In the summer of 2015, the doctoral thesis of General Florian Coldea, former First Deputy Director of the SRI, disappeared from the National Library of Romania. Under the guise that it had been taken out on a 30-day interlibrary loan, the thesis has still not been returned, 1,140 days later.

The Mysterious Disappearance of the Doctoral Dissertation of General Florian Coldea of the SRI

/ August 2, 2019
General Florian Coldea was moved into the reserves in January of 2017.
General Florian Coldea was moved into the reserves in January of 2017. Photo Source: Octav Ganea/Inquam Photos

• In the summer of 2015, the doctoral thesis of General Florian Coldea, former First Deputy Director of the SRI, disappeared from the National Library of Romania.

• Under the guise that it had been taken out on a 30-day interlibrary loan, the thesis has still not been returned, 1,140 days later. The Director of the Polytechnic University Library apparently requested it.

• This interlibrary loan was a unique occurrence in the institution’s history. Never before, nor after, has a doctoral dissertation been loaned to another library because they are kept on the “Reference Only” shelves at the National Library since they are considered reference works.

• Multiple sources have made declarations to me stating that the Rector of the Polytechnic University, Mihnea Costoiu, was the individual responsible for initiating the “interlibrary loan”. He is also the one who physically went to the National Library and took out the dissertation

• Sources from the Intelligence community have said that Mihnea Costoiu is a close friend of Florian Coldea.

• The disappearance of Florian Coldea’s dissertation was the subject of a criminal case this year, which was eventually dismissed by Prosecutor Cristina Grosaru, who practices law in Bucharest’s Sector 3 Court.

• The information regarding the dismissal of the criminal offence was made available for the first time on G4Media in August 2018. The news came a few days after I visited the SRI’s National Intelligence Academy to view a copy of Florian Coldea’s dissertation.

• Octavian Gordon, former Interim Director of the National Library, who was responsible for filing a criminal complaint when he discovered that SRI’s Florian Coldea’s doctoral dissertation was missing, claims that now, no one can confirm whether the thesis that is in the Library of the Polytechnic University is the original copy or has been replaced.

• Why is the disappearance of a dissertation from the National Library relevant? Because, according to the law, the copy there is the only enforceable evidence in a potential trial regarding rights to intellectual property.

• There is also some background information regarding this topic, perhaps explaining why Florian Coldea’s thesis has not yet been returned.

*

Part I

Only one PhD dissertation has ever disappeared from what is called the “untouchable collection” or reference only shelf of the National Library of Romania.

Two names are listed on the cover: Florian Coldea, the SRI’s former number two, and Gabriel Oprea, the former second most important individual of the Romanian Government.

Within the political environment as well as in the Intelligence community, their names continue to be uttered with fear or apprehension, even though General Oprea left the government in November 2015, following the tragedy at “Collective” Night Club and General Coldea was forced into retirement in January 2017, after former PSD deputy Sebastian Ghiță revealed that he had paid for the holidays they went on together.

The relationship between Oprea and Coldea appears to be straightforward in this particular story, although the connections that link them are numerous and do not have their basis in academic aspirations.

In short, Professor Gabriel Oprea was the doctoral supervisor of Florian Coldea. The latter’s dissertation, which was defended in 2010 before a panel at the “Mihai Viteazul” National Intelligence Academy (ANIMV), is entitled “Management of Change in Intelligence Services”.

It is currently unclear how Florian Coldea came to be considered among the honorable batch of PhD students supervised by Gabriel Oprea, which is the main topic of my book: The Doctoral Factory or How to Destroy the Fundamentals of a Nation (Humanitas, 2017).

From the investigations made so far, it appears that 11 of the PhD students who were supervised by Gabriel Oprea at the SRI Academy – among them a former director of the SRI, generals, ministers, prosecutors, judges – have plagiarized their doctoral dissertations and all of them were defended between 2004-2015.

Florian Coldea’s dissertation occupies an atypical spot in Oprea’s collection of dissertations. The first reason is because during the approximately 15 minutes that I was given to browse through it in 2015 – during the time I was documenting the first investigation in the series – I did not discover any obvious indications of plagiarism.

It was a relatively short dissertation, made up of 218 pages, without a bibliography or annex, which did not reflect the striking deviations found in the other doctoral theses whose authors had been supervised by Gabriel Oprea.

The events that I will describe in the article, however, go beyond the realm of lack of academic integrity and enter the realm of criminal activity.

There are two institutions that are involved. On the outside, they appear to have no connection to the SRI Academy: the National Library of Romania – the legal guardian of the patrimony of doctoral research and the Polytechnic University of Bucharest.

The mystery of the disappearance of the sole copy of Florian Coldea’s published dissertation surfaced in the summer of 2015. No answers were available for three years.

In this interval of over 1,140 days, a number of relevant events took place:

• Both Oprea and Coldea lost their positions in places of power;

• The absence of the thesis from the “Reference Only” shelf at the National Library was discovered

• An entire process of institutional correspondence regarding the return of the thesis was exchanged;

• Key players resigned from the National Library;

• Multiple attempts were made to recover the work;

• A criminal case for negligence in the workplace was filed:

• The case was dismissed;

• The dissertation was not recovered.

