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“Concern About Possible Iliescu Presidency’s Impact on Crime and Corruption in Romania Valid,” Commission Chairman Reiterates

WASHINGTON – “In the Commission’s hearing last week about widespread corruption in the countries of the OSCE, I asked the witnesses about the possible effect of the potential return of Ion Iliescu to the Presidency of Romania. The testimony of Freedom House President Adrian Karatnycky raised concerns which deserve our immediate and ongoing consideration. We had the instance in the last presidential campaign in Romania wherein Mr. Iliescu broke his word to me and other U.S. Members of Congress regarding the injection of the congressional vote on Most Favored Nation status into Romania’s November 1996 campaign, leaving us with strong doubts as to his honesty.”

Last Thursday’s remarks were prompted by testimony provided by Adrian Karatnycky, President of Freedom House, “I am concerned that the limited progress [in combating corruption] seen in recent years in Romania can be reversed if the forces of former President Iliescu recapture power through the ballot box.” Mr. Karatnycky today reiterated, “Freedom House stands by its testimony based on the clear record of indifference to corruption by the Iliescu regime. There is legitimate concern that a return of the Iliescu regime would again bring that indifference to corruption.”

“It is incumbent upon those of us in the public arena to express our concern about trends that may threaten the ability of fellow OSCE participating States to provide strong independent regimes, based on the rule of law, and market-based economies. Corruption is stymying economic reforms in many countries. While many in Europe and here in the United States were concerned enough about the rise of the Freedom Party in Austria to make public comment, I am concerned about a potential political step backward in Romania. The return of Iliescu could have grave negative effects both in Romania and within the OSCE as Romania assumes the role of Chair-in-Office,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).

Romania is slated to assume the Chairmanship of the 54 nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in January 2001. In addition, the Romanian Parliament will be hosting the annual meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly July 6-10, 2000 which will focus on “OSCE Challenges in the 21st Century—Good Governance: Regional Cooperation, Strengthening Democratic Institutions, Promoting Transparency, Enforcing the Rule of Law and Combating Corruption.”

“My remarks are in no way to be taken as intending to influence the Romanian electoral process. I am a firm believer in the democratic system and in the right of the people’s voice through the ballot box. However, the idiosyncracies of Romanian politics do not remove our concerns nor our right of free expression in public debate regarding U.S. interests,” said Smith.

In July 1996, then-President Iliescu had given his assurance that the U.S. congressional debate and favorable vote regarding permanent MFN for Romania would not become “a part of our [Romanian] domestic political debate.” When Mr. Iliescu immediately used the occasion to criticize his opponent, Chairman Smith expressed then his concern about Iliescu “going back on his word.” [July 24, 1996 CSCE News Release]

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