PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION, 26 APRIL 2010
Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs
(a) whether Singapore had provided the Romanian authorities with the evidence related to the accidents involving the Romanian diplomat Dr Silviu Ionescu;
(b) whether Singapore has been assured by the Romanian authorities that charges will be brought against Dr Ionescu in Romania; and
(c) whether Singapore can take legal action against Dr Ionescu for casting aspersions on the integrity of Singapore's judicial system.
1 Since I last updated this House on 22 February 2010 on the hit-and-run accident involving the Romanian Embassy vehicle, there have been a number of important developments.
2 On 31 March 2010, the State Coroner found that Dr Silviu Ionescu was the driver responsible for the accident on 15 December 2009 and furthermore, that he was acting in his private and not official capacity at that time.
3 The Romanian Government has officially withdrawn Dr Ionescu from Singapore with effect from 5 January 2010. This means that he is no longer an accredited diplomat in Singapore.
4 Taken together with the findings of the Coroner’s Inquiry, this has significantly changed the situation.
5 The privileges and immunities which diplomats enjoy during their posting in a country to which they are accredited are different from the privileges and immunities they enjoy after leaving their country of accreditation at the end of their posting. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations clearly recognises these differences.
6 Article 39.1 of the Vienna Convention states that a diplomat’s privileges and immunities begin from the moment he enters the country of his posting. These privileges and immunities include freedom from detention and arrest and immunity from the jurisdiction of the criminal courts of the receiving State. As long as a diplomat remains accredited to a receiving State, his privileges and immunities in that State would apply to all his actions, whether official or private.
7 When Dr Ionescu left Singapore on 17 December 2009, he was still a diplomat officially accredited to Singapore. Therefore, as I explained to Members on 22 February 2010, Dr Ionescu could not be prevented from leaving Singapore as he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. In any case, the police had at that time not completed their investigations and it was not yet established that Dr Ionescu was the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident on 15 December last year.
8 In fact, even if Dr Ionescu did not leave Singapore after the accident, so long as he was an officially accredited diplomat we could not have arrested him unless the Romanian Government waived his immunity. His immunity would have covered anything he did, whether official or private. This is international law which we have to respect.
9 But the situation now is different and a different provision of the Vienna Convention applies.
10 Article 39.2 of the Vienna Convention stipulates that, after a diplomat’s posting ends and he leaves his country of accreditation, some of his privileges and immunities would also end. While he would still enjoy immunity for official acts, he would no longer enjoy immunity for private acts.
11 The State Coroner has now found, among other things, that Dr Ionescu was not acting in an official capacity at the time of the accident. The Romanian Government has withdrawn him from Singapore. Therefore Dr Ionescu does not now enjoy and cannot now claim immunity for the accident.
12 On 1 April 2010, a day after the Coroner announced his findings, the Attorney- General’s Chambers (AGC) preferred actions against Dr Ionescu and issued a warrant of arrest against him. On the same day, MFA summoned the Romanian Ambassador Mr Aurelian Neagu, who is resident in Tokyo, for a meeting in MFA and that meeting took place on 9 April 2010.
13 Ambassador Neagu was officially informed of the findings of the Coroner’s Inquiry and the charges against Dr Ionescu. MFA asked the Romanian Government to do all it could to persuade Dr Ionescu to return to Singapore to stand trial.
14 The Romanian Government’s consistent position has been that it cannot compel Dr Ionescu to return to Singapore because there is no Extradition Treaty between Romania and Singapore.
15 Mr Speaker Sir, it is a fact that there is no Extradition Treaty between Romania and Singapore. That is why we have asked the Romanian Government to do all it can to persuade Dr Ionescu to return to Singapore. We cannot demand that they arrest Dr Ionescu or compel him to return to Singapore.
16 We have however stressed to the Romanian authorities that although Dr Ionescu had been suspended from the Romanian Foreign Ministry, he has not been dismissed and is still formally an employee of the Romanian Government. As such, the Romanian Government has a clear obligation to see that justice is served. If it is not possible to persuade Dr Ionescu to return to Singapore, we made clear that we expected the Romanian Government to investigate and prosecute him under Romanian law.
17 The Romanian Government has not disputed its obligations and has repeatedly assured Singapore that it shares our interest in seeing that justice is served.
18 Ambassador Neagu has informed us that the Romanian Prosecutor's Office had started criminal investigations against Dr Ionescu on charges of "homicide by negligence, leaving the scene of an accident and false statements". But Ambassador Neagu explained that Romania would need to conduct its own investigations in accordance with Romanian law.
19 To this end, the Romanian Government had proposed the establishment of a joint commission or Joint Technical Working Group to discuss the legal aspects of the case and the evidence against Dr Ionescu. On 9 April 2010, we informed the Ambassador that we agreed to this proposal.
20 In fact, as early as 16 March 2010, the Minister for Law had assured his Romanian counterpart of our willingness to cooperate with the Romanian Government to the fullest extent possible under our law. However, we could not then formally agree to their proposal for a joint commission before the Coroner had given his findings on 31 March 2010. Singapore could not prejudge the outcome of the Coroner’s Inquiry or the decision of our Attorney-General’s Chambers to prefer charges against Dr Ionescu.
21 When MFA met Ambassador Neagu on 9 April 2010, he was given documents relevant to the case. In fact, these documents had been given to the Charge d’Affaires of the Romanian Embassy earlier during the course of the Coroner’s Inquiry, but the Charge d’Affaires told MFA he did not then understand they were for his government’s use. A certified copy of the full records of the Coroner’s Inquiry was given to the Romanian Embassy on 12 April 2010.
22 The Romanian Government has been acting properly. It is natural that their own legal authorities would want to conduct their own investigation, study the documents we have given them and to discuss the evidence with our legal authorities before coming to a decision on the criminal investigation that they have initiated against Dr Ionescu. We are now waiting for the Romanian side to propose specific dates to begin these discussions.
