BUCHAREST (Panorama.am) — Five years after a bribery scandal broke out in the European Parliament, former MEP Adrian Severin, who was also lobbying Azerbaijan’s interests in the EP, was sentenced to 3,3 years in prison in Romania for attempting to make changes in the European Union legislation in exchange for up to 100 thousand euros, according to The Sunday Times.
The story, known as the “cash-for-laws scandal,” goes back to 2011, when a group of journalists from The Sunday Times posed as lobbyists and offered money to 60 MEPs for adopting amendments watering down rules protecting bank customers across Europe. Adrian Severin, former Foreign Minister of Romania; Zoran Thaler, former Foreign Minister of Slovenia; and Ernst Strasser, Foreign Minister of Austria, agreed to the deal, according to the EurActiv.
Back then, the European Parliament said in a press release that on 21 March 2011, “the Romanian National Anti-Corruption Department instituted proceedings against Mr Severin on the basis that between December 2010 and March 2011 he allegedly accepted an offer of payment of €100,000 from representatives of a fake lobbying company ‘Taylor Jones Public Affairs’ (created by the ‘Sunday Times’)” to adopt amendments favourable for them and vote against those going against the interests of the company they represented. FOCUS information agency reports that a video filmed on the journalists’ hidden camera shows him agreeing to receive 4000 euros a day for his work. This prompted the European Parliament to waive Severin’s parliamentary immunity.
After being offered the deal, Severin, the vice-president of the Socialist Group (the second biggest in the EP), asked an unsuspecting colleague to table the amendment offered by the disguised lobbyists. The EurActiv cites an email sent from Severin to the reporters “just to let you know that the amendment desired by you has been tabled in due time,” before sending them a 12 thousand euro invoice for “consulting services.” Later Severin said he had done nothing illegal.
As a result, a political scandal broke out. The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the European Parliament initiated an investigation into the case to punish the above-mentioned MEPs. However, the problem was that both the rules of the OLAF and the Codes of Conduct and Ethics of the European Parliament referred to misuse of public money rather than a private lobbying company. Therefore, the issue was to be solved in the frameworks of the legislation of the countries the MEPs under question were representing. Meanwhile, the media reported about Severin’s exclusion from the Socialist Group in 2011. However, he refused to leave his seat in the European Parliament and remained there until the completion of his term in 2014.
According to the Lawyer Herald, a law news portal, Adrian Severin’s sentence was possible because, under the Romanian Penal Code, giving bribe implies the promise, offering or giving money or other benefits.
In their time, there were different media reports about the above MEPs being lobbyists of the interests of various forces. In particular, the Russian service of Radio France Internationale called Adrian Severin “an open defender of Azerbaijan.”
Severin’s pro-Azerbaijan position was expressed both in his support of the country during votes and in his written questions, which are available on the EP website. Back in 2008, in response to a speech by Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commissioner for Trade and European Neighbourhood Policy, where she addressed the Georgian crisis and noted the EU’s commitment to offering support to Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova as regards their territorial integrity and sovereignty, Severin expressed his protest over “the omission of Azerbaijan from the speech by Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner.” Further, he asked the Commission to say whether it was “ready to prepare a plan to advance its relations and to step up its cooperation with Azerbaijan.”
In 2013, the Romanian MEP asked another written question to the Commission for the European Neighbourhood Policy. In the question, he noted that “Azerbaijan has an important regional role in the energy security, geoeconomic, geostrategic and cultural fields.” He also made an inquiry about the EU’s “alternatives” to define “the basis of a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan, including a declaration of the EU’s unequivocal support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, during the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius.” He asked the Commission whether the EU was committed to signing a visa facilitation agreement with Azerbaijan.
Severin was the last protagonist of the scandal to be sent to prison. Ernst Strasser was sentenced to four years in 2013, and Zoran Thaler received a two-and-a-half-year prison term in 2014. Before that, unlike the Romanian politician, they resigned as the scandal broke.