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Romanian Journalists Under Pressure to Disclose Sources

A Romanian investigative project has accused the ruling party of intimidation, after the state data protection agency threatened it with a large fine, for using personal data in articles.
Romanian National Authority for The Protection of Persoanl Data. Photo: Octav Ganea/Inquam Photo

The Romanian investigative publication Rise Project says the ruling Social Democratic Party is trying to pressure it to disclose the source of a recently leaked document that includes financial as well as personal information about party leader Liviu Dragnea.

The country’s agency for personal date protection sent a notification on Thursday threatening Rise Project with a fine of 20 million euros.

Rise Project said last Saturday that it had obtained a suitcase containing thousands of documents from the Tel Drum road infrastructure company in Teleorman County, in southern Romania, whose council Dragnea used to lead.

The company has been at the heart of one a major graft case involving Dragnea.

The journalists last week launched a series of investigations labeled #TeleormanLeaks, based on the documents they say they found in the suitcase, which a local farmer – who found it abandoned on his property – had handed to them.

The Agency for Personal Data Protection on Thursday sent a notification to Rise Project’s newsroom in Bucharest, demanding that the journalists disclose the source of the information or risk a 20-million-euros fine.

The journalists, who have published the document on social media, said Dragnea and his allies were trying to intimidate them in order to get access to the media organization’s computer network.

“Rise in an independent centre for journalistic investigations affiliated to international organizations in the field, and we act exclusively in the public’s interest,” a statement from the publication on Thursday night read. “We will continue,” it added.

Dragnea on Thursday denied any connection to the data protection agency’s initiative and declined to comment further.

On Monday, he called the journalists’ investigations “lies” and showed up at parliament with two suitcases – one full of donuts, a euphemism for “lies” in Romania, and branded with Rise Project, and another containing several folders with President Klaus Iohannis’s picture on them.

“I have nothing to do with that suitcase [with Rise Project],” he told journalists. “Study these ones too,” he added.

Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea with the suitcases at the parliament on Monday, November 5. Photo: Robert Ghement/EPA

The head of the data protection agency is a Social Democrat Party member who ran for parliament on the party’s lists. She could not be reached for comment by the time of publication. 

The Personal Data Protection Authority said in a press release on Friday that it requested Risek Project more information after it received a complaint and added that the law allows it to request that information. 

The head of the opposition Save Romania Union party, Dan Barna, demanded her resignation and a group of people protested in front of the data protection agency’s headquarters in Bucharest.

Dragnea is a suspect in an important investigation into fraud involving European Union funds when he was the acting head of Teleorman County from 2000 to 2015.

In November 2017, anti-graft prosecutors announced the beginning of an investigation at the request of the EU anti-fraud agency, OLAF, into the Teleorman-based Tel Drum firm for embezzlement of EU funds.

The sum concerned, 3.2 million euros, was allegedly used for his own personal purposes, or to fund Social Democratic Party projects, prosecutors said. 

The article has been updated on November 9, 2018, to add the statement of the Romanian National Authority for Protection of Personal Data.

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