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Romania: Extent of organized criminal activities, including references to a "gypsy mafia"; area of operation of organized crime; police response and availability of protection, including witness protection (2005 - June 2007)

Publisher Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 3 August 2007
Citation / Document Symbol ROU102534.E
Cite as Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Romania: Extent of organized criminal activities, including references to a "gypsy mafia"; area of operation of organized crime; police response and availability of protection, including witness protection (2005 - June 2007), 3 August 2007, ROU102534.E, available at: [accessed 20 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Extent of organized crime

The German Magazine, Der Spiegel, characterizes Romania as "dominated by [m]afia and corruption" (10 Apr. 2006, see also Global Integrity 2007, 2). In 2006, the European Commission (EC) delayed its decision on Romania's bid to become a member of the European Union (EU) and asked the country to address corruption and organized crime (The Daily Telegraph 17 May 2006; The Wall Street Journal 17 May 2006; see also EC 25 Oct. 2005, 4, 13-15). On 1 January 2007, Romania became a member of the EU (BBC 1 Jan. 2007) following what a United Nations (UN) official said was "significant progress" in addressing corruption and organized crime (Rompres 5 May 2006).

The government of Romania indicates that in the first four months of 2006, there were 1,710 known cases related to organized crime, 1,133 of which resulted in criminal charges and 197 subsequent arrests (Romania 27 June 2006, 2). In November 2006, the Romanian press agency, Rompres, reported that in the first nine months of the year, police had located 83 organized crime groups and eliminated 24 percent of these groups by arresting 33 percent of their members (17 Nov. 2006). The head of the police Service for Combating Money Laundering published the statistics at a news conference, and explained that 41 of the 83 groups engaged in money laundering, 22 engaged in larceny and 20 engaged in economic financing fraud (Rompres 17 Nov. 2006).

In June 2005, Romania's president, Traian Basescu, asserted in a media interview that corruption and "mafia-like" practices were present at "the top of the system" (Rompres 13 June 2005). He claimed that Romania's past governments had lived "a double life," one life that served public interest, and another life which served the mafia system (ibid.). For example, in September 2005, the Romanian Minister of Agriculture asserted that mafia groups in the Insula Mare a Brailei area were attempting to monopolize Romania's wheat industry (Rompres 16 Sept. 2005). In May 2006 two public servants were apprehended on suspicions that they had links to a criminal gang involved in extortion (AP 18 May 2006).

Following Romania's accession to the EU, a "long-running feud" between the President and the Prime Minister escalated (AFP 19 Apr. 2007). Romania's parliament subsequently voted to suspend the President (ibid.) amid allegations that he was "protecting the interests of the mafia" and controlling mechanisms of the state (ibid. 12 Feb. 2007). In contrast, the President asserted that in fact his opponents were attacking him in a bid to interfere with anti-corruption initiatives that threatened the "economic mafia" (BBC 20 May 2007). In Romania, parliamentary motions to impeach the president must be voted on in a public referendum (AFP 12 Feb. 2007). On 20 May 2007, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that the Romanian public had voted against impeachment (20 May 2007).

With respect to human trafficking, the United States (US) Department of State reports that it is a "serious problem" in Romania (6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 5). The country is both a point of origin as well as a point of transit for trafficked individuals (ibid.). In 2005, there were 2,250 known victims of trafficking (ibid.). In the first four months of 2006, the government received 257 reports of human trafficking involving 458 traffickers and 716 victims (Romania 27 June 2006, 2). Police investigations were credited with finding 568 of these victims (ibid.).

References to gypsy mafia

There were no current references to "gypsy mafia" operating in Romania among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. With respect to how the term is generally used, an article published by The Patrin Web Journal in 1997 explains that "the term 'gypsy Mafia' is used to magnify the implied threat of a "somehow organized Gypsy crime wave" (1 Mar. 1997).