How is it possible that a dissertation disappeared from the National Library, when its rules explicitly forbid the removal of its only copy from the institution?

Why is it that today, three years after the “exceptional interlibrary loan,” which was for a maximum of 30 days, the dissertation has yet to be returned to the library shelves at the National Library?

Why hasn’t the Polytechnic University Library returned it? What is really behind this bizarre disappearance at the end of the day?

Preamble

On September 27, 2016. PSD Deputy Sebastian Ghiță leaves the General Prosecutor’s Office and is surrounded by journalists.

“I came to make a self-denunciation that concerns the way in which I, Sebastian Ghiță, and several dignitaries of the Romanian state, have participated in the scam of falsifying the technical expert report concerning the doctoral thesis of Laura Codruța Kövesi”, proclaims the Deputy, perpetuating a war of attrition with DNA prosecutors.

Ghiță’s self-denunciation is related to the 2012 National Ethics Commission Report through which Laura Codruța Kövesi received a verdict confirming that she had not plagiarized.

The subject immediately became the forefront of the public agenda. All media outlets attempted to get a new statement and more information. In the evening, former President Traian Basescu went live on TV and made a statement that raised the level of interest even more.

I found out then (no. – in 2014) that Ms. Kövesi’s non-plagiarism report had been falsified,” says President Basescu. He added that “the pressure to falsify that report had been initiated by General Coldea” and that “among those involved were Mr. Ghita and Mr. Mihnea Costoiu.”

Everything had been done ‘with the knowledge of then Prime Minister, Victor Ponta“, who was also accused of plagiarism in 2012, but was initially acquitted of any guilt by the National Ethics Council.

The scandal related to Laura Codruța Kövesi’s had been sparked by Mugur Ciuvică’s Political Investigation Group and Ghiță’s self-denunciation. Then, after Basescu’s statement was released, the effect was the equivalent to a gas canister thrown over an already burning fire.

The verdict of non-plagiarism, which was granted to Kövesi in 2012, was to be overturned a few months after Sebastian Ghiță’s 2016 statement.

The National Council for the Certification of Titles, Diplomas and University Certificates (CNATDCU) found that Kovesi, the former head of the DNA had plagiarized four percent of the content of the thesis, but decided that she could retain her doctoral degree.

The Loan

September 28, 2016. The day after Sebastian Ghiță made his statement, a journalist enters the National Library, walks across the long hallway and arrives at the foot of the stairs. She climbs up to the first floor and goes to the office of the Institution’s registrar.

There, she makes a request to have access to the doctoral dissertations of Laura Codruța Kövesi, Chief Prosecutor of the DNA, and that of Florian Coldea, First Deputy Director of the SRI.

One of the employees at the registrar’s officers explains that less than a week ago, on September 22, a new User Regulation was passed, stating that doctoral dissertations can no longer be consulted “on the spot”, in physical form. The new procedure entails waiting for a “substitute copy” that can only be read on the computer in the reading room.

The journalist takes down this information and leaves feeling slightly disappointed after being informed that the process of making copies of the original works may take several weeks.

Because the journalist did not go directly to the reading room to put in a request for the two dissertations, her request was entered in through the Registrar’s Office and as a result, another Institutional flux ensued.

The request went to the Legal Deposit, the department that deals with the management of the “Reference Only” books of the moveable national cultural heritage where the doctoral theses are placed in an inventory and stocked.

The request makes it ways to Ilena Șerbănescu, the head of the Legal Deposit, who immediately ascertains that one of the two theses requested, that of Florian Coldea, cannot be found on the shelf, in the place where it should have been stored.

The woman has been employed at the National Library for no longer than a month, since September 2016.

Șerbănescu immediately heads over to see the interim General Director, Octavian Gordon, and informs him that Florian Coldea’s thesis is missing from the Library’s shelves.

Gordon automatically grasps who wrote the dissertation and what the situation is about and calls for an internal inquiry so as to discover what has transpired. 

From this moment onwards, because the thesis of one of Romania’s most powerful people has disappeared, a general state of panic takes over the National Library.

The following sequence of events that are described in this article have been gathered from the documents in the investigation file used by the Prosecutor’s Office, which is attached to the Sector 3 Court. Additionally, some witness testimonies we redacted.

The first step the Library’s employees took was to verify the archive of the Secretariat of the Director General. However, they were not able to find a document that could clarify things.

They simultaneously checked the archive of the Legal Deposit, which is the entity responsible for managing doctoral dissertations.

It did not take long before two copies of some telling documents were discovered among the Manager’s document archives. Thus, the first clues appeared.

The originals were never found. They were not uncovered during the internal investigation, nor were they found when the Prosecutor’s Office began the trial.

The first telling document is a copy of a letter request sent by the Polytechnic University. The National Library documented its receipt on July 29, 2015

The email requested an interlibrary loan for Florian Coldea’s dissertation in addition to two other books.

Copy of the letter sent to the National Library by the Polytechnic University Library.
Copy of the letter sent to the National Library by the Polytechnic University Library.

