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EXCLUSIVE - ALEXANDRU LELE:"Victor Ponta - the courier carrying messages between the secret services and the judicial system"

ANCUŢA STANCIU, GEANINA VODĂ (translated by Cosmin Ghidoveanu)
Ziarul BURSA #English Section /

"Victor Ponta - the courier carrying messages between the secret services and the judicial system"

Interview with Alexandru Lele 

< "De ce eu? (ed. note: "Why me?"), the movie by Romanian director Tudor Giurgiu, is, for everybody, including for the informed viewer, a terrible journey of initiation in the hell of post-revolutionary justice >

"The records of the case of the violent death of prosecutor Panait contain enough data to change the findings of the investigation"

"The Berbeceanu case proves, through official acknowledgments, the existence of a conflict between two major prosecutor services, the DNA and the DIICOT"

"The National Anti-Corruption Department (DNA) can very easily stray off course"

Director Tudor Giurgiu last week presented his unfinished version of the movie "De ce eu?" (ed. note: "Why me?"), which has as its topic the death of prosecutor Cristian Panait, which occurred in 2002. The special screenings of the movie were held in Bucharest, Iaşi, Timişoara and Cluj.

On the occasion of the first screenings, Tudor Giurgiu said: "I am curious what your opinion about the film is, what you like or what you found unconvincing about it. Let's talk, after the movie, about Romania as it was in 2002, about what we are going through today and what will be from now on. About sacrifices and hope. (...) I wish I had completed the movie by October 30 and presented it prior to the first round of the presidential elections, but unfortunately that was not possible. We are going to present it now, nevertheless, prior to the second round, so that people know that this is the country that we live in".

Oradea prosecutor Alexandru Lele is the one who, in April 2001, issued an arrest warrant against Adrian Tărău, the son of an influential sponsor of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and prefect of the county of Bihor, on charges of complicity in the smuggling of oil products. Lele was suspended from his position on order of the minister of Justice in office at the time, Rodica Stănoiu, after former prime-minister Adrian Năstase stated that "he didn't believe in Friday night's arrests" (ed. note: the one involving Adrian Tărău).

In 2002, the prosecutors indicted Lele, on charges of aiding and abetting a criminal, illegal arrest, abusive investigation and theft of documents. On March 27th, 2002, Bucharest prosecutor Cristian Panait (29 years old) of the Prosecutors' Service of the Supreme Court, descended at the home of prosecutor Alexandru Lele, who had called a cameraman from a local television, to witness the operation of his investigator.

On April 10th, 2002, prosecutor Cristian Panait - the one who began the criminal prosecution against Lele, a legal writ which was also signed by his superior, Ovidius Păun - allegedly killed himself, by jumping from the window of the building he lived in, which was located in the second district of Bucharest.

Six years later, Alexandru Lele returned to his position of prosecutor of the county of Bihor, as the supreme Council of Magistrates approved his reinstatement.

Alexandru Lele was subsequently retired by president Traian Băsescu, and the General Prosecution Service found that he was innocent.

In an interview, Alexandru Lele was kind enough to tell us what he thinks about the movie of Tudor Giurgiu, as well as discuss his considerations concerning the current state of the judicial system, compared to the year 2000.

Reporter: What is your opinion on the movie "Why me?"

Alexandru Lele: Tudor Giurgiu's movie is for everyone, including for the viewers in the know, a terrible journey of initiation into the hell of the post-revolutionary judicial system, which made the perfect murder possible: the death of Cristian Panait was investigated precisely by the murderer, against whom, of course, no evidence was found.

Through this movie, the director tried to substitute himself to the judge who should have punished the murderer that hadn't yet been brought to justice. With all the specific means that a moviemaker has available, Tudor substituted himself to the prosecutors and has made the guilty stand before the judgment of the public.

Reporter: Director Tudor Giurgiu said that you had a significant contribution to the making of this movie. Please give us some details.

