Sebastian Ghiță — The Missing in Action Media Mogul
The man who forfeited on 13 million euros in bail to become a vlogger.
One of the most interesting facets of corruption, especially in the Romanian context is the overlap between the ultra-rich and politics. It seems that it isn’t just politicians that grow wealthy while in positions of power but that politics also has an irresistible allure for the Romanian businessman. Case in point — Sebastian Ghită, politician, tech entrepreneur, media mogul, parole jumper, and one of the most well known corruption cases still under investigation in Romania.
Sebastian Ghiță made a name for himself in the early aughts, when, as a 20 something IT developer he was already a multi-millionaire. Priding himself on his precocious start in the business world (he was already writing commercial software and offering business support in high school) the young developer quickly amassed a significant fortune by the age of 29. In a 2007 article entitled “The Youngest Millionaire” Ghiță talks about his charisma and his connections as the main driving forces behind his meteoric rise. Never mind the fact that the article mentions his propensity for state contracts, which were already under investigation.
“Who would work with the Romanian State? The Germans? I’m a true Romanian: I was born here, raised here, educated here by the Romanian State. Who else should work for the Romanian State?”
This patriotic streak and Ghiță’s connections would end up working quite well for him throughout the Great Recession. By 2010, his assets had tripled to 120 million Euros, mostly thanks to tenders or no bid contracts with the state. Just in the summer of 2010, Ghiță’s holding group, Asesoft received 55 million Euros in state contracts. 2010 also marks the beginning of Ghiță’s love affair with media, becoming the manager for (at the time) Romania’s largest news station.
How to politics
Romania has consistently been for the better part of the last decade and a half one of the heaviest consumers of television in the European Union. The average Romanian spends about five hours a day in front of the television set, a whole two hours more than the global average. The most consumed form of media are news programmes, which 77% of Romanians say they watch daily, so it is no coincidence that Romania has no fewer than five 24 hour news channels, each giving their own often quite different slant on the news. One of the biggest 24 hour news channels, Romania TV, was established and owned by none other than Sebastian Ghiță during his ascent from tech millionaire to media mogul politician. After his time running another news station, Ghiță founded România TV, which many say was instrumental in getting Ghiță into Parliament.
Ghiță’s rise through the ranks of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) was predicated on his close connections and strong media support of important party members, especially his friend Victor Ponta, the then-party president and prime minister. Due to his company’s contracts with the state Ghiță also became extremely close to Romania’s Security services, his companies developing software and hardware solutions for the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) and the Special Telecommunications Service (STS). With the backing of both Romania’s biggest party and its intelligence community, it’s no wonder that Ghiță’s fortunes kept rising, even as alleged corruption charges against him mounted. However, the mogul’s influence started to wane a bit after his companies supplied faulty software for tracking emergency calls, which proved catastrophic in 2014 when an emergency response plane that had crashed in a mountainous area in wintertime could not be found by the authorities despite survivors being in contact with emergency operators. Dissent within the PSD, and mounting evidence of alleged corruption soon led to the politician being sidelined alongside his former prime minister friend and frequent travel companion.
Trouble with the law
Ghiță has no fewer than five separate corruption cases under investigation by the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) on charges of blackmail, soliciting bribes, offering bribes, (including bribes to secure local government funding for his pet project, the Asesoft basketball team) forgery, fraud as well as obtaining and using private data in illicit ways. The total value of prejudices brought to the Romanian state through the former MPs various dealings is estimated at more than 21 million Euros. Consequently, the DNA had issued two arrest warrants for Sebastian Ghiță, which were blocked by Parliament through a vote that reaffirmed Ghiță’s parliamentary immunity, halting any investigations.
But when Ghiță’s star started waning within the party and his immunity from prosecution was no longer guaranteed, he started making new arrangements. In 2016 he relaunched his political career as part of a new party, the ultra-nationalist United Romania Party. Disastrously, PRU failed to make it into Parliament, leaving Ghiță vulnerable to prosecution. Surprisingly, the now ex-MP fled the country to avoid prosecution, forfeiting 13 million Euros in frozen assets .
What followed was a bizarre side show. With an international manhunt underway for the now fugitive media mogul, his television station kept singing his praises and professing his innocence while Ghiță himself sent bizarre video-logs from abroad, striking at his political opponents. After several months of no progress being made, Ghiță was arrested on a fluke in Serbia, in possession of a forged passport. Nonetheless, despite several requests at extradition from Romanian authorities, he was released on 200.000 Euros bail, under condition of house arrest. He is currently still in Serbia, whereabouts unclear.
In closing one should also make mention that Serbia has recently elected Aleksandar Vucic as president on a nationalist platform not unlike the one that Ghiță ran on through PRU. Vucic is an old friend of Ghiță’s so the saga of the runaway politician seems to be far from over.