“We ask that you exercise good-will and grant us this exceptional request for an interlibrary loan, for a duration of 30 days.”

So begins the letter that bears the header and stamp of the Polytechnic University Library. However, although the director of the institution, Cristina Albu, signs it the paper does not have an exit number nor the stamp of the Registrar.

In addition to Florian Coldea’s thesis, entitled “The Management of Intelligence Services“, the Polytechnic University requested two other books through this interlibrary loan (Management of Change, by Costache Rusu, and Management of Change in National Security, by Laurențiu Barcan).

The latter two books were taken out of the National Library and were returned within 30 days.

What the law says regarding the borrowing of dissertations from the library

According to the law, a library can allow for the borrowing of books so long as the books do not have a special classification. However, dissertations found on the “reference only” shelf of the National Library do not qualify for interlibrary loans.

Ministerial Order no. 2338/5286 of July 26, 2004 regulates the type of interlibrary loan.

Article 8 elaborates:

“(1) The interlibrary loan includes all types of documents, except those provided in Art. 3 of Law no. 182/2000 regarding the protection of the movable national cultural heritage, with the subsequent modifications and completions, of fragile or voluminous documents, as well as those frequently requested for reading in the library.

(2) The supplier library decides in all cases whether the requested document can be borrowed”.

In Article 3 of Law no. 182/2000 regarding the protection of the mobile national cultural heritage, there is no explicit reference to the doctoral theses.

However, Paragraph 2 of Article 8 of the above Order, it clearly states that “the library supplier decides in all cases whether the requested document can be borrowed“.

According to the Regulation of Internal and External Interlibrary Loans of the National Library (art. 7, letter d), doctoral theses cannot be borrowed.

As soon as they discovered the first letter in the archive of documents stored with the Legal Deposit, the employees of the National Library realized that, in the interlibrary loan request, Coldea’s dissertation was referred to as a book, being falsely assigned an ISBN (International Standard Book Number)

However, it was evident that this was not a book but rather a dissertation because at the National Library, dissertations are classified in their own category and shelved beginning with the Roman Numeral V.

Even ordinary library patrons know this detail. Even more so, a library employee who is a specialist in library science would not be fooled by this ploy.

One of the people who is aware of the “Coldea case” claims that, most likely, the individuals who requested the loan from the Polytechnic University deliberately assigned an ISBN next to Coldea’s dissertation to make the request appear legitimate, knowing full well that the doctoral theses, which are in the “Reference Only” shelf of the National Library, cannot be borrowed. For this reason, in the initial application the expression “exceptionally” was used.

The person who approved the request at the National Library was Petruța Voicu, the Director of the Specific Functions of the Public Library Directorate.

The Interim Director of the National Library at that time, Claudia Șerbănuță, was away on travels and had delegated her managerial duties. Șerbănuță, who resigned from her position in Spring of 2016, was never informed about the loan. She found out about the disappearance of Coldea’s thesis after leaving the Institution.

The official response to the request for the interlibrary loan is dated back to July 28, 2015, that is, one day before the official document requesting the loan is even registered in the system.

The only reasonable explanation is that the request reached the National Library by email on July 28, 2015, but was officially registered a day later, on July 29, 2015.

In any case, the rush to come up with an answer is quite apparent.

The individual who signed the document of behalf of the National Library is Dina Paladi, who was the head of the Legal Deposit at the time.

“The requested work, which belongs to the “Reference Only” category of the movable national cultural heritage, will be delivered on the basis of a custody report (Annex 1). We would like to make note of the fact the work finds itself in a well-preserved state, without missing sheets, without any underlining or markings on the page.

Once it has been returned, it will be looked over to ensure that there were no modifications made to the original copy. We ask that you return the work in the same state of preservation”, states the letter that was signed by the former head of the Legal Deposit.

The National Library's response to the interlibrary loan request
The National Library’s response to the interlibrary loan request

The response to the interlibrary loan request strictly refers to Florian Coldea’s doctoral thesis, deepening the impression that the other two books requested together with the dissertation had been added to the list for the sole purpose of justifying the loan. 

Interlibrary loans are perfectly legal in the case of books.

The fact that the National Library formulates a response to a request that, officially, did not exist, because it had not yet been registered, in addition to the fact that the other two requested books are not included in the response, indicate the existence of direct, unofficial communication between the Polytechnic University Library and the National Library.

It is possible that this communication took place between the Director of the Polytechnic Library, Cristina Albu, and the head of the Legal Deposit at that time, Dina Paladi. It is also possible that the communication took place between the Director Cristina Albu and the Director of the Specific Functions of the Public Library Directorate, Petruța Voicu, but we do not have enough evidence to confirm this supposition.

We were not able to contact Cristina Albu and Dina Paladi refused any request for a dialogue, on the grounds that she is on leave and is not in Bucharest.

Petruța Voicu did not wish to discuss the subject any further either: “Whatever needed to be said, I declared before the investigative bodies. Furthermore, if you would like other information, please obtain it from the National Library. I don’t work there anymore ”.

Another document discovered by one of the employees in the archive of the Legal Deposit is a request for an extension of the interlibrary loan, dated almost a year later.