Alexandru Lele: I have made available to screenwriter Tudor Giurgiu every raw document of the Lele-Tărău-Panait case, in which prosecutor Cristian Panait had been given the mission to arrest me, but - after the evidence convinced him that I was innocent - the young prosecutor refused to be an participate in such a heinous act, and, in total disagreement with the triumphalist public announcement by prime-minister Adrian Năstase that I had been prosecuted and dismissed from the magistracy, Cristian decided to release me from criminal prosecution, catching the arrogant prime-minister on the wrong foot.

At the time, in the spring of 2002, the civil society did not notice nor understand the awfulness of the event.

Later, I revealed to movie director Giurgiu the moments that can clearly prove the common interests of the secret services and of the political parties in making deals they need in order to get dirty money, which is necessary (on a declarative level) for their day-to-day operation, due to their claims of being insufficiently supported by the impoverished state budget. I think that I helped him understand things that have not yet been said publicly.

In the movie, just like in real life, Victor Ponta's - who has lately been confirmed as having been an undercover operative once - plays the role of "the messenger", the one who carries orders from the secret services to the executors in the judicial system.

Another, more recent case, of influential PSD senator Cătălin Voicu, revealed, in a definitive final ruling, that this is how "communication" between the secret services and the magistrates who are in the process of rendering a verdict that the former are interested in works: through the "messengers" embedded within the magistrate collectives.

Phones have proven unsafe and the executants have proven too stubborn for the secret services to succeed in mobilizing them in just one call. Lately, prosecutors and judges have become a professional category which is forced to barricade itself in offices and to lead a private life that is as low-key and isolated as possible. Those that were the exceptions to this norm, who had other "contacts with the outside world that were not approved", were punished in order to set an example. The magistrates have been warned off and intimidated through various means, so much so that now, their social life tends to be non-existent. Since they are so isolated and their human contacts are reduced to their activities in the office, the services have skirted the difficulty of communicating with them by using the "messengers", the "Trojan horses" from the Prosecution Services and the courts. Who, are, for that matter, as a prerequisite, likeable guys, peppy, helpful, who can solve any problem, including, as you can see, covering up a murder.

Reporter: How do you think the people who are morally guilty for the death of prosecutor Panait, are going to feel after viewing this movie?

Alexandru Lele: I don't think they care. They are laughing to themselves. They know the system can still protect them.

Reporter: The Public Prosecution Service said that the suicide of Panait was caused by "a complex of psychological stress factors". What exactly does "psychological stress factors means"? Are there "unorthodox" methods that can be used to cause a man to commit suicide or to kill somebody?

Alexandru Lele: By making them lose everything that gave them a reason for living: family, career, friends, the hope for improvement.

On the other hand, unconventional means of killing have been devised and have been around for a few decades now, including suggestion, hypnosis, telepathy etc.

Reporter: Do you think that you yourself have been submitted to such a "treatment", but you have overcome it?

Alexandru Lele: Sure, but what has saved me was my family, which was my essential aid and which made me determined not to abandon them and not to give in. I've also been lucky enough to know from the inside the algorithm based on which the system works, anticipating its actions by a few moves.

Reporter: What is your opinion on the current "state" of the Prosecution Service, compared to the 2000s? Are there fewer or more cases of abuse/trumped up charges than there used to be then?

Alexandru Lele: Unfortunately, the Prosecution Service is still acting like a Soviet prokuratura. This exile in a luxurious cage, which we were talking about earlier, which society has succeeded in exposing the prosecutors to and pushing them towards, far too often leads to frustrations and resentment, which lead to discretionary actions and abuse of their power.

What I can note in the practice of the last few years, much to my regret and surprise, is an incredible disregard for the criminal law procedures, the only means that lawmakers make available to justiciables to protect themselves against the abuse of judicial institutions.

I have many judges, prosecutors, policemen and lawyers as my customers, and they only become aware of the scale and gravity of the phenomenon when they themselves end up being victims of these abusive practices.

Reporter: Did you actually attend the funeral of Cristian Panait?