23 The Romanian Ambassador has told us that they are working on dates for a member of their prosecutor’s office and a member of their police to visit Singapore, but there are certain administrative formalities that they had to observe before doing so. We have to allow the Romanian authorities some time to go through their own internal procedures.
24 On 23 April 2010, the Romanian Foreign Ministry sent us a TPN asserting that Dr Ionescu's diplomatic immunity "continues to subsist" and cites Article 39.2 of the Vienna Convention to support this contention. We are puzzled as it seems to imply that Romania is now claiming that Dr Ionescu was engaged in official duties at the time of the accident and we do not understand how this can possibly be the case. On the other hand, reports in the Romanian media suggest that some of Dr Ionescu's assets in Romania have been seized and that the Romanian police may be preparing to arrest him. We have not been able to confirm these media reports, but the Romanian police has informed INTERPOL that the competence to prosecute Dr Ionescu remains with Romania and that criminal proceedings against him have started in Romania for crimes committed in Singapore. With these conflicting accounts, the sooner the Romanian legal experts visit us to clarify the situation, exchange views and review the evidence with our legal experts, the better.
25 We have continually stressed to Ambassador Neagu that the Romanian Government should not underestimate the outrage that Singaporeans feel about this case and that justice must not only be served, but seen to be served and served expeditiously. If not, as the MFA statement has already made clear on 9 April 2010, bilateral relations will be harmed.
26 I believe that the Romanian Government understands this, and would not want to see the entire country's good name tarnished by the actions of one rogue diplomat. Romania is a member state of the EU which prides itself on its reputation as a community of values. Bucharest understands that more than Romania's own reputation is at stake and that it must live up to the EU’s high standards.
27 MFA has also repeatedly stressed to the Romanian authorities that it is not in their interest to allow Dr Ionescu to continue making wild statements against Singapore. They only further inflame public opinion against Romania because the average man in the street does not distinguish between Dr Ionescu and the country, particularly since he is still formally employed by the Romanian Government. However, the Romanian authorities have told us that as a Romanian citizen, Dr Ionescu has the right to say what he pleases and while they can advise him, they cannot compel him to be silent.
28 Mr Speaker Sir, we have no reason to disbelieve what the Romanian authorities have told us. The Romanian authorities have,
quite properly, disassociated the Romanian Government from Dr Ionescu’s statements.
29 Dr Ionescu's wild statements show that he is desperate. It is obvious from the comments of Romanian netizens that even his own countrymen do not believe him. Other diplomats in Singapore have told us that Dr Ionescu has disgraced the entire diplomatic corps, which is unfair. Dr Ionescu is not hurting Singapore. He is only hurting himself and his own country.
30 Despite the impatience we naturally feel, we must however be disciplined and carefully observe due process. We are a country that respects the law. This reputation is an invaluable asset that we must preserve by handling the case calmly and in accordance with our legal system and our international legal obligations.
31 Now that the Romanian authorities have begun their criminal investigations of Dr Ionescu, we must give them time to complete these investigations and not prejudge the outcome. As I have said, the next step is for the Romanian Government to propose dates for their prosecutor’s office and police authorities to visit Singapore. We have told the Romanian Ambassador that we expect this visit to take place by May this year and that there should not be undue delay.
32 When I was in the Vatican in St. Peter’s Square a few days ago, quite by chance, both the Romanian Foreign Minister Mr Teodor Baconschi and myself were waiting to see the Holy Father after his public audience. I asked if I could have a quick word with him. He agreed immediately and we pulled to one side and had a conversation. I stressed to him the anguish felt by Singaporeans about this case. He immediately responded by saying that he sympathised, and assured me that this matter is receiving the highest attention by the Government and the full legal course was being observed. He assured me that justice would be done. I told him that we cherish the good relations between our two countries and I asked for his agreement for me to make public our exchange in the Vatican. He did not demur, and it was with his approval, therefore, that I issued that statement alongside with my statement that I had met with the Pope. So, from my conversation with Foreign Minister Baconschi, I felt reasonably assured that the Romanian Government is taking this matter seriously, but they are required to observe their due process because this matter must go up to
Romanian courts, and they too must follow procedures carefully.
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TRANSCRIPT OF MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS GEORGE YEO'S REPLIES TO SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTIONS, 26 APRIL 2010
Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong: First I would like to commend the Minister for his firm handling of the case. It is important that Romania does not underestimate our determination and resolve to pursue this case to ensure that justice is served. Can I ask the Minister if Romania has given an indication of how long the criminal investigations would take in their country? Also given that Romania does not seem to share the same understanding as Singapore that Ionescu does not have diplomatic immunity, is there a higher international body that we can turn to resolve this?
Minister: Legally speaking, there is no higher authority we can appeal to. Because of some disagreement or confusion over the interpretation of Article 39.2 of the Vienna Convention, the earlier Interpol Red Notice has been suspended. This is part of Interpol’s procedures, in that if there are differing views, they would pursue the matter further before reactivating the Red Arrest Notice. All these require the two sides to meet. They have already said that members of the Prosecutor’s office and Police would come to Singapore. We told them not to delay this and to come as quickly as possible in May. Let us clarify the position between ourselves and enable the process in Romania to go forth with our fullest cooperation. Separately, MFA has asked our Ambassador in Brussels to visit Romania with members of our own Attorney-General’s Chambers, in order to familiarise themselves with the legal procedures and processes in Romania. We are also engaging a lawyer to hold a watching brief for us in Romania.
. . . . .
- Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
- [13Jan2010] Quiet diplomacy not a sign of weakness
- 18April2010: Ionescu Interpol Notice withdrawn?