ROMANIA’s former prime minister underwent surgery today following an apparent suicide attempt, hours after being told he will be jailed for corruption. Adrian Năstase reportedly shot himself in the neck after the country’s highest court ruled that he must serve a two-year prison sentence for illegally raising funds for a failed presidential campaign.
Last night an ambulance rushed Mr Năstase to hospital after his dramatic gesture. His first visitor was Victor Ponta, the prime minister, who is a close political ally. “I am wondering if Mr Basescu is happy now and if he can sleep well tonight,” Mr Ponta said at the end of his visit referring to Traian Basescu, the president and a longstanding political foe of Mr Năstase.
Mr Năstase and Mr Basescu have been attacking each other since 2004, when the two ran for the presidency. Mr Năstase was defeated by Mr Basescu. Subsequently he has said many times that he is the victim of a political harassment and accused Mr Basescu of being behind the trial.
The news came as a shock for Romanians, not just because of the dramatic development that followed Mr Năstase’s sentencing. Since the end of communism no high-profile politician has ever gone to jail. Everyone had assumed that Mr Ponta’s Social Democrats would protect Mr Năstase, who is a member of the party too.
This is a significant moment for Romania which has often been criticised by the European Union over the last couple of years for being incapable of nailing its corrupt senior politicians. The high level of corruption was the reason why Romania was blocked last year from joining the European Union’s Schengen passport-free area.
Mr. Năstase’s truculence in the face of opposition was legendary. When asked eight years ago about the significant wealth that he accumulated during his time in office, he invited his detractors to count his balls instead. Now, it’s Romanian judges who have balls. After a trial of three and a half years, the judges ruled that Mr Năstase illegally raised €1.6m ($2.1m) during his 2004 election campaign, when he ran for president. The case, nicknamed The Quality Trophy, refers to a conference organised by a state agency at which companies and institutions donated money that Mr Năstase used to fund his campaign.
Mr Năstase is not without merits, He made an important contribution to Romania’s ascension to NATO and the European Union during his time as a prime minister, from 2000 to 2004. Many consider him to be one of the best prime ministers Romania had since Ceauşescu’s communist system collapsed. He is an appreciated intellectual. His arrogance and the corruption scandals were Mr Năstase’s downfall. He gradually lost his once-considerable popularity.
Mr Năstase, hasn’t made any comments following this sentence but his lawyer said he will take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. It is not only the corruption case Mr Năstase has been defending in recent months. Earlier this year, he got a three-year suspended prison sentence after he was convicted of blackmail while in office. In another case, he was accused of bribing the former head of Romania’s anti-money-laundering agency, but prosecutors found him innocent.
Whatever Mr Năstase’s fate might be, his case is sending a strong signal. For the first time since the end of communism Romania has proved that it can send powerful politicians behind the bars, no matter how much money or power they have. This is something Romanians have been waiting for since the 1989 revolution.
Eastern approaches on the suicide attempt of a former prime minister in Romania