I recently wrote that while the Alexander Adamescu case fits the profile of something the SRI would interfere in, we could not be certain. Now we know for sure he was one of SRI’s targets, writes Emily Barley.
Alexandar Adamescu is the subject of a European Arrest Warrant issued by Romania. He is accused of bribing a judge in an insolvency case relating to a family business back in Romania. His father, Dan Adamescu, was convicted of the same charges in 2014, in what has been described by human rights campaigners as a ‘show trial’. Dan Adamescu later died in prison after being refused proper medical treatment.
I have been passed a series of legal documents and confidential evidence that starkly reveals the Romanian Intelligence Service’s (SRI) involvement in the Adamescu case The SRI is the dreaded successor to the communist era Securitate, and retains a number of links to the old regime – including many of the same operatives and methods.
The story starts in late 2013, where an investigation by intelligence experts Sir John Scarlett and Lord Carlile uncovered evidence that then Prime Minister Victor Ponta convened a meeting of the chief of the national police, the head of the DNA (anti-corruption prosecutor’s office), and the deputy general of the SRI.
At this meeting Ponta identified the Adamescu family as a threat, pointing to Romania Libera, the newspaper owned by the Adamescus, which was a committed campaigner for democracy and the rule of law. Romania Libera (translated as ‘Free Romania’) had launched a series of investigations against political corruption in Ponta’s government and into Ponta’s unconstitutional attack on President Basescu.
Ponta instigated the investigation of the Adamescus for political purposes, and his involvement continued. In May 2014 Ponta appeared on national television to accuse Dan Adamescu of corruption offences, declaring with confidence that the DNA would soon have something to say on the matter. Just two weeks later he was proved right, as the DNA took Dan Adamescu into custody and laid charges of corruption against him.
This kind of political involvement in criminal proceedings is unimaginable here in the UK, where our political leaders are careful to avoid making any comments that could prejudice criminal cases. The political involvement in the criminal justice system in Romania is more than reminiscent of communist era practice.
Partially declassified documents show that judges ordered wire taps against Dan and Alexander Adamescu, and various others connected to them. In the UK, wire tap evidence is carefully managed and we can generally trust judicial oversight. Not so in Romania, where interference by both the DNA and SRI means these shadowy organisations routinely apply pressure to judges in order to make them do their bidding.
These orders for wire taps are only partially declassified, with the names of the judges and bodies that executed the wire taps remaining classified. An expert legal opinion contained in the legal documents I have seen states that there is no good reason for these to remain classified. Hiding them raises important questions. First, which judges made these orders, and why are they hidden? It is possible that there are conflicts of interest in play. Second, knowledge of the bodies that executed the warrants is critical to establishing whether or not the evidence was gathered in accordance with the law.
This is not merely academic: wire tap evidence in Romania is coming under growing scrutiny, and since 2016 wire tapping has been ruled unconstitutional in a series of proceedings, leading to cases being thrown out. The same legal documents also show the level of cooperation between the DNA and SRI, with the DNA’s chief issuing orders for wire tapping data to be shared with the SRI at regular intervals.
However, perhaps even more interesting is the lack of wire tap evidence that prosecutors found to be useful. Despite extensive surveillance of the Adamescus and key figures around them, the entire case against Dan Adamescu, and now Alexander Adamescu, depends on the word of one witness – who was himself accused of embezzlement, and has changed his story many times. Not a single wire tap in evidence relates directly to Alexander Adamescu.
The SRI’s involvement in the Adamescu case doesn’t end there. A series of confidential witness statements from important political, intelligence service and other figures detail the collusion between the SRI and DNA to use illegal processes to pursue the Adamescu family. Target identified, these organisations set about finding – or, rather, fabricating – evidence against the Adamescus.
This was not merely on political instruction: the SRI had its own motives for targeting the Adamescus, according to these confidential witnesses. First, the ideological divide between the communistic SRI and centre-right, liberal democratic Adamescu family, and second, the scrutiny by Romania Libera which had uncovered, and continues to uncover, illegal practices in the Romanian intelligence services.