Efforts to address organized crime

In 2003, the Romanian parliament adopted Law No.39 on Preventing and Combating Organised Crime (2003) (Romania 2003). The law defines an organized criminal group as a group of three or more individuals that "exists for a period of time and acts in a coordinated manner [for] the purpose of committing one or more grave offences ... in order to obtain directly or indirectly a financial benefit or other material benefit" (ibid. Art. 2). Grave offences include murder, depriving someone of their freedom, slavery, blackmail, particularly grave offences against the state, offences regarding the smuggling of arms, insider trading and import/export or other fraud, waste disposal fraud, illegal procurement, gambling, drug trafficking, organ tissue trafficking, human trafficking and smuggling, money laundering, corruption, false bankruptcy, digital or electronically committed crimes, and any other crime whose minimum punishment is five years (ibid.). The law sets out that trafficking in organ tissue is punishable by a prison sentence of three to seven years (ibid., Art. 27). Certain grave offences that result in the death of a victim are punishable by ten to twenty years in prison (ibid., Art. 28). The legislation sets forth the procedural management of grave offences committed by organized crime groups insofar as they have circumstances other than those normally surrounding a criminal act (ibid., Art. 19). For example, the act sets forth the appropriate procedures for the use of undercover police (ibid.), and makes provisions for international cooperation (ibid., Art. 24).

Romania's efforts to address organized crime have largely fallen within the scope of the country's 2004-2007 Romanian Police Modernisation Strategy and the Action Plan for its Implementation, which it drafted with assistance from the European Union (EU) (Romania 27 June 2006). The European Commission (EC) notes that in September 2005, the Romanian government made structural changes to government departments responsible for anti-corruption efforts (EC 25 Oct. 2005, 14). The National Anti-Corruption Prosecution Office was renamed and became the National Anti-Corruption Department (DNA), and became part of the General Prosecutor's Office, which is "attached" to the High Court (ibid.). Because the General Prosecutor's office is mandated with fighting organized crime, the EC hopes that this will result in more effective responses to corruption cases involving organized crime (ibid.). Previously, in September 2004, the Romanian government established a National Office for Trafficking Prevention and Victim Monitoring as well as a trafficking research centre within the Directorate-General for Combating Organised Crime and Drugs (ibid., 15). As a result, the EC notes that the government is better equipped to disrupt organized criminal activities including human trafficking (ibid.).

In order to address organized crime more effectively, Romania has signed bilateral agreements with several countries, including Moldova (Basapress 10 Feb. 2005), Bulgaria, Greece (BTA 27 Dec. 2005) and Georgia (AP 14 May 2004). In May 2006 Romania signed an agreement with the United Nations (UN) Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to receive assistance in tackling corruption, organized crime, and weaknesses in the justice system (Rompres 5 May 2006).

With respect to human trafficking, the US Department of State notes that laws dealing with trafficking are weak and unevenly implemented (6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 5). While police corruption hinders efforts to combat trafficking, the government has opened twelve legislated shelters for victims of trafficking and has assisted victims with repatriation (ibid.).

Witness protection

In 2002, the Romanian parliament adopted Law No.682 on Witness Protection (2002) (Romania 2002). The law establishes a National Office for Witness Protection (Oficiul National Pentru Protectia Martorilor, ONPM) within the Ministry of the Interior (ibid., Art. 3). The ONPM is responsible for receiving requests, processing and setting up witness protection measures as well for as maintaining the program's records (ibid.). Protection measures for witnesses accepted into the program may include protecting their identity, protecting their court deposition, allowing them to testify under a different identity, protecting witnesses who have been detained, providing increased safety measures for the witness' residence, relocating the witness, altering their appearance, and providing them with a change of employment, which may include re-training and income compensation when this is not immediately possible (ibid., Art. 12). Witnesses who have themselves committed criminal offences serve half the normal prison term for the offence they have committed (ibid., Art. 19).