On June 9, 2016, in other words, ten months after Florian Coldea’s dissertation had long bypassed the expiration terms, the Polytechnic University Library requested a three-month extension of the loan, until the end of September 2016. By this time, it would have been year and two months since the moment the dissertation had been taken out from the National Library (July 29, 2015).

The letter, which was signed by the Director of the Library of the Polytechnic University, was not addressed to the manager of the National Library, but rather to Petruța Voicu, Director of the Specific Functions of the Public Library Directorate, who had approved the initial loan of the work.

The letter, which was signed by the Director of the Library of the Polytechnic University, was not addressed to the manager of the National Library, but rather to Petruța Voicu, Director of the Specific Functions of the Public Library Directorate, who had approved the initial loan of the work.

However, the Interim Director of the National Library, Ioan Ciubâcă, formally approved the new request but Petruța Voicu also signed the resolution of approval.

Recovery attempt

September 29, 2016. A day has passed since the dissertation has been officially declared as having disappeared and since the Director of the National Library, Octavian Gordon, demanded that the head of the Legal Deposit “urgently” visit the Polytechnic Library in order to retrieve it.

First thing in the morning, Ileana Șerbănescu, the new head of the Legal Deposit, enters the gate of the Polytechnic University together with Constantin Stefan, the head of the Administrative Service Department.

Coincidence: The extension of the loan period expires the next day, on September 30, 2016.

They find Cristina Albu, the Director of the Polytechnic Library, in her first-floor office. They tell her they have come to retrieve Florian Coldea’s dissertation.

Albu tells them that she will immediately ask a colleague to bring the dissertation from the reading room.

Șerbănescu and Stefan spend three hours in her office awaiting the work to be returned. During this time, Cristina Albu makes phone call after phone call.

After three hours, she tells them that the thesis is not in the building, and that it is, in fact, at the home of a professor who is not in the country.

The representatives of the National Library request a document in which this information is officially communicated.

Albu hastily comes up with a document informing the management team of the National Library that Florian Coldea’s dissertation cannot be found in the Library of the Polytechnic University, but will see to it that the dissertation is returned the following day, on September 30, 2016. That is, the date on which the extended loan period expires.

I would like to assure you that the work will be brought to the National Library on September 30, 2016, according to the address no. 4785 / 06.09.2016. We would also like to make mention that on September 29, 2016 it was not physically available to be returned to the representatives of the National Library (Mrs. Ileana Șerbănescu, Head of Legal Deposit service).” The above is written on a sheet without a header and without an exit number. It is simply stamped and signed by Cristina Albu.

Florian Coldea’s dissertation is not returned the National Library the following day, as the Director of the Library of the Polytechnic University had ensured would happen through two legal documents: the one from June 9 and the one from September 29, 2016.

On October 12, 2016, the National Library sent another letter to the Polytechnic University Library, signed by Interim Director Octavian Gordon and co-signed by the head of the Legal Deposit, Ileana Șerbănescu:

We supplicate that you exercise the necessary due diligence for this copy to be returned by October 17, 2016.”

This due date is not respected either, and the dissertation is not returned by said date. 

Sources from the National Library have told us that, after the last letter was sent to the Polytechnic University Library, all attempts to contact the Director, Cristina Albu, and any attempt to get into direct contact with her, were unsuccessful.

Criminal investigation

January 31, 2017. Following an internal investigation and after numerous attempts were made to retrieve the missing dissertation, the Interim Director General of the National Library, Octavian Gordon, sent several notifications to institutions that are governing bodies. 

Important context: At this point, two weeks had passed since the General Florian Coldea was dismissed from his position and put into the reserves.

Gordon’s complaint reaches the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the High Court of Cassation and Justice, and is addressed to Attorney General Augustin Lazăr.

February 20, 2017. The Prosecutor General informs Octavian Gordon that his complaint has been directed to the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Sector 3 Court.

At the beginning of March 2017, the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Sector 3 Court, together with the Criminal Investigation Service of the Sector 3 Police, begins the investigation for File no. 2647 / P / 2017.

On March 23, 2017, a criminal prosecution for “workplace negligence” is ordered.

All the individuals involved are required to attend the hearings: Cristina Albu, the Director of the Polytechnic University Library, Dina Paladi, the former head of the Legal Depository at the National Library, Petruța Voicu, the Director of the Directorate of Specific Functions of the Public Library, Ioan Ciubâcă, former Interim General Director of the Library National, Ileana Șerbănescu, head of the Legal Deposit, Octavian Gordon, former Interim General Director of the National Library, in addition to individuals who are not mentioned.

On November 16, 2017, almost two years and four months after the dissertation is taken out of the National Library – and while the Prosecutor’s Office investigation of the Sector 3 Court is in full swing – the Director of the Polytechnic Library, Cristina Albu, makes a visit to the National Library to return Florin Coldea’s dissertation.

The head of the Legal Deposit, Ileana Serbănescu, was on holiday at the time.  The current General Director of the National Library, Maria Răducu, decided that the dissertation should not be accepted because of Serbănescu’s absence. 