Alexandru Lele: No, especially since the Prosecution Service, though a certain part of the press, had already promoted the idea of me being morally guilty, as a result of opposing a thorough search of inquiry. At the time, I did not know about the pressures that prosecutor Cristian Panait had been submitted to and I could not empathize with him. Like a true magistrate, he was unreadable to the analysis I had conducted on him as a justiciable. On the other hand, we came from different generations and stood on opposite sides of the barricade. Aside from the fact that the accusations made against me weren't true, up until then I showed that I did not oppose the search, I only insisted for it to be conducted in compliance with the law, which prosecutor Panait realized wasn't the case and this led to his decision not to allow the search to continue, but this prevented his companions from planting the evidence that they were going to "find" as well.

Reporter: You've previously stated that you have seen the brief of the death of Cristian Panait. Do you think that there is a chance of his image being rehabilitated, even post-mortem, considering you have won every lawsuit against the Romanian authorities?

Do the case records contain data that could change the result of the investigation?

Alexandru Lele: The public opinion has already "rehabilitated" Cristian Panait, no one has actually believed the story - perversely promoted by the Prosecution Service and a certain part of the press - that he was vulnerable to stress and had psychological issues. What better proof of his professional intuition could there exist than the fact that his solution to end my indictment was later validated, but only after 6 (six) years of research, investigations and pointless suffering, and it was adopted by other prosecutors, including from the National Anti-Corruption Department, and confirmed by the High Court of Cassation and Justice?

Yes, I claim with all the certainty that I get from my almost 30 years of experience in the judicial system, the dossier no. nr.177/P/2002, concerning the violent death of prosecutor Panait, contains enough data to change the conclusions of the investigation.

The only conditions are for this invalidation of the initial solution to be done by Romania's General Prosecutor and to be followed by a true investigation, led by a truly independent prosecutor. I don't know when all these premises will be met simultaneously.

Reporter: Are there any chances of the Cristian Panait case being reopened?

Alexandru Lele: Yes, when the rule of the law and democracy will be mature enough in Romania. The legal premise has already been created by legislating that criminal liability for murder can not be prescribed.

Reporter: This spring, you told us that the Lele - Panait episode proves the existence of an occult "war" - that is still under way - waged by the secret services for the purpose of subordinating the strategic areas of the Romanian judicial system.

What do you think this war looks like now, after the National Anti-Corruption Department has arrested dozens of people all over the country and in light of the replacement of Romania's president? Who do you think is / will be the winner of this fight?

Alexandru Lele: The dozens of arrests are a predictable episode of this constant war, that escalates during crucial periods such as the ones that precede the presidential elections. There should be no other winner but the Romanian citizen, the only beneficiary of an independent judicial system, provided every combatant in this occult war tore each other apart, depleted their resources and lost their credibility forever, and their "prey " - the judicial system - remained untouched, at least in its essence.

Reporter: Given Romania's NATO and EU accession, (including the possible Schengen space accession), do you think that there are still cases of secret service operatives being involved in the smuggling of various goods, including oil products?

Alexandru Lele: I do not have the necessary data to provide an informed answer. But adaptability is a defining trait that is not limited to Romanians.

Reporter: As a former prosecutor, what is your opinion on the Berbeceanu case?

Alexandru Lele: It proves, through official acknowledgements, the existence of a conflict between two major prosecution departments, the DNA and the DIICOT. That war is waged, like always, through those who prosecutors cooperate with the most, namely the police. But these conflicts between the institutions should not concern us. Often times, they are, paradoxically, beneficial for the legal operation of the prosecution department, that "watch ", investigate and "keep tabs" on each other. As a simple citizen, and also as a lawyer, I am happy to see such ego trips from prosecutors.

To some of them, those ego trips are fatal. But that is the only way for us, mere mortals to find out very well kept secrets from behind the scenes in the prosecution services. We should only be alarmed to the extent where such conflicts between the prosecution services can create collateral victims, such as for instance, chief-commissioner Berbeceanu.

Reporter: Is there a connection between the Berbeceanu case and that of Sorin Blejnar?

Alexandru Lele: I don't know.

Reporter: What is your opinion on the independence of justice, given the feverish activity of the DNA this year?

