Romania President Traian Basescu claimed on Monday evening that PM Victor Ponta, who is a leading candidate for the November 2 presidential elections, served as an officer for the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service in 1997-2001. PM Ponta on Tuesday morning avoided confirming or dismissing the allegation, but spoke of "lies" and "trash" pushed by the President. The accusations possibly has major political and security implications and sparks a huge scandal just weeks before the first round of the presidential poll.
Traian Basescu said for Romanian news channel Realitatea TV on Monday night that "Victor Ponta has to admit that between 1997-2001 he served as a covered agent for SIE", Romania's foreign intelligence service.
He claimed this would explain how back in 1998 Ponta, who then served as a prosecutor at Bucharest District 1 prosecutor's office, ascended to serve as prosecutor for the Prosecutor General.
To support his claim, Basescu only used a document related to what used to be considered state secrets in the field of foreign intelligence in 2002. An annex to the document later included the identities of intelligence personnel as state secrets even after they break ties with the respective intelligence services. Basescu claimed Ponta extended the content of the document "in order to protect himself".
Ponta - who has been a fierce opponent of President Basescu for most of the latter's terms in office, reacted on Tuesday morning, but avoided to clearly confirm or dismiss the statements of the President. He said that after he graduated law school he complied with the laws of the country, served his country as a magistrate and then as a minister and he would do the same going on.
He said that for the past ten years of Basescu's Presidency he witnessed "lies, trash and the use of state institutions by Traian Basescu in his own personal interest".
Basescu's intervention has political and institutional effects as well as effects in the field of foreign relations. It sparks one of the most serious security crises in Romania for the past ten years, according to a HotNews.ro commentary:
- Politically, it is yet unclear what the effects would be on right-leaning voters or the undecided, as Basescu hits at Victor Ponta - whom the rightists would not support - but has also hurted the campaign of other candidates such as Klaus Iohannis or Monica Macovei, He has only lent his support to a third right-leaning candidate, Elena Udrea, seen by may rightists as an "insult".
- Among left-leaning voters, the "revelation"'s effects are even harder to quantify as in Romania these voters are used to not sanctioning corrupt politicians even if arrested, as prior elections have proven.
- Within Victor Ponta's governing Social Democratic Party (PSD), having served as an intelligence officer is not something to blame, on the contrary. The party has an aura of being the descendant of the structures of power of the former communist regime, including the Securitate.
- But the situation raises more issues in terms of foreign relations: Was Ponta's apparent vulnerability known among non-NATO member countries such as China, Russia or Kazakhstan and used by them in important items of bilateral relations? What will the impact be on Ponta's credibility among foreign partners and European leaders such as Merkel, Hollande, Cameron or Obama? Will Romania's credibility be affected as according to Basescu's claims Ponta allegedly served as an officer when the Romanian intelligence services were at their weakest point - and the question appears: who did Ponta spy on?