EXCLUSIVEAlexandru Lele: "Victor Ponta is afraid of the truth coming to light, in the case of the death of Cristian Panait"

BURSA EDITORIAL OFFICE (Translated by Cosmin Ghidoveanu)
Ziarul BURSA #English Section / 6 mai 2014

Alexandru Lele: "Victor Ponta is afraid of the truth coming to light, in the case of the death of Cristian Panait"

"I think that the death of Cristian Panait was provoked"

"To me it is clear that Victor Ponta is one of the least interested in the truth being established when it comes to the death of Cristian Panait"

"Even the simple fact that I am still alive is a victory in itself"

"Had he gone through with the awful thing that his bosses had asked him to do, prosecutor Cristian Panait would have demonstrated his irreversible loyalty to a criminal system"

Interview with Alexandru Lele

Oradea prosecutor Alexandru Lele is the one who, in April 2001, ordered the arrest of Adrian Tărău, the son of an influential sponsor of the PSD who was also the prefect of the county, under the charge of complicity in the oil products smuggling.

Lele was removed on the order of the minister of Justice at the time, Rodica Stănoiu, after former prime-minister Adrian Năstase said that he "didn't believe in Friday night's arrests" (ed. note: the ones which Adrian Tărău was involved in).

After 48 hours, Tărău was released following the intervention of Adrian Năstase, and shortly after, he left Romania and moved to the United States.

In 2002, the prosecutors filed a lawsuit against Lele, on charges of aiding and abetting a criminal, illegal arrest, abusive investigation and theft of writs.

On March 27th, 2002, Bucharest prosecutor Cristian Panait (29 years old) from the Prosecutors' Office of the Supreme Court, on the grounds of a warrant, entered the home of prosecutor Alexandru Lele, who had called in a cameraman from a local TV station, to have him record the search ordered by Panait.

Panait asked the press to leave, claiming that their presence was not justified, according to the provisions of the law, but Alexandru Lele insisted that they stay, criticizing the manner in which the investigation was going in his case, and saying that it had political connotations.

The recording of the conversation, broadcasted on the same day by the local TV station, showed how Cristian Panait got angry and accused Lele of obstructing an official investigation, and even went as far as accusing him of having assaulted the policemen who were present, because the prosecutor from Oradea had locked the door and was repeatedly asking them to continue their search of his home.

On April 10th, 2002, prosecutor Cristian Panait - the one who launched the criminal investigation against Lele, an action which was also signed by the boss of the investigator, Ovidius Păun - allegedly killed himself, by throwing himself out the window of his home located in the 2nd district of Bucharest.

The press reported at the time that the last words of Panait addressed to his aunt, Eleni Dumitru, before entering a coma were: "That bastard Ponta killed me!"

According to the press, Eleni Dumitru said: "Mr. Victor Ponta knows exactly who is hiding behind the assassination of prosecutor Panait! Personally I am not blaming Mr. Ponta, but I am convinced that he knows exactly who is hiding behind the assassination. (...) I am anxiously waiting for him to come into power to see whether he will reopen the case, because this was a murder, not a suicide, like it's been claimed".

The whole investigation in the Lele case was restarted, as the prosecutor was sued.

After six years, Alexandru Lele returned to his position as prosecutor of the Bihor county, as the Supreme Council of Magistrates approved the reinstatement of his rights.

The prosecutor was allowed to retire by president Traian Băsescu, and the General Prosecutors' Office found that Alexandru Lele was not guilty.

Alexandru Lele was kind enough to grant us an interview about this case.

Reporter: The row around the death of prosecutor Cristian Panait once again came to the forefront this year, as the revelations about are worthy of becoming a movie script (which will actually happen). The case took on new political connotations, especially in this electoral year, when the battle is fierce.

After 12 years, what is your opinion (the possible conclusion) on the case/cases Tărău-Lele-Panait-Ponta?