The head of the Legal Deposit, Ileana Serbănescu, did not want to make statements on this subject, limiting herself to saying that she began working at the National Library on September 1, 2016, and the disappearance of Coldea’s dissertation occurred almost a year before.

Before the prosecutors, Cristina Albu declared that she “omitted” the restitution of the doctoral thesis due to the high volume of work.

The current Interim General Director of the National Library, Maria Răducu, was called to the Prosecutor’s Office to ask why she had not taken back Florian Coldea’s doctoral thesis.

She explained to the prosecutors that the thesis should have been received by the head of the Legal Deposit, the individual who can verify the identification elements, to ensure that the work was not replaced and that it is the same as the one that was borrowed.

Răducu also told the prosecutors that it would be necessary to set up a reception commission, a proposal that she intends to put forth during a meeting with the National Library’s Board of Directors.

April 24, 2018. One year and one month after the commencement of the criminal case for workplace negligence, the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Sector 3 Court decided to dismiss the case, even though the doctoral thesis had not been returned.

In regards to the interlibrary loan, these matters are regulated by the Order of the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs no. 2338 of 26.07.2004.

According to Art. 8 of the Order, the interlibrary loan includes all types of documents except those provided by Art. 3 of Law 182/2000, regarding the assets that make up the mobile national cultural heritage. This article that does not include doctoral dissertations.

Thus, according to the principle ‘ubi lex non distinguis, nec nos distinguiei debemus’ (n.r. – where the law does not distinguish, nor should we distinguish), doctoral dissertations can be made available for an inter-library loan.”

This is the legal justification for the dismissal of the criminal case regarding the disappearance of Florian Coldea’s thesis.

Prosecutor Cristina Grosaru showed partiality when choosing to base her decision solely on Paragraph 1 of Article 8 from the Order of the Ministry of Cultural and Religious Affairs no. 2338 of 26.07.2004.

The principle “ubi lex non distinguis, nec nos distinguiei debemus” does not apply in this case because the law is quite clear on the matter. In fact, just one paragraph lower than the provision where the Prosecutor stopped her citation clarifies the issue of interlibrary loans. 

Paragraph 2 of the same Article states very clearly: The library that provides the loan will decide, in all cases, whether the requested document can be borrowed.

The wording is clear: “will decide, in all cases”.

And the decision of the National Library is under the governance of the Regulation of Internal and External Interlibrary loans. In Article 7, Letter “D“, it clearly states that doctoral dissertations cannot be borrowed.

The dismissal of the case by Prosecutor’s Office produced “an eruption of cheering in the National Library”, sources from the National Library said.

The Aftermath

A few months after Florian Coldea’s doctoral thesis was taken out, Dina Paladi resigned as the Director of the Legal Deposit. She applied for another job at the National Library; this time, it was for an executive function. Dina Paladi refused to enter into any dialogue regarding the matter.

Petruța Voicu resigned from the National Library on March 24, 2017, one day after the Prosecutor’s Office belonging to Bucharest’s Sector 3 Court began the criminal prosecution for workplace negligence.

Shortly afterwards, she was employed as the Head of Collections Development Service at the “Carol I” Central University Library. Mireille Rădoi, a former graduate of the SRI Academy, is the Director of the Library.

When ask if she had resigned because of Florian Coldea’s dissertation scandal, Petruța Voicu replied that it was for personal reasons. She refused to say if she knew Mireille Rădoi beforehand.

Why?

What can hide the fact that Florian Coldea’s thesis was never returned to the National Library, not even after three years?

“What has been achieved through this loss is a circumstance in which it is impossible to examine the dissertation and verify if there are elements of plagiarism in it”, say sources from the academic environment and the judicial field.

When submitting a plagiarism complaint to the CNATDCU (the only institution that can verify suspicions in the case of doctorates), the verification of the accusations is based on a copy of the dissertation that can be found in the “Reference Only” section of the National Library.

Why doesn’t the CNATDCU request a copy of the dissertation from the university where the doctoral thesis was defended?

“Because that copy could be replaced or tampered with so as not to have any “problem” so to speak. If we take into consideration the number of individuals who are held accountable in a plagiarism case, we realize that it affects not only the doctoral candidate, but also the supervisor, who can lose his right to supervising future doctoral candidates. On top of that, there is also the educational institution where the PhD was completed, which can be dismantled as a result of a plagiarized dissertation”, was the response received from the same sources.

And thus, if a trial commences due to plagiarism accusations, a judge will first of all ask for the suspicions related to the dissertation to be investigated using the existing copy found in the National Library’s “Reference Only” category.

I also inquired about what kind of details could help prove that the copy of the dissertation the Polytechnic University may eventually return to the National Library is the original one.

“Nothing can guarantee that it is the original copy.”

Again, I asked “why?”

“Because there was no verbal or written contract signed in regards to the dissertation, as would’ve been the case when the loan was made. If there had been one, it would have specified if there were any markings on the thesis, as mentioned. And neither was a copy of the dissertation made, as would have been standard procedure,” stated the same sources.

Is it possible that Florian Coldea’s thesis is plagiarized? Yes, it’s possible. In 2015, when I first examined it, I quickly scanned it for only about 15 minutes and did not check phrase by phrase, but looked at citations, footnotes and bibliography.

