Trial on Bute Gala kicks off. Four defendants admit charges. Is Elena Udrea among them?


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“Bute Gala” trial kicked off on Friday, 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 is also indicted.

In retort, Elena Udrea, who arrived at the Supreme Court this morning, says she will never ask for the simplified procedure in her case, as it would mean she admits guilt.

About her former collaborators, Udrea said “they were caught taking money”, with some of them admitting sooner or later they took that money and saying ‘I gave it to the boss.’

“This way, anyone caught making a mistake or taking bribe has the advantage of staying at large or of benefiting of a shorter sentence only by saying: I gave it to the boss! I will not ask for a simplified procedure, as the other defendants must stay next to me in the trial in order to prove they said the truth. I stayed behind bars for 72 days for some people caught taking money said: yes, I took the money, but I took it for Elena Udrea. I think they should go on trial and prove they gave me that money,” Udrea said.

“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 8m 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 review. Udrea has claimed her innocence all this time, arguing the prosecutors’ evidence are only grounded on her acquaintances’ reports.

Ex-secretary general of the ministry told prosecutors he handed a black bag with EUR 900,000 to Elena Udrea, money received from businessman Adrian Gardean. However, Rudel Obreja has in fact benefitted of the money. He had borrowed over RON 8m from the bank, with Elena Udrea promising him the Tourism Ministry would give him the money back. The sum was not enough to bring Lucia Bute to box in Bucharest gala, and the money from the black bag would have covered the difference.

Prosecutors also claim that part of the black money received by Elena Udrea would have also got to the Democrat Liberal Party, where Udrea was a notable member at that time.

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