Alexandru Lele: This was an episode which, upon a careful and documented reading, proves the occult "war" - which is still going on - waged by the secret services in order to seize control of the strategic sections of the Romanian judicial system. It is amazing to note how highly placed some of the pawns who responded to their orders were, even though they were apparently "in control". But, in exchange for the moment of glory that they are allowed to have, they can be - and often are - "called to task" and even sacrificed. The stake of the "war" takes various forms, but the end goal is power, the discretionary control of society. There is a great effort being made to deny and obfuscate this underground "war". In fact, we shouldn't be using quote marks when speaking about it.

Reporter: Do you think of yourself as a victim of the system?

Alexandru Lele: If I were to think in a simplistic manner, confining myself strictly to my career, I can be - and I have been - labeled "a victim of the system". But the experience I've gone through has proven to me that there are other values, more important than the ephemeral positions, which are worth fighting for. They couldn't take those away from me. Even the simple fact that I have stayed alive is a victory in itself and I've never played the victim.

Reporter: You were suspended from office in 2002 and you were charged with accepting taking bribes, abetting a criminal, forgery and withholding or destroying writs. You subsequently were acquitted both by the National Anticorruption Department, as well as from the Prosecutors' Office of the High Court, and on January 28th, 2008, the Supreme Council of Magistrates decided to reinstate you. There were six years during which time you were practically out of the game. How would you comment on this tabling of your case, which basically ruined your career?

Alexandru Lele: At the time, the main goal of the people who ordered this lawsuit was to discredit me, to prevent anything I said from being taken seriously. Well, the most efficient method to discredit somebody is to fabricate a case against them. As long as the population craves circuses and blood, it doesn't matter how unbelievable the charges are. Also, a systematic exposure in the media can cause anybody to become questionable. On the other hand, as long as people who are involved in this kind of actions aren't held responsible, this kind of practices will continue. The future victims will realize too late that essentially the same algorithms are used for discrediting and only the characters of the play are changed, as needed. In my case, because I resorted to the media immediately, it was impossible to stick to the script, things picked up speed, they had to hastily betray general Ovidius Păun (who at the time was used to control the prosecutors) or Adrian Năstase, who operated as a political interface. Ponta - the "substitute player" who was being kept on the bench, who ever since then had a major appetite for publicity - started talking when he shouldn't have and it was very difficult for them to clean up the mess he caused. After the death of prosecutor Panait, the only option that they had left was to drag their feet, with the prosecutors taking responsibility for redoing my trial then my definitive release from prosecution, in the next stage. It was the same decision that prosecution Panait had made about six years earlier, the one for which he paid for so dearly. The "fault" for which they didn't forgive Cristian was that he forced the "old-timers" to get directly involved in the case.

Reporter: In 2011, the magistrates of the Court of Braşov have partially admitted your lawsuit and have forced the Romanian State, through the General Department of Public Finance of Braşov, to pay the equivalent in lei of the amount of 500,000 Euros, representing punitive damages, compensatory damages of 70,000 lei and legal fees of 7858.71 lei. I know that the ruling wasn't final. What is the status of this trial?

Alexandru Lele: The High Court has reduced the punitive damages to 150,000 Euros and has left the rest of the ruling unchanged. The Ministry of Finance voluntarily complained with the ruling.

Reporter: You have accused Adrian Nastase, who was the prime-minister in office at the time, that "he trampled all over criminal investigations". Who did you "upset" so much that they had to send in prosecutor Cristian Panait from Bucharest to investigate you?

