Tragedy sparks Romanian crackdown on illegal taxis


The murder of a Japanese tourist in Romania is resulting in a crackdown against illegal taxis at Bucharest Otopeni International Airport.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 08/09/12


Police are increasing security at Bucharest's Otopeni international airport. [Victor Barbu/SETimes]

The Romanian government is eliminating illegally-operated taxis and increasing security at the country’s international airport after a Japanese woman was sexually assaulted and murdered by a taxi driver in mid-August upon arriving at the airport.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta fired Cornel-Constantin Poterasu, the head of the national airport company, and instituted urgent security measures at Bucharest Otopeni International Airport, including increased security teams to monitor taxi activity around the airport. Authorities also are stopping illegal taxi drivers.

The 20-year-old woman planned to teach Japanese as part of an exchange programme. Authorities said she was assaulted, robbed and killed by an illegal taxi driver, Nicolae Vlad. Prosecutors said they have evidence that implicates Vlad in the sexual assault of another woman.

The case and the police response triggered debate on the Internet, where some accuse the government of acting too slowly to the issue. Others are expressing sorrow about the woman’s death, but are also apprehensive about its effect on Romania's image and economy.

"No one has done anything about it, though they have scrambled for years to change the country brand. Millions of euro invested in a logo and a slogan, when it takes only several periodical inspections to attack a [security-related] problem which is threatening to annul the investments in Romania's image," Sirius said.

It takes a fatality to solve certain problems in Romania, according to Zoso.

"[T]hose of us who use the airport for various businesses and see that order can be established there are deeply grateful. Let us hope it will be the last fatality," he said.

"I dare say it will take more deaths," argued Meeku. "What is happening at Otopeni now will last for a maximum two to three months, and then the situation will return to 'normal'."

Meeku recalled that another Japanese tourist was killed by a stray dog after which the government similarly undertook measures to address the acute stray dog problem in Bucharest. "Is not it true we solved the stray dog problem after his death?" he asked ironically.

Some are particularly concerned of an overreaction abroad.

"This is because generally we are poorly protected from such developments and do not know how to promote our image abroad. ... Thus, the gentlest breath of wind is perceived as a storm," Ciprian Enea, a tourism analyst and owner of a travel company, told SETimes.

Journalist Ciprian Siulea argued better airport management could have reduced security risks at Otopeni, but risks cannot be altogether eliminated; they are part of life and are everywhere.

"The real situation does not seem to justify the whole hysteria which ensued," Siulea said.

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Others, like Dudian, disagree. Security problems arise for travellers at Otopeni because of what he referred to is a state-protected taxi mafia, which helps explain police's reluctance to intervene earlier.

"This young woman was not victim of a human dejection with the face of a taxi driver, but of a system corrupt to the bones ... A destiny has been broken by a lunatic under the protection of the almighty state," Dudian said.

Still others are concerned if the authorities' security measures do not irreversibly solve the problem, a similar incident will be fatal to Romania's economy.

"Any other gestures on the part of the authorities then will be too late," Mardare said.

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