Perhaps one day these witnesses will feel able to speak out publicly, but for now they fear for their lives – and with good reason, considering the numbers of people targeted by the DNA and SRI who were convicted and later died; not least Dan Adamescu.
To the casual observer these claims may seem bold and outrageous, but consider the context. Romania is in the midst of a constitutional crisis where secret protocols between the SRI and practically every other branch of government have been uncovered, and more continue to come to light. There is now strong and specific evidence that the SRI was directly involved in the Adamescu case, and so the UK government must act.
Cars and pavements washed away as Belgian town hit by worst floods in decades
The southern Belgian town of Dinant was hit by the heaviest floods in decades on Saturday (24 July) after a two-hour thunderstorm turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavements but did not kill anyone, writes Jan Strupczewski, Reuters.
Dinant was spared the deadly floods 10 days ago that killed 37 people in southeast Belgium and many more in Germany, but the violence of Saturday's storm surprised many.
"I have been living in Dinant for 57 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Richard Fournaux, the former mayor of the town on the Meuse river and birthplace of the 19th century inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, said on social media.
Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows.
There was no precise estimate of the damage, with town authorities predicting only that it would be "significant", according to Belgian RTL TV.
The storm wreaked similar havoc, also with no loss of life, in the small town of Anhee a few kilometres north of Dinant.
NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Czechia's €7 billion recovery and resilience plan
The European Commission has today (19 July) adopted a positive assessment of Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €7 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a key role in helping Czechia emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Czech plan forms part of an unprecedented co-ordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.
The Commission assessed Czechia's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms set out in Czechia's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.
Securing Czechia's green and digital transition
The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 42% of its total allocation to measures that support climate objectives. The plan includes investments in renewable energy, the modernisation of district heating distribution networks, the replacement of coal-fired boilers and improving the energy efficiency of residential and public buildings. The plan also includes measures for nature protection and water management as well as investment in sustainable mobility.
The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 22% of its total allocation to measures that support the digital transition. The plan provides for investments in digital infrastructure, the digitalization of public administration, including the areas of health, justice and the administration of construction permits. It promotes the digitalisation of businesses and digital projects in the cultural and creative sectors. The plan also includes measures to improve digital skills at all levels, as part of the education system and through dedicated upskilling and reskilling programmes.
Reinforcing Czechia's economic and social resilience
The Commission considers that Czechia's plan effectively addresses all or a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Czechia by the Council in the European Semester in 2019 and in 2020.
The plan provides for measures to tackle the need for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, sustainable transport and digital infrastructure. Several measures aim at addressing the need to foster digital skills, improve the quality and inclusiveness of education, and to increase the availability of childcare facilities. The plan also provides for improving the business environment, mainly through extensive e-government measures, a reform of the procedures of granting construction permits and anti-corruption measures. Challenges in the area of R&D shall be improved by investment geared at strengthening public-private cooperation and financial and non-financial support to innovative firms.
The plan represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Czechia's economic and social situation, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.
Supporting flagship investments and reform projects
The Czech plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all member states in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the twin transition. For instance, Czechia has proposed €1.4bn to support the energy efficiency renovation of buildings and €500 million to boost digital skills through education and investments in upskilling and reskilling programmes for the entire labour force.
The Commission's assessment finds that no measure included in the plan does any significant harm to the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.
The arrangements proposed in the recovery and resilience plan in relation to control systems are adequate to prevent, detect and correct corruption, fraud and conflicts of interests relating to the use of funds. The arrangements are also expected to effectively avoid double funding under that Regulation and other Union programmes. These control systems are complemented by additional audit and control measures contained in the Commission's proposal for a Council Implementing Decision as milestones. These milestones must be fulfilled before Czechia presents its first payment request to the Commission.
President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today, the European Commission has decided to give its green light to Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This plan will play a crucial role in supporting a shift towards a greener and more digital future for Czechia. Measures that improve energy efficiency, digitalize public administration and deter the misuse of public funds are exactly in line with the objectives of NextGenerationEU. I also welcome the strong emphasis the plan places on strengthening the resilience of Czechia's health-care system to prepare it for future challenges. We will stand with you every step of the way to ensure that the plan is fully implemented.
Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Czechia's recovery and resilience plan will provide a strong boost to the country's efforts to get back its feet after the economic shock caused the pandemic. The €7bn in NextGenerationEU funds that will flow to Czechia over the next five years will support a wide-ranging programme of reforms and investments to build a more sustainable and competitive economy. They include very sizeable investments in building renovation, clean energy and sustainable mobility, as well as measures to boost digital infrastructure and skills and the digitalisation of public services. The business environment will benefit from the promotion of e-government and anti-corruption measures. The plan will also support improvements in healthcare, including reinforced cancer prevention and rehabilitation care.”
The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council Implementing Decision to provide €7bn in grants to Czechia under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.
The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €910m to Czechia in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total amount allocated to Czechia.
An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “This plan will put Czechia on the path to recovery and boost its economic growth as Europe gears up for the green and digital transitions. Czechia intends to invest in renewable energy and sustainable transport, while improving the energy efficiency of buildings. It aims to roll out greater digital connectivity across the country, promote digital education and skills, and digitalize many of its public services. And it places a welcome focus on improving the business environment and justice system, backed by measures to fight corruption and promote e-government – all in a balanced response to the Czech economic and social situation. Once put properly into practice, this plan will help to put Czechia on a sound footing for the future.”
The Commission will authorize further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the Council Implementing Decision, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms.
Death toll rises to 170 in Germany and Belgium floods
The death toll in devastating flooding in western Germany and Belgium rose to at least 170 on Saturday (17 July) after burst rivers and flash floods this week collapsed houses and ripped up roads and power lines, write Petra Wischgoll,
David Sahl, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam.
Some 143 people died in the flooding in Germany's worst natural disaster in more than half a century. That included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.
Hundreds of people were still missing or unreachable as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down.
Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns.
"Everything is completely destroyed. You don't recognise the scenery," said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster killed at least 45 people.
"We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members," he said. "Their fate is ripping our hearts apart."
Around 700 residents were evacuated late on Friday after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg near Cologne, authorities said.
But Wassenberg mayor Marcel Maurer said water levels had been stabilising since the night. "It's too early to give the all-clear but we are cautiously optimistic," he said.
The Steinbachtal dam in western Germany, however, remained at risk of breaching, authorities said after some 4,500 people were evacuated from homes downstream.
Steinmeier said it would take weeks before the full damage, expected to require several billions of euros in reconstruction funds, could be assessed.
Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party's candidate in September's general election, said he would speak to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days about financial support.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to travel on Sunday to Rhineland Palatinate, the state that is home to the devastated village of Schuld.
In Belgium, the death toll rose to 27, according to the national crisis centre, which is co-ordinating the relief operation there.
It added that 103 people were "missing or unreachable". Some were likely unreachable because they could not recharge mobile phones or were in hospital without identity papers, the centre said.
Over the past several days the floods, which have mostly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, have cut off entire communities from power and communications.
RWE (RWEG.DE), Germany's largest power producer, said on Saturday its opencast mine in Inden and the Weisweiler coal-fired power plant were massively affected, adding that the plant was running at lower capacity after the situation stabilized.
In the southern Belgian provinces of Luxembourg and Namur, authorities rushed to supply drinking water to households.
Flood water levels slowly fell in the worst hit parts of Belgium, allowing residents to sort through damaged possessions. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon.
Belgian rail network operator Infrabel published plans of repairs to lines, some of which would be back in service only at the very end of August.
Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened towns and villages throughout the southern province of Limburg.
Tens of thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days, while soldiers, fire brigades and volunteers worked frantically throughout Friday night (16 July) to enforce dykes and prevent flooding.
The Dutch have so far escaped disaster on the scale of its neighbours, and as of Saturday morning no casualties had been reported.
Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in these relentless rainfalls will take at least several weeks to research, scientists said on Friday.
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