Bogdan Cristel / Reuters
People shout slogans on a rainy evening during a protest against plans to open Europe's biggest open-cast gold mine in Romania, in Bucharest on September 29.
Romania's domestic spy agency has been monitoring a planned Canadian gold mine for years, its chief acknowledged Monday, saying that some demonstrations against the project had been manipulated by people he called "eco-anarchists."
Spy chief George Maior's comments before a parliamentary committee came after the head of Romania's foreign intelligence agency said last week it had been monitoring foreigners who allegedly paid locals to agitate for and against the massive gold mine project in northwest Romania.
The disclosure by Maior was surprising because it was reminiscent of Romania's dreaded Securitate secret police, which once used an estimated 760,000 informers from all walks of life.
Maior said his agency had sent 500 memos to decision-making authorities from 1999 to 2013 about the planned gold mine, which has sparked large street protests in recent weeks. He insisted the agency's actions were legal and were taken because the mine in Rosia Montana is "a problem of national security."
On Sunday, however, President Traian Basescu said the protests opposing the mine were genuine while rallies in support of the mine in Transylvania were "fabricated."
The open-top mine, run by the Canadian company Gabriel Resources, is sitting on an estimated 314 tons of gold and 1,500 tons of silver. It would be the biggest gold mine in Europe. Proponents have been trying to get permits for 14 years but so far no date has been set for it to begin operating.
The mine has been widely criticized. Environmentalists complain that it would use cyanide in the extraction process and say four mountains must be razed to build it. Financial critics say Romania stands to earn too little from the project, while some locals say the gold, which has been mined there since Roman times, would be depleted within 20 years.
Supporters argue the mine would bring vital foreign investment and jobs to a deprived area. Prime Minister Victor Ponta says Romania has a duty to benefit from its natural resources.
Last week, Teodor Melescanu, chief of Romania's foreign intelligence, said his agency had sent dozens of memos to officials about foreigners or foreign publications who were paid to support or oppose the controversial project. He also said a foreign government had a slanted view of the project — an apparent reference to neighboring Hungary, which opposes the mine due to the use of cyanide. He did not reveal any names or details.
Basescu, formerly a strong supporter of the mine, recently declared he is adopting a neutral position. He accused Ponta, who now appears to favor the mine after initially opposing it, of accepting money to promote it. Ponta has denied the charges.
First published September 30 2013, 4:08 PM