Former Romanian prime minister Adrian Nastase claims his recent conviction on corruption charges was a “political game” orchestrated by his rivals. Though there appears to be little doubt that he was in fact corrupt, Nastase’s claim of political persecution is a reminder that countries with high-level corruption are also likely to be places where powerful politicians can use the courts to take down their enemies.
In such settings, any government agency that is strong enough to prosecute corruption risks capture by one political faction or another—a faction that can then make use of selective prosecution for political gain. Even if the process is fair, officials like Nastase will claim that their prosecutions are politically motivated.
Corruption in Romania is bad enough that the rest of Europe appears to be keeping it at arms length. From The New York Times story:
Yet Romania’s EU membership might be useful for shifting from a high-corruption equilibrium to a low one. The story of Nastase’s corruption trial reminded me of a piece that Paul wrote for VoxEU back in 2010. He argued that Greeks could leverage their membership in the EU to attack corruption without letting national politics get in the way:
It seems that Romanians could adopt this sort of strategy to clean up their government as well. Or perhaps the EU could make further integration contingent on it’s adoption. Either way, if an EU-based anti-corruption commission sends a politician to jail, the cries of political persecution are likely to ring especially hollow.