Is it possible for Florian Coldea’s thesis to hide something else? Yes, it’s possible. What? One hypothesis would be that it was replaced, and that replacement left clues, which only its disappearance could hide.

Former National Library Director Octavian Gordon, who notified the Prosecutor’s Office after finding out that the thesis was missing, also claims that, if the thesis were returned, no one would be able to attest that it is the same as the one that Florian Coldea publicly defended:

“The thesis is compromised. Who else can certify that this thesis was the one defended in 2010? Nobody can certify the fact that the dissertation, which was stolen from the National Library, through obviously fraudulent means is the same as the thesis that we assume is now in the custody of the Library of the Polytechnic University of Bucharest”.

When asked if he was satisfied with the result of the investigation carried out by the Prosecutor’s Office of the District 3 Court, Octavian Gordon also stated:

“It looks like concealment. It is clear that they have no desire to investigate the facts. The documents that I myself submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office are more than conclusive. They’re trying to sweep something under the table, putting it in not so non-academic language.”

A missing dissertation

The Polytechnic University Library has not yet returned Florian Coldea’s doctoral thesis.

“At the date of the registration of your request, the above-mentioned doctoral dissertation, located in the Reference Only Section – Doctoral theses – under the Legal Deposit number T2012 / 59780, is not physically located in the Legal Depository of the National Library”, the National Library informed me in an official reply on August 14, 2018.

The answer received from the National Library.
The answer received from the National Library.

When the Polytechnic University Library was asked for an explanation as to why the thesis was not returned, the Rector of the Polytechnic University, Mihnea Costoiu, told us that not only was there a great interest on behalf of the students to study the thesis, but also that those from the National Library did not want to take it back when a staff member attempted to return it.

A final letter to request the return of the dissertation was sent to the Polytechnic University Library this year, before the Prosecutor’s Office belonging to the Sector 3 Court decided to dismiss the case.

Who took out the dissertation from the National Library?

The fact that the Polytechnic University Library specifically, and not another Library, requested Florian Coldea’s dissertation, is a detail that should not be ignored.

Why did the Polytechnic University Library fail to guide potential readers to the National Library headquarters? Why didn’t they simply ask for a copy of the unique copy, if the polytechnics students were so keen on reading the “Management of Change in Intelligence Services“?

The Rector of the Polytechnic University is Mihnea Costoiu, a close friend of Florian Coldea’s according to the information I have received from various sources in the Intelligence service community. Other sources told me that he was the person who initiated the “interlibrary loan” operation.

Several sources pointed Costoiu out as the one who personally withdrew Coldea’s thesis from the National Library.

Initially, Mihnea Costoiu told me that he was first informed about this loan in 2018. He later claimed “all thesis loans were made with the Rector’s consent” and that “my signature may be there too.”

When asked if he had personally picked up Florian Coldea’s thesis from the National Library, Costoiu avoided the questions: “I am at the National Library every month. I go there, I spend time there every month. It is very possible that someone saw me there and came to this conclusion. “

I asked him directly, again, if he had withdrawn the dissertation from the library, and he came up with a new answer: “I visited the National Library and to the BCU “Carol I” Bucharest Central University Library with Mrs. Albu when the discussion about the interlibrary loans for the doctoral theses came into the limelight.

When I asked him for the third time if he had withdrawn Florian Coldea’s dissertation himself, Costoiu rephrased his response: “Mrs. Albu took out the thesis from the National Library. But if had been me, what would have been the problem with that?”

Mihnea Costoiu is the only rector in the country who does not have a PhD. He became a doctoral candidate at the SRI Academy in October 2013, with Professor Gheorghe Toma as his supervisor.

According to his PhD studies’ trajectory, Costoiu should have defended his thesis in 2016, but this did not happen. Based on a response that was received from the Press Office of the SRI Academy, he did not submit a request to extend his doctoral studies.

SRI Academy sources claim that Mihnea Costoiu will be expelled at the end of this month for failing to comply with the academic calendar.

For his part, Costoiu told me that throughout the course of this month, he is planning to submit a request to withdraw from the PhD program. The research topic with which he was admitted is in the field of Cybersecurity.

In 2016, Mihnea Costoiu’s name was mentioned in the self-denunciation statement made by Sebastian Ghiță. According to Ghiță’s statement, Costoiu, along with other high-ranking officials, saw to it that the verdict of the National Ethics Commission in the case of Laura Codruța Kövesi’s thesis be cleared of any plagiarism suspicion.

In fact, Costoiu attended a hearing in the General Prosecutor’s Office during this particular case investigation. “I do not want to unearth this issue regarding Mrs. Kövesi again,” the Rector of the Polytechnic University told me.

Rector Mihnea Costoiu. Photo: Lucian Muntean
Rector Mihnea Costoiu. Photo: Lucian Muntean

Part II: Some Background on the Dissertation’s Disappearance

“I went to the reading room and asked for Florian Coldea’s dissertation. I was lucky. It was one of the two days of the week when “Reference Only” documents could be taken out of the Legal Deposit.