Information on the number of individuals receiving witness protection between the years 2005 and 2007 could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. However, Nine O'Clock, a Romanian English-language newspaper reported that in 2004, eleven individuals were receiving witness protection services although they had not been required to change their identities, appearances or places of residence (30 June 2004). A number of these individuals had reportedly assisted police in uncovering "dangerous criminal networks" operating in Romania (Nine O'Clock 30 June 2004). The EC notes that as of October 2005, no victim of trafficking had been granted witness protection (EC 25 Oct. 2005, 15).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France-Presse (AFP). 19 April 2007. "Romanian Parliament Votes to Suspend President." (Factiva)
_____. 12 February 2007. "Opposition Leaders Impeach Romanian President." (Factiva)

Associated Press (AP). 18 May 2006. "Two Romanian Officials Arrested for Alleged Links to Organized Crime." (Factiva)
_____. 14 May 2004. "Georgia and Romania Sign Agreement to Fight Terrorism and Organized Crime." (Factiva)

Basapress. 10 February 2005. "Moldova, Romania Agree to Fight Organized Crime." (BBC Monitoring/Factiva)

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 20 May 2007. "Romania President Survives Vote." [Accessed 8 June 2007]
_____. 1 January 2007. "Romania and Bulgaria Join the EU." [Accessed 8 June 2007]

BTA [Sophia, Bulgaria]. 27 December 2005. "Bulgaria, Romania, Greece to Cooperate in Fighting Cross-Border Organized Crime." (BBC Monitoring/Factiva)

The Daily Telegraph [London, England]. 17 May 2006. "Bulgaria, Romania Told to Tackle Corruption Before Joining EU." (National Post/Factiva)

European Commission. 25 October 2005. Romania: 2005 Comprehensive Monitoring Report. ( Web site) [Accessed 8 June 2007]

Global Integrity. 2007. "Romania." 2006 Country Report. [Accessed 15 June 2007]

Nine O'Clock [Bucharest, Romania]. 30 June 2004. "Eleven Romanians Under Witness Protection Program." [Accessed 8 June 2007]

The Patrin Web Journal. 1 March 1997. Kheta Quinn. License to Persecute: Pariah Populations and the DNA Oracle. [Accessed 8 June 2007]

Romania. 27 June 2006. "The Progress Made by the Specialised Structures of the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police in the Area of Fighting Organised Crime and Drug Trafficking 01.01 – 31.05.2006." Distributed at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) 2006 Annual Security Review Conference. [Accessed 8 June 2007]
_____. 2003. Law No.29 on Preventing and Combating Organized Crime (2003). (Legislationonline Web site) [Accessed 8 June 2007]
_____. 2002. Law No.682 on Witness Protection (2002). (Legislationonline Web site) [Accessed 8 June 2007]

Rompres. 17 November 2006. "Over 80 Criminal Groups Identified in Romania." (Factiva)
_____. 5 May 2006. "UN to Help Romania in Fighting Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, Corruption." (Factiva)
_____. 16 September 2005. "Mafia-Like Groups Are Putting Pressure for Wheat Imports, Says Minister of Agriculture." (Factiva)
_____. 13 June 2005. "President: Corruption in Romania at "Top of System"." (Factiva)

Der Spiegel [Germany]. 10 April 2006. Hans-Juergen Schlamp. "Germany's Spiegel Views Reforms in "Problem Countries" Bulgaria, Romania." (BBC Monitoring/Factiva)

United States (US). 6 March 2007. Department of State. "Romania." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006. [Accessed 8 June 2007]

The Wall Street Journal [New York]. 17 May 2006. "EU Delays Entry Decision on Romania, Bulgaria." (Factiva)

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sources, including: Amnesty International (AI); British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); European Country of Origin Information Network (; European Union (EU); Evenimentul Zilei; Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme (FIDH); Freedom House; Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR); International Helsinki Federation; Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL); Reliefweb; Romania, Ministry of Justice; Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation; Transparency International; Zina.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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