Alexandru Lele: After the revelation, including from a judicial standpoint, of the involvement of the employees of secret services in the smuggling of oil products (for example, the "Jimbolia case"), the North-Western area of Romania became the hotspot for these "self-financing" activities. They did not stop, despite the fact that we had just been accepted in the Euro-Atlantic structures and we were required to be transparent on where the secret services get their funding from. So, as a safety measure, the direct involvement of their own workers in special operations was replaced with using proxies, who would be supported and protected "from behind the curtains" with operational, information and logistical means. Tărău was a working interface, surrounded by "lieutenants" who brokered the financing of operations, their counseling and defense against the law. From this point of view, the judicial "whitewashing" of Adrian Tărău after Friday night's arrest was a large-scale mission, which mobilized "supporters" of the secret services from the DIICOT, DNA, CSM, from the former General Prosecutors' Office, police, courts, the press, and the diplomatic apparatus for years on end. I don't think that there is another domestic precedent for a "rescue operation" of that scale. At any rate, by saving Tărău, what they actually wanted was to save the system. Who else could have ordered and directed such a vast and complex operation coordinated across institutions? That's where the constant obstination of the people involved in discrediting me, the cohesiveness and the willingness of the people who were summoned to fulfill such a goal comes from. Otherwise, had Adrian Tărău - who had already been proven to be psychologically unstable - been sent to prison, nobody would have lifted a finger to save him from jail.

Reporter: Why do you think the case concerning the death of prosecutor Panait was closed just four months after his death?

Alexandru Lele: It was a chapter they could not afford to keep open and up for speculation for too long. At any rate, the closing of the case did not stop the speculation, due to the superficiality and the haste of the investigators, who, among other ambiguities that they allowed to persist in that case, declined to investigate and ruled out with justification the theory of a suicide - as a distinct offense which gets investigated by default - or the toxic part that the former minister of Justice, "Sanda/Paula" Stănoiu, played, as she was involved in this case as well.

Reporter: According to the statements made in the press by prosecutor Panait, he told his relatives: "After this assignment, I can either be thrown under the bus, or stay where I am". What is your comment? What do you think could have caused Cristian Panait to accept this kind of mission?

Alexandru Lele: I've personally met the aunt of Cristian post factum, and I am convinced that she only told the truth about the events of this drama that she experienced herself. I want to believe that prosecutor Panait had not already prejudged my case - which he was building - in front of his bosses and that he did not promise them that he would convict me, without first getting more in-depth information about this complex criminal case. I hope that he wasn't given my case precisely because of such a prejudgment that he wasn't promised a spectacular advancement in his career in exchange for my arrest. If he agreed to something like this and later, when he was forced to honor his part of that deal at the expense of sacrificing his professional conscience, he didn't abide by it, this illustrates the existence of a conspiracy. To illustrate that, I want to point out the cynicism of a remark from his notorious psychopathological assessment, which was decided and conducted in that case to prove his alleged psychological vulnerability, as Panait was being criticized for coveting a high position in the judicial system despite the fact that "he came from a modest upbringing".

Reporter: According to information from the press, the behavior of Cristian Panait changed dramatically the night of March 27th to 28th, 2002, after the search of your home didn't go well. How would you explain that fact?

Alexandru Lele: There is a "turning point" in the belligerent attitude of prosecutor Panait (which is natural at any rate, for a magistrate who was trying hard to show how strict the search was meant to be): he opened up the door to a room where my wife had taken our three children - who were 12, 9 and 7 at the time - to play in order to protect them. Any illegal and abusive measure taken against me would have eventually affected those three innocent beings. It must be noted that after this revelation, Cristian refused to continue the search, which was being directed, from a car parked outside his home, by his direct boss in the Special Investigations Department, former police general Ovidius Păun. Prosecutor Panait knew that the search had only been allowed due to forged evidence and that it made no sense considering the charges that were being brought against me at the time. In fact, the search was just a pretense for setting me up, a set up which general Păun - sensing his subordinate's reluctance - did not have the courage to follow through and instead ordered the investigators to leave my home. My explanation for the change in the behavior of prosecutor Cristian Panait can be explained by the fact that he was aware of the consequences of the abuse that he was about to commit. I think that is at that moment that he recanted on his deal with the devil.

Reporter: On March 31st, Cristian Panait "returned to his home and without any other explanations, called Eleni Dumitru (his aunt - ed: note) in the bathroom, turned on the tap and let the water run, and she whispered to her: < They want to make me look crazy >, without mentioning who he meant.

