people, and the application of the law.
The Romanian conservative opposition, has also rejected the claims made by Giuliani.
“It can only be seen as the request of a public relations consultancy that defends some people under investigation,” said a spokeswoman for the opposition National Party, underlining that Giuliani “only wants to make money” with his lobbying in Romania.
The Romanian ambassador in Washington, George Maior, criticised Giuliani saying that he seems to “defend Romanians who have problems with the judicial system.”
The letter caused discomfort in the Romanian Foreign Ministry, which issued a statement saying that the ambassador’s words “do not represent the Government’s position”.
His comments were disowned by the US State Department. Asked if the US agreed with his remarks, a spokesman said: “Romania until recently has shown considerable progress in combating corruption and building effective rule of law. We encourage Romanians to continue on this path.”
Romania scores 48 out of 100 on a perceived government corruption scale measured by Transparency International, where 0 is the most corrupt and 100 least. Romania ranks joint 59th out of 180 countries, alongside Greece and Jordan.