Out of the corner of my eye, I was checking to see if anyone got jumpy when they saw the name Florian Coldea written on the access card.

No one batted an eye and there were no further questions, a sign that the name of the first Deputy Chief of the SRI did not mean anything to the library employees.

A quarter of an hour later, I was holding Coldea’s thesis. On the blue cover, on the bottom right, there was a named etched in golden letters: Professor Dr. Gabriel Oprea. My intuition was working properly.

I sat down in one of the empty chairs and began to leaf through the paper. After the first few pages, I realized that the dissertation had not been plagiarized.

It was difficult for me to assess whether the work had any scientific value, but it certainly was not plagiarized. The text flowed smoothly, the citations were correctly applied and many sources had been listed in the bibliography.

But back then and also now, I continue to ask myself a question about this doctoral thesis. Did Florian Coldea have the time, when he was the SRI’s First Deputy Director and the Chief Operating Officer of a Service with more than ten thousand employees, to write a dissertation of over 200 pages himself?

Now, two years after that moment, I ask myself two other questions. How come, of all the people whose PhDs Gabriel Oprea supervised, only Florian Coldea did not plagiarize?

Is it possible that after the scandals of 2012, related to plagiarized doctoral theses of Ponta and Kövesi, Coldea’s dissertation had been replaced?

Even though it may seem that I am putting the SRI’s former First Deputy Director on the hot seat through these questions, an investigative journalist has the freedom to issue hypotheses, to imagine scenarios, and to start verifying them.

In the case of Oprea’s work or many others, a simple assumption proved correct.

*

This passage is from the book “The Doctoral Factory or How to Destroy the Fundamentals of a Nation“, which was released in 2017 at the Humanitas Publishing House..

Two years ago, in the fall of 2016, a source told me that Florian Coldea’s dissertation, which was exclusively filed at the National Library, may have been replaced.

I relied on this information when, in the book, I asked myself a rhetorical question about whether Florian Coldea’s dissertation had been modified or not.

The source also told me that the dissertation, which had elements of plagiarism in it, had been replaced by a “corrected” version. This “correction” would have occurred after 2012, when the plagiarism scandals that targeted Victor Ponta and Laura Codruța Kövesi broke out.

There was one essential element that made me consider this information to be plausible: Florian Coldea was the only doctoral candidate who had been supervised by Gabriel Oprea and who appeared not to have plagiarized – among those I had checked.

Since that time, I have been trying to find other sources to help me confirm or disprove this information. 

I was able to find the data I presented above.

Today, I am able to put all the background information together and generate a hypothesis, possibly providing potential answers to the two questions I posed earlier: why was the thesis borrowed from the Polytechnic University Library in the first place and why it was not returned even after three years?

*

General Florian Coldea’s dissertation disappeared from Romania’s National Library on July 29, 2015.

Why then? Why not sooner? Why not at a later time?

The context, which brought about the plan to “withdraw” the dissertation from the National Library, is what makes that particular moment in time crucial.

On July 1, 2015, I published my first investigative article in which we demonstrate that Gabriel Oprea’s doctoral thesis was plagiarized.

A few days prior the publication of this first article, I went to the National Library, where I wanted to see the book that Gabriel Oprea had published, apparently based on his doctoral dissertation.

When I searched for Oprea’s name in the library database, I was given the name of several high-ranking officials.

Among them was Florian Coldea.

I assumed those names appeared in my search results because they were Oprea’s PhD students. To verify the assumption, I even requested Florian Coldea’s thesis.

That is how I had the chance to leaf through Coldea’s dissertation for fifteen minutes, as I mentioned above.

Now, three years later, I wonder if the assessment I had made about Florian Coldea’s thesis was accurate. After all, it was only the second doctoral thesis I had examined in my plagiarism investigation.

In the meantime, I have seen dozens of doctoral papers, I have revealed about 15 cases of plagiarism, and some of them were able to mislead me at first glance. It was only when I reviewed them carefully the second or third time that I discovered the entire sections had been plagiarized.

Coming back to why the particular time when Florian Coldea’s dissertation disappeared is so significant: after discovering the list of Oprea’s PhD students, I made it a plan to write about them.

I intended to write about Oprea’s network and describe it from the perspective of doctoral students: secret services, justice, police, political class and business environment.

At the beginning of July 2015, I had requested a series of explanations regarding Florian Coldea’s doctoral studies. The answer came to me on August 10, 2015.

“The doctoral studies were carried out, in compliance with all the academic and legal norms, for a period of four years. They began in 2007, within the Police Academy, where at that time, there existed the possibility of conducting doctoral studies in the field of National Security.

General Florian Coldea transferred and then completed his doctoral studies at the National Intelligence Academy of the SRI in 2010. In the same year, he publicly defended his doctoral work, entitled “Management of Change in Information Services” and had a single supervisor for the entire duration of the studies.”, The SRI’s Press Office informed me.

In the meanwhile, Coldea’s doctoral thesis was borrowed from the National Library and never returned.

The Stages of Documentation

In early August 2018, when I found out that Florian Coldea’s thesis was no longer available at the National Library, I made a request to the National Intelligence Academy of the SRI to view the copy there.