According to the resolution of the Prosecutors' Office, reprinted in the press, in this context, Cristian Panait told his aunt: The trip to Oradea was done for me and not for (Lele - ed. note)!".

Why would Cristian Panait claim before his family that the trip to Oradea was for him and not for you?

Alexandru Lele: A conversation on this subject would be a long one. Had he carried out the horrible act that his bosses had asked of him, he would have proven his loyalty to a criminal system, which was about to assimilate him. On the other hand, leaving him alive would have been leaving a trace that no assassin could afford. The option of having him declared insane was also too risky, even though they have tried that. An objective observer could have subsequently noticed that in spite of such a contrived diagnosis, Panait was a credible witness, perfectly healthy from a mental point of view. The story recounted by Eleni Dumitru, the aunt of Cristian, whom he was living with in Bucharest, were told just a few days after his tragic death, they are very fresh in her memory, and - being of such a personal nature - they can't be suspected of being an attempt at manipulation. They have to be understood and read exactly as they were written, like an honest report of a woman who was hurting due to the maternal feelings she had for him. And the most plausible explanation for this is the one that I have understood.

Reporter: On April 1st, 2002, Cristian Panait decided to end your prosecution, despite the fact that he was very scared, as the press claims. The ordinance to end your prosecution was however, invalidated on the same day by his superiors. What is your comment on that?

Alexandru Lele: Had he been very afraid or very angry at me - like the ones who had an interest in twisting the actions of Cristian Panait - he wouldn't have decided to stop my prosecution. However, the ordinance in question was a perfectly legal solution, which, at its essence, has been confirmed by the subsequent solutions, given successively in my favor by various prosecutor offices, until January 2008, in the cases resulting from the invalidation of this ordinance by the bosses of Panait. In the eyes of the system, however, the "fault" that Cristian had was huge: on one hand, because like I've said, he forced the "old-timers" in the prosecutors' offices to get involved in this case directly, in writing, instead of through mere verbal orders, and, on the other hand, because he had proven the political obedience of the prosecutors' offices, as illustrated by the fact that the general prosecutor in office at the time, the sinister Joiţă Tănase, was forced on the same day to take measures to have me arrested no matter what - as prime minister Adrian Năstase had already announced in public that it had happened. Or, in reality, prosecutor Panait had rendered a solution that was a perfect opposite to the one that the system had announced and that it wanted, so that a different prosecutor was called in to have me "blindly" charged, even though - in his statement given to the members of the Supreme Council of Magistrates - he admitted that he had no information about the case and that he had received its paperwork after having signed the ordinance for beginning the prosecution!

Reporter: Do you think that prosecutor Cristian Panait was poisoned or was subjected to psychological pressure that drove him to commit suicide?

Alexandru Lele: Yes, I think that his death was provoked, but the actual method used for killing him could only have been established through a fair investigation, conducted by an unbiased and independent prosecutor, in a country ruled by the law.

Reporter: What was it so serious that prosecutor Panait found out in Bihor that could spook somebody?

Alexandru Lele: He found the proof that when there is interest to do so, in Romania criminal cases can be initiated, tried and solved abusively, on command and in spite of the legally presented evidence, and this destroyed his faith in a system that he was about to enter.

Reporter: The aunt of prosecutor Panait says: "Mr. Ponta knows exactly who is behind the assassination of prosecutor Panait! I am not personally accusing Mr. Ponta, but I am convinced that he knows exactly who is behind the murder. He bragged that he was his friend, I am anxiously waiting for him to come into power to see whether he is going to reopen the case, because this has been murder, not suicide, like it's been claimed". What is your comment?

Alexandru Lele: It is the one these statements are referring to that should answer. To me it is clear that Victor Ponta is one of those who are the least interested in the truth about the death of Cristian Panait coming to light. In reality, Ponta is afraid of this truth being found. At any rate, even if he were to act like he actually wants to "reopen" the case, he knows that he would be chastised again if he were to speak about it without approval.

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