Alexandru Lele: Romania is still being monitored by the EU bodies in that regard, which says it all. The DNA can very easily stray from its path. It has already done it several times. In many cases, that have been investigated with ardor and obstination, the prosecutors have "slipped-up" on an individual level. There is a huge danger, of the activity of this Prosecution Services being put on a pedestal. It is overrated anyway. And there are prosecutors that work over there that simply can't be infallible and don't hold the absolute truth. Unfortunately, they have been told too many times how clever, handsome, and incorruptible they are, and so they have ended up believing it. After all, they are just people, living in the same circumstances as the rest of us. It is just as bad to act ineffectively against criminals as it is to act effectively, only to make room for others, "our own". I remember the perfect example of one such situation, that of the American police in the period of the prohibition, when it eliminated the of tax evasion and alcohol contraband only to make room for the similar factions, but which were controlled by the proxies of the police.

Reporter: What is your take on the regime of Traian Basescu, compared to that of Adrian Năstase (Ion Iliescu), in terms of the independence of justice?

Alexandru Lele: Those were, and I want to repeat myself, different times.

The Băsescu regime shook from the ground up a system that had almost resigned itself to the idea that it could do nothing and that saw no hope of independence under Iliescu and Năstase. At any rate, from the inside, there very few rebels willing to fight for it: the magistrates that were inside the system prior to 1989 were happy and grateful to poppa Iliescu for having allowed them to stay and were hoping to stay in their jobs until retirement, and the ones that came in after 1990 were still too "green" and not yet prepared from a professional point of view to take up a battle as hard as the one for independence. But time has proven that the often mentioned independence is not as useful to magistrates (as it takes them away from a very comfortable and drowsing dolce farniente) as it is necessary to society. The latter, having grown up in the interim, but now being under foreign pressure to comply with the EU accession requirements - gave magistrates the much discussed independence. The paradox that it has come to now is another: independence was granted without requiring responsibility in the practicing of the profession. I hope the solution to this will come soon. It will also be imposed from the outside, once "warnings" are raised following some major "judicial errors", such as the one that led to the death of prosecutor Panait.

Reporter: Do you intend to go into politics?

Alexandru Lele: No. Since the age of 49, I've been a retired prosecutor who became a lawyer and I prefer to do what I know best how to do: fight exclusively using legal arguments for people, for my clients, especially when the imbalance of strength is very high.

Ponta: "The movie has no connection to me" 

Prime-minister Victor Ponta said in September that he is convinced that the movie about the case of prosecutor Cristian Panait, directed by Tudor Giurgiu, has no connection to him, because he was no longer a prosecutor when the events that are the subject of the movie happened. At the time, Victor Ponta gave the following statement to România TV, quoted by Mediafax: "It has no connection to me. Tudor Giurgiu has said very clearly that this is a feature film about the life of Cristi Panait, who was a very good friend of mine, we were both young prosecutors".

Ponta also mentioned that he no longer was a prosecutor at the time when the events which are the subject of the movie occurred, and he added that there may be a sequel to the movie, with the prosecutors who were in office before 1989, which may include one of his opponents in the current presidential elections.

TUDOR GIURGIU: "The < Why me? > movie - an attempt to see how the disintegration of an individual happens"

"Why me?" speaks about the pressure of the corruption of a system which eventually drives a young prosecutor to resort to suicide. Director Tudor Giurgiu studied the psychology of the character, by doing research and talking to prosecutors in the system: "During my research for the movie, I asked several prosecutors about these magistrates that have entered politics (...). They smiled and told me that none of those who left the magistracy and ended up in the government or in the Parliament did it because they were capable professionals or because they had any special merits, but because they had a mission from the get-go".

In the "Why me?" movie, directed by Tudor Giurgiu, the characters' names have been changed, meaning that prosecutor Cristian Panait was renamed Cristian Panduru.

Tudor Giurgiu explained that, in the beginning, the script used the real names, but later, except for the information provided by prosecutor Alexandru Lele and a very complicated puzzle, which had to be built around the personality of Cristian Panait, he only succeeded in finding out "a little bit".

