One of Romania’s most wanted, businessman-cum-politician Sebastian Ghita, was arrested Thursday night in Belgrade after four months on the run.
The 38-year-old entrepreneur made hundreds of millions of euros from IT contracts, dabbled in wine production and even owned the country’s most successful basketball club and a TV channel. But in recent months he made headlines for a string of explosive allegations concerning collusion between the intelligence agencies and anti-corruption investigators to interfere in the political system.
As a member of the Social Democrat Party, Ghita served in parliament, in the Chamber of Deputies, between 2012 and 2016. It was afterwards that the trouble began because leaving parliament meant losing his political immunity and facing five corruption files and international and domestic arrest warrants.
Among other things, Ghita was accused of seeking bribes in return for facilitating state contracts and funnelling cash illegally into the 2014 presidential campaign of former Prime Minister Victor Ponta.
On the 19th of December 2016, shortly after a meeting with the intelligence services, Ghita slipped away from the country, despite being under surveillance and headed to Bulgaria. That began a four-month international manhunt which ended yesterday when the Serbian police stopped a man matching Ghita’s appearance at a routine check. Alerted by the fact that he brandished a Slovenian passport and driving license but spoke only English, they hauled him into custody.
For many years Ghita was the poster child of post-communist Romania. A shining example of the self-made man who had made a fortune through hard work.
In an interview for the Romanian publication, Business Magazin, in 2007, when Sebastian Ghita was 29 years old and had already amassed a fortune of €35 million, he declared that he started making money when he was 15 producing business cards for companies in his hometown, Ploiesti. After finishing high school, at 18, he set up his first IT company Asesoft.
By 2012, Forbes estimated his fortune at around €100 million. As well as his software businesses he also invested in wine and was the owner of a basketball club, Asesoft Ploiesti, which has won the national championship ten times in addition to claiming a FIBA Europe cup. His empire also included a TV News channel, Romania TV, previously owned by a controversial Romanian businessman, Sorin Ovidiu Vantu, currently in jail for fraud.
Ghita earned most of his money from contracts with Romanian state institutions for providing various IT services. The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) was one of the agencies he had contracts with.
As a member of parliament, Ghita was part of the commission in charge of parliamentary control over the SRI. While on the run, Ghita released seven video recordings broadcast by his channel Romania TV. In the videos, he spoke about his close relations with General-Lieutenant Florian Coldea, the first deputy director of the Romanian Intelligence Service. Ghita admitted attending private parties with Coldea, holidaying with him in the Seychelles, in Tuscany and even a trip by their wives to Disneyland Paris.
Ghita also claimed that he attended dozens of meetings with Laura Codruta Kovesi, chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) and Coldea at various SRI safe houses. He also suggests that CIA officers were present at some of these meetings. According to Ghita’s allegations, the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) and the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) have been working together in order to target certain Romanian politicians and businessmen.
He accused the National Anticorruption Directorate of fabricating cases with the help of Romanian Intelligence Service.
Sebastian Ghita even said that Coldea blackmailed Ponta, the then prime minister in 2013 to secure for Kovesi the position of National Anticorruption Directorate chief prosecutor. According to Ghita, Coldea told Ponta that if he didn’t name Kovesi, the SRI would talk to the US administration to cancel a visit Ponta planned to make to the US before the 2014 presidential election.
Ghita’s allegation sparked an internal investigation at the SRI which, while they did not reveal any illegal activity, led to Coldea’s resignation.
Kovesi has refused to comment on the allegations, saying that she would not start a dialogue with an indicted fugitive.
The battle against corruption, led by Kovesi and her agency has won international plaudits for Romania in recent years but has stirred up allegations of political interference at home.
Meanwhile, Ghita is facing charges in Serbia of using false identity documents which carry a jail term of between six months and three years.
By Lorelei Mihal