Former Tourism Minister Elena Udrea has been sentenced on Tuesday to six years in jail for bribe taking and abuse of office by the High Court of Cassation and Justice (ICCJ – Supreme Court). The sentence in ‘Bute Gala’ file is not final.
For the charge of abuse of office, Udrea was sentenced to 6 years in jail, sentence to be served, whereas for the charge of bribe taking she was sentenced to 5 years, realitatea.net reports. According to judicial procedures, the largest sentence is the one considered. Udrea has been acquitted from the charge of fraudulent misuse of European funds.
Udrea’s former adviser Stefan Lungu has been sentenced to one year and a half in jail on parole, while Ana Maria Topoliceanu has been sentenced to 3 years on parole.
In the same file, Rudel Obreja, former head of the Romanian Baxing Federation, has been sentenced to 5 years in jail. Tudor Breazu, administrator of the land in Nana commune for Elena Udrea, has been sentenced to 3 years in jail. The former Minister of Economy Ion Ariton, has been acquitted of the charges of improper participation to abuse of office and use influence to obtain undue advantages.
The court also ruled that Elena Udrea is to pay the amount of RON 8,116,800 as civil damages to the National Tourism Authority. Rudel Obreja is to pay RON 737,507 to the Finance Ministry as civil damages, plus interest and penalties.
The rulings are not final, can be challenged by lawyers and by prosecutors.
The “Bute Gala” trial kicked off in October 2015, with former Tourism Minister Elena Udrea being charged with bribe taking, abuse of office and attempt of EU funds embezzlement. Four of the defendants admitted their guilt, while asking to be judged by simplified procedure. Three of the defendants admitting the charges are Udrea’s former collaborators from the Tourism Ministry: Stefan Lungu, Udrea’s former personal aide, Gheorghe Nastasia, former secretary general of the ministry and former head of the National Investments Company, Ana Maria Topoliceanu. The other defendant who admitted guilt was businessman Dragos Botoroaga. During investigations, these four stated they had just been agents of some money that actually got to the ex-Tourism minister, Elena Udrea.
Former president of the Romanian Box Federation, Rudel Obreja was also indicted.
“Bute Gala” file was initiated in the spring of 2012, after the notification issued by the Anti-Fraud Fight Department. There are suspicions that, behind the box gala disputed by Lucian Bute and French Jean-Paul Mendy, it has been an embezzlement affair, with the main suspect being Rudel Obreja, head of the Romanian Box Federation at that time. Investigators suspected that Obreja approved the event to be organized by a company owned by him and thus, he would have received RON 8 million paid by the Tourism and Development ministry, run by Elena Udrea back then.
According to the prosecutors, the money has been initially intended for Romania’s touristic brand, but only RON 92,000 has been actually used for that purpose, with the rest being spent by Obreja to organize the box gala.
Later on, prosecutors extended investigations and Elena Udrea’s name popped up in the file early this year. Investigators prosecuted Udrea, asked the Parliament to lift her immunity and taken her into custody.
The former Development minister stayed behind bars three months and then placed under judicial control. Udrea claimed innocence all this time, arguing the prosecutors’ evidence are only grounded on her acquaintances’ reports.
Udrea began her political activity in 2002 as a legal adviser to the Social-Democratic Party (PSD). She joined the National Liberal Party (PNL) that year, becoming a Bucharest city councillor in June 2004, during the period of the Justice and Truth Alliance. She held that office until the following February, and during that time was president of the council’s committee on law and discipline. In October 2005 she resigned from the PNL, joining the Democratic Party in February 2006. In December, she was elected the party’s executive secretary, becoming a vice-president of the PD-L a year later. In these capacities, she promoted the party and spoke approvingly of the president, for instance ahead of the 2008 local election.
From February to November 2005, while away from her law practice, Udrea was a state counsellor and head of the Presidential Chancellery under President Traian Băsescu.
In 2008 she was sworn into the new office of Tourism Minister.