A scandal involving COVID-19 vaccine procurement is rocking the Romanian political scene
The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are still lingering in
Romania. After the psychosis around the disease or the subsequent one around
the vaccines, after the unprecedented restrictions introduced by post-communist
Romania's authorities on citizens' freedom of movement, after the severe impact on the
economy and on social cohesion, COVID strikes again, this time around in
judicial and political circles.
Romania's Senate is to vote on the National Anti-Corruption Directorate's
(DNA) request to lift the parliamentary immunity of the former Liberal prime
minister Florin Cîţu, in light of an investigation into the procurement of COVID-19
vaccines in early 2021.
The leaders of the Social Democratic Party and the National Liberal
Party announced that the ruling coalition would vote in favour of the request.
USR party, in opposition at present, says its MPs will also support the
request. Two USR officials, the former health ministers Vlad Voiculescu and
Ioana Mihăilă, are also involved in the case, facing charges of abuse of office,
and president Klaus Iohannis has already agreed with lifting their immunity.
Another Liberal politician, Andrei Baciu, a secretary of state with the
health ministry, is also accused of the same offence, but since his position is
not covered by this form of protection, the immunity lifting procedure is not
required in his case.
According to prosecutors, Cîțu and his former subordinates approved the
procurement of a significantly larger number of vaccine doses than necessary,
causing the Romanian state losses of EUR 1 bln.
The incumbent health minister, the Social Democrat Alexandru Rafila,
said Romania ordered a total of approx. 80 million vaccine doses, 35 million of
which have been supplied. For the vaccines it has received, Rafila added,
the government paid a rough EUR 500 mln.
The mass media argue that the amount of money involved is huge, and that
the number of vaccine doses was disproportionate, considering that Romania's
less than 20 million people were largely reluctant to the shots.
With a PM term in office just as short-lived as his party leadership, Cîțu
is rather isolated in the party at present, and says he would battle the
charges on his own, only helped by his lawyers. USR, on the other hand, are
closing ranks around their former health ministers and claim the scandal has
political motives. The head of Save Romania Union, Cătălin Drulă, even argues
that the case against Voiculescu is a clear example of weaponising public
institutions against the opposition.
Observers however find this approach rather odd, given that USR was
founded precisely as an anti-corruption party, and just years ago it launched a
quite powerful slogan, "I vote for DNA!"
The vaccine scandal, say the media, is only the prologue of a period of severe
political turmoil, given that next year Romania will be holding elections for
the European Parliament as well as national local, parliamentary and presidential