The director said: "We have never had any political pressure, nobody leaned on us to get us to drop it.

I've realized that neither me, nor anybody else knows what happened to that man in his last days and that was the hardest part of the script, the major challenge, making a movie about what happens to a normal, healthy man, upstanding, smart, the best, the most admired, what can happen to a man like that, how you can go from achieving so much and then how much the people around you, the system can crush you (...) This was an attempt to see how the disintegration of a man happens. I read his dossier in the Prosecutors' Department, but it is actually a rather ridiculous evaluation which made him out to be crazy, and it was a psychiatric evaluation that has been drafted postmortem, but morally speaking, I couldn't make a movie with real names where I would invent things that I had no idea whether they had actually happened the way they were presented in the movie or not".

Tudor Giurgiu also said that "legally, one can not have any access to the dossier: "There were four volumes, I've seen them, I don't want to say when, how, and under what circumstances, but they were interesting. They have helped me a lot in putting some missing pieces into a puzzle and the dossier was good for that".

Tudor Giurgiu thinks that politicians used to play an important part in the judicial system in the 2000s, but he thinks that the system in itself was rotten: "Somebody used to say that certain things haven't changed in Romania, between 2002 and 2014, but at least today, in Romania, what happened to Panait can no longer happen to a prosecutor and this is also a flaw of the system, it's not just the politicians that are involved, but also the judicial system, the apparatus, the manner in which they worked that had problems".

When asked about the character of the colleague sharing the office with Cristian Panait, and whether it was supposed to represent Victor Ponta, Tudor Giurgiu said that "it does share some traits with the character of Victor Ponta". The director explained: "Victor Ponta left the Prosecution Service in 2001, in other words one year before the tragedy that befell Panait. I thought it would be interesting to have such a character, working in the same office as him, which was true as he (Panait, ed. note) used to share an office with two colleagues at a certain time, (...) it seemed important to me to have him share an office with a character that accepts a compromise, accepts to leave in exchange for some advantages, for a job of a different nature".

Director Tudor Giurgiu said that he did not talk to Victor Ponta, that he does not know "the details of his appointment in the Audit Body of the prime-minister, at the age of 28", but he thought it would be interesting to have a contrast between a character that "that has principles, has rigor and another character that wants to climb the career ladder, to get somewhere far".

Speaking about a possible rehabilitation of the image of Cristian Panait, as prosecutor Alexandru Lele was found innocent, Tudor Giurgiu said that the movie he made is "meant as an homage": "I don't think he could be rehabilitated, unless a normal minister of justice, in a normal country, were to decide that this case should be reopened and reviewed again".

Tudor Giurgiu opted for small locations for the screening of the movie, saying that, since the movie was not ready, he was interested in the "feedback from the public": "This movie is not currently at the point where you make large screenings with it. I know it is a movie that has been written about, that people want to see, but that's the way things are".

Tudor Giurgiu said that he would not give interviews to the press and claimed that he wasn't looking for publicity. "We only want to meet with a number of people and to talk freely about the movie", the director said. The movie about prosecutor Panait will be sent to the Sundance Movie Festival and to the Berlin movie festival, and an official launch may happen in the beginning of next year.

The teaser of the movie "Why me?", which up until recently was titled "Cristian", begins with the following text displayed on screen: "Prior to December 21st, 1989, the "Securitate", the political police of the communist regime, had 15,312 employees and worked with over 400,000 informants".

After the images with the logos of the Secret Services, the teaser contains a message which comes from an anonymous blogger, according to the images: "All those that try to fight a suffocating system from the inside inevitably end up being swallowed, isolated and ripped to shreds...".

The movie's screening that was held last week was attended by actors Mihai Constantin, who plays the role of the direct boss of prosecutor Panduru, Andreea Vasile, who plays Cristian Panduru's girlfriend, Emilian Oprea, the actor who plays the leading part, and Liviu Pintileasa, who plays one of the colleagues in the Prosecution Service.

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