At the same time, I also sent a request to the National Library to find out if Florian Coldea’s thesis was physically in the Institution. The answer, which I wrote about above, came to me on August 14th.

The request to see Florian Coldea’s dissertation at the SRI Academy was approved, and on Thursday, August 21, 2018, I was able to examine the copy on file at the Institution’s library.

I asked to return at the beginning of September to not only examine the dissertation but to also look at the version that was published in a book. I was not able to look at it that day because the library was closed due to summer holidays. I had to view the dissertation in another room, not in the library.

A few days later, on August 27, the site G4Media published information about the dismissal of the court case regarding the disappearance of the thesis, held at Prosecutor’s Office of Sector 3. The title of the article was “Case Dismissed in the Investigation Regarding the Disappearance of General Florian Coldea’s Doctoral Thesis:  The Dissertation was Apparently Loaned by the Polytechnic University Library”.

The use of the words “investigation” and “disappearance” left the impression that the topic was known to the public, although this was the first time anyone had written about it.

After the initial version was published, a few paragraphs were added to the article on G4Media, referring to the fact that, in the book A Factory of Doctors or How to Destroy the Fundamentals of a Nation, I had written that Florian Coldea’s thesis was not plagiarized. In the book, I had made some speculations about it being replaced. This detail was not included in the G4Media article.

On Wednesday, September 5th, I went back to the SRI Academy, where I was able to read both copies of the dissertation (including the one published in book form).

On Thursday, September 6, I interviewed Mihnea Costoiu, the Rector of the Polytechnic University. I told him quite suddenly that I intended to go over to the University Library to see if Florian Coldea’s thesis was there. He told me he had to talk to the manager, who was possibly away on holidays.

In the meantime, I jumped into my car and headed over to the Polytechnic University Library. I asked a security guard where I might find the manager’s office. He led me to the front door, and on the way, he informed me that she was on holiday.

I asked where I might find the assistant manager. He instructed me to take the stairs over to the third floor. There I quickly found the assistant manager and told her what I was there for. She led me to an empty, dusty reading room, where I waited a few minutes.

She returned almost immediately with Florian Coldea’s dissertation. I opened it, looked inside to see its markings and then left in less than three minutes. The goal was to check if the thesis actually existed in physical format. I didn’t have time to look through its contents.

How Coldea obtained his Ph.D.

Florian Coldea became a Doctor of Philosophy in National Intelligence and Security in 2010, with a dissertation that was defended at the SRI Academy.

The panel of examiners included Gheorghe Teodoru Stefan (rector of ANIMV), as Chairman, Țuțu Pișleag (Police Academy), Mihai Vasile Ozunu (“Spiru Haret” University) and Gheorghe Toma (ANIMV). The three professors were part of most of the panels for Gabriel Oprea’s doctoral students and all of them are in his close group of friends.

In 2007, when Florian Coldea began his doctoral studies, Gabriel Oprea was still a doctoral supervisor at the Police Academy as he only transferred to the SRI’s National Intelligence Academy (ANIMV) in 2008. He took all the doctoral students whose theses he was supervising at that time and moved them to the newly established PhD program at the ANIMV.

Florian Coldea, former First Deputy of the SRI l, was the first doctoral student of the SRI’s National Intelligence Academy. He was granted the title of Doctor of Philosophy in this institution.

It was Gabriel Oprea’s desire to have Florian Coldea go down in history at the SRI Academy as the first Doctor of Philosophy in Intelligence and National Security, said Cristian Troncotă, former professor at ANIMV.

Epilogue: The hypothesis

I mentioned above that I could come up with a hypothesis in order to respond to the two essential questions of this article.

• Why was Florian Coldea’s thesis borrowed from the National Library and removed from the “Reference Only” section?

• Why didn’t the Polytechnic University Library return it?

This hypothesis is based on the information, documents and statements gathered during the investigation:

Florian Coldea’s original dissertation was replaced in the SRI Academy’s Library after the heavily mediatized plagiarism scandals that destroyed Victor Ponta’s image and career as Prime Minister, as well as that of Laura Codruța Kövesi, the Chief Prosecutor of the DNA.

The powerful Florian Coldea believed he might be the next targeted person in the plagiarism investigation.

However, he did not take into account, then, that the doctoral theses are also stored at the National Library, in the “Reference Only” section of the Legal Deposit.

In 2015, I stumbled across Gabriel Oprea’s network of PhD students and discovered that the doctoral theses are available at the National Library.

To check if the doctoral candidates I had discovered in the library catalogue were actually Oprea’s students, I asked to see Florian Coldea’s doctoral thesis, the best-known name on that list.

Immediately after I had withdrawn Coldea’s thesis for about 15 minutes, in early June 2015, I sent the SRI an official letter inquiring about the details of Florian Coldea’s doctorate.

I only received a response from after about 40 days, on August 10, 2015.

Meanwhile, Florian Coldea’s thesis has disappeared from the National Library, on July 29, 2015.

The copy from the National Library was removed from the institution to be replaced by one identical to the copy located at the SRI Academy’s Library. However, some security elements of the National Library could not be reconstituted.

For this reason, the thesis was never returned.