Even by Romanian standards, the story of Alexandru Cumpanasu is an odd one. Cumpanasu first became a household name after his 15-year-old niece was kidnapped and murdered this July. He was a valuable source for journalists, leaking information from the investigation and acting as a spokesman for the stricken family. A valuable role as it helps the press cover what is going on in a quick moving story and provides reaction from the family.
Nothing unusual so far. When a tragedy happens in an ordinary family that makes them headline news, there’s often a relative or friend who offers to speak on behalf of the family. Failing that, a lawyer normally steps in. The media is grateful to have a spokesperson, someone they can reach out to, to react to developments.
Such was the case with Alexandru Cumpanasu, who took on the role of family spokesman after his niece Alexandra Macesanu was abducted, beaten and murdered in late July in the southern town of Caracal. Due to the way authorities handled the case_ it took 19 hours for the police to locate the victim by which time she had been killed_ It was a story that quickly became national and international news. You need someone who can speak for the family in a coherent and credible manner. And Cumpanasu did that.
Not only did he speak, he also leaked documents from the investigation giving the public inside information about what had happened and what had gone wrong.
To be fair, Alexandru Cumpanasu, a bespectacled man of about 40 with a non-descript face, had been a minor public figure even before his niece’s death as head of a non-governmental organization called the National Coalition for Modernising Romania. He’d hosted a talk-show on Realitatea TV and was a vaguely recognisable face for people who watch Romanian television. He claims his interest in public affairs goes back to the time he worked for Emil Constantinescu’s presidential campaign in 1996.
Normally, what would happen next, is we’d never hear again from Alexandru Cumpanasu again except when there was fresh news relating to the murder and the kidnapping case. He’d probably avoid appearing on television for a period as his name was associated with the kidnapping story.
Not so in this case. And this is when it starts to get weird. We then discovered Alexandru Cumpanasu was a millionaire enriched by public and private funds, a Mason and more: he’s running for president in elections this year and he sort-of-pretended to have graduated (though that is not unusual in Romania). There are pictures of him dressed in a university gown and cap even though he only finished high school. How do you explain this? The man that acted as a spokesman when a young girl he was related to was killed, is having a shot at the nation’s top job?
Even more: he actually got involved in the investigation and has told prosecutors that he doesn’t believe that the car mechanic Gheorghe Dinca who’s confessed to the killing actually did it.
He claims he has received death threats and now has government protection. Bugetul.ro reported he had bodyguards detached from the ‘Jandarmerie’ and “a luxury automobile” from the interior ministry. Interior Minister Mihai Fifor confirmed Cumpanasu was entitled to the protection.
As he’s running for president, Alexandru Cumpanasu has printed a poster where’s he’s dressed in a suit and maroon tie, presenting himself as the future President of a Romania a country “without gangs.” He calls himself an anti-system candidate (along the lines of Donald Trump’s ‘Drain the Swamp’ model).In Britain, he’s what we call a chancer, meaning a conniver or plotter, though this is understating it. Romanians who’ve been following his story call him an “impostor.” It would be an interesting story to tell, only nobody would probably believe it.
Alison Mutler is an experienced British journalist based in Bucharest and has covered Romania, Moldova and occasionally Bulgaria and Hungary for almost 30 years. She first reported from Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova before communism ended, and was In Romania, working for British television station ITV during the 1989 anti-communist revolt. She recently left the Associated Press after 25 years. Her Twitter handle is @AlisoNJMutler