The founder of the secret police service of Romania will be sent back to his home country to face jail time for corruption, a court in the Cayman Islands ruled this week.
Mihai Tanjala, a politician and entrepreneur in the former Communist country was sentenced in 2011 to five years in prison for a fraudulent business deal. He fled Romania and has been on the run ever since.
According to testimony from an Immigration officer and an Interpol agent, he arrived in the Cayman Islands from Cuba, undetected, in September. It was only when he tried to enter Jamaica after boarding a flight to Kingston on Oct. 14 that anyone noticed there was an international warrant out for his arrest.
Romanian authorities were alerted and he was sent back to Grand Cayman to face an extradition hearing.
Tanjala, who appeared before Chief Magistrate Nova Hall in a two-day hearing either side of Christmas, attempted to argue that he had been unfairly convicted in his home country for political reasons.
He claimed his life would be at risk if he was sent back to Romania and pleaded with the magistrate not to approve the extradition request.
At one point during the hearing, Tanjala suggested that if the authorities did not believe he was innocent, he could serve out his sentence in the Cayman Islands.
“If it is expensive for Cayman to keep me here, I will pay for jail.”
He maintained he was not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. “I didn’t make any crime,” he told the court in broken English.
“You can’t extradite me for something that didn’t happen. I am not a criminal, I am innocent. Please try to see the truth. If I was convicted by abuse, what do you think will happen to me in Romania?”
The magistrate, in her ruling Tuesday afternoon, said the court had no jurisdiction to make a determination on Tanjala’s guilt or innocence.
She said the court was satisfied that he had been convicted in Romania and said his claims that he was victimized for political reasons could not be substantiated.
She ordered that he be handed over to Romanian authorities. Mr. Tanjala has indicated he will now file a writ of habeus corpus in the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands to officially contest his original conviction.
The court heard that he had absconded from Romania immediately after his conviction and had been a fugitive ever since. He claims he was fleeing an injustice and was attempting to reopen his case from exile in the U.S.
Tanjala was convicted of deliberately underselling property of a company, part-owned by the Romanian state, to a family member.
It was alleged that as administrator of the company IC IGMUG SA Giurgiu, he had become aware of an offer to buy the property from another firm, Zone Libere SA.
Instead of authorizing the deal, he orchestrated the sale of the asset to a company owned by his wife for a fraction of the price. That company then made the deal with Zone Libere SA at a massive profit.
During the hearing, Tanjala repeatedly challenged the evidence and cast himself as a victim of political persecution.
The 58-year-old was a member of the social democratic party that ruled Romania in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Communism and the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
In the chaotic privatization of state assets that followed the 1989 revolution, there were numerous allegations of corrupt deals, including the appropriation of state assets and businesses at prices far below their actual value.
Mr. Tanjala, during the hearing, painted himself as a campaigner who had fought for the return of property and businesses taken from the people at the inception of the Communist regime.
He claimed to have won several legal victories in the civil courts against the Romanian state and brought corruption in the privatization process to the attention of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington.
The media in Romania has reported that he is actually accused of being on the other side of this process and could face potential prosecution in connection with other business deals if he is returned to his home country.
Mr. Tanjala cited this possibility himself as evidence he should not be extradited, claiming in a written submission to the court, “Currently in Romania there is an intensive media campaign on his extradition in Romania and it officially shows that he is expected to open new trials and to be sentenced to life imprisonment for indefeasible criminal offences, but which he did not commit, resulting in being sentenced for life.”
Prosecutor Cheryll Richards said nothing had been presented that supported his claims that the Romanian system was not working in an appropriate way.
“There was no evidence for what he said that he was at war with the Romanian state,” she said. “It appeared that he was following a legitimate process that had resulted in his favor …
“He seems to have benefited from the very system he says is being used against him.”
She said there was nothing to suggest that his crime was for anything other than the “ordinary criminal purpose of financial gain.”
Magistrate Hall ordered that a warrant of committal be signed for his transfer back to Romania.