The row over Forestry Code and illegal deforestations gets tougher, with the Presidency and the Government coming to the fore. After PM Victor Ponta claimed on Wednesday night that Liberal leaders had private meetings with Holzindustrie company (having as main activity the primary processing of wood) on the Forestry Code topic and that he would inform the Supreme Defence Council (CSAT) about that.
Before leaving for Milan on Thursday morning, the Romanian head of state informed that he had asked the chief of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) to check the premier’s statements, arguing his allegations are extremely serious and that he should account for them if they proved to be false.
“It is a very curious statement. I must admit I was surprised by it. The young prime minister says on TV that people from my entourage would have met varios wood processor representatives and he hints that a kind of influence peddling would develop at the President’ s level (…) There has been no clue that anybody would have made intercession for this matter,” Iohannis stated.
“I checked with the Presidential Administration and there was no kind of debates neither with the lobbyists nor with colleagues from the National Liberal Party (…) I asked the state institutions to check what kind of information the premier possesses, if they confirm, emergency actions will be taken, if not, the premier will account for these statements. They insinuate there is a influence peddling at the president’s level, but they cannot be taken as mere assertions. They are far more critical (…) I hope this inadvertence should not mean a comeback to the electoral logics, promoted by candidate Ponta back then,” the president pointed out.”If we start again to play with this kind of allegations like in the campaign, it is not good. And, as I am not electioneering anymore, I won’t tolerate this kind of thing anymore,” Iohannis added.
He informed he had not talked to the prime minister on this topic but he talked to SRI head this morning and had officially asked him to check these statements with greatest efficiency and reliability.
Asked to comment on the government’s intention to ban the export of unprocessed wood for a limited period of time by emergency ordinance, President Iohannis he cannot assess its economical impact on the spot but he would agree with this intention if it or any other action led to saving the woods in Romania.
However, the head of state commented that some NGOs’ honest and well-intentioned action to protest in order to save the forests is on the verge of being politically embezzled by the Social Democrat Party (PSD).
While on B1TV Wednesday night, PM Ponta explained he had concrete information regarding some meetings between Austrian Holzindustrie Schweighofer and some Liberal leaders, who subsequently had misinformed president Iohannis on the Forestry Code.
Questioned if it could be an influence peddling case, Ponta answered “100 %” in the first instance, but later mentioned he couldn’t be the one to make legal classifications of offenses.
PNL co-president Alina Gorghiu promptly retorted to the premier’s statements, urging him to notify the authorized state institutions “if he is not lying”. Otherwise, she says she will have to accuse him of protecting criminals.
It is not the first time that Social democrats accuse President Iohannis on the forests matter. PSD has recently accused the head of state that is directly interested in this matter, because it referred to the Parliament the new Forestry Code (he asked the Parliament to re-examine the Forestry Code).
At the end of April, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an environmental NGO with offices in Washington DC and London, has released a footage showing that company representatives of Holzindustrie Schweighofer Romania would knowingly accept and reward through a bonus system illegally harvested wood from the forests of Romania.
Ex-president Basescu slams Ponta
Former president Traian Basescu slammed PM Ponta on forests topic in a Facebook post on Thursday. Basescu says that the premier “is trying to pass the hot potato into the hands of Cotroceni Palace”, “taking advantage that the President has been unable enough to publicly explain the reason he sent the forestry code back to Parliament.” Ex-president claims the “potato” is in fact in Ponta’s hands, as hid father-in-law Ilie Sarbu was the one who signed the contract with Schweighofer and the one who patronized the forest and farmland sales in Romania.
“Former Agriculture minister, Ilie Sarbu patronized the signing a ten-year contract with the Austrians from Schweighofer in 2003. At the moment of signing the contract, Victor Ponta was heading the PM’s control body. The incumbent ROMSILVA general manager, Mr. Adam Craciunescu, protected by the father-in-law (Ilie Sarbu) was secretary of state on forests within the Agriculture ministry at that time. In 2013, when the contract with Schweighofer expired, Ponta was prime minister, Craciunescu was ROMSILVA director and Sarbu had already been famous for becoming the broker of the forests and farmlands in Romania. None of them did anything to stop the Austrians’ greed,” Basescu wrote on Facebook.
He also points out that potential information on this topic coming from the intelligence services would have had to get simultaneously both to president and premier.
“Moreover, the lying copy cat bastard is hinting he has arguments received from the intelligence services, which is absolutely impossible without a simultaneous report to the president, considering the magnitude of the topic,” Basescu states.
At the end of last week the NGOs staged several protests in Bucharest and more cities in the country to slam the illegal deforestations. Following these protests, president Iohannis informed he would put the topic on CSAT agenda in the next meeting.
On Thursday Holzindustrie Schweighofer retorted on this topic, claiming it has never threatened Romania’s Government with initiation of international lawsuits, while hailing President Iohannis’ decision to debate the wood exploitation issue in CSAT, mentioning it will provide him with the necessary information.
Holzindustrie Schweighofer has also sent a letter to each CSAT member to inform him/ her about the company’s objections against the draft that amends the Forestry Code, arguing the bill could prompt to breaking several commercial and international investment agreements, as well as the European competition laws.
“Holzindustrie Schweighofer has never threatened the Romanian Government with international lawsuits, but (….) in the case the Gov’t and especially CSAT are not convincing the Parliament to rule out the provisions which break the European and international laws, any foreign investor in wood processing sector will have to resort to the court,“ reads a press release issued by the Austrian company.