Sat, Jul 04, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Popescu says he was an informant in communist era

AP , BUCHAREST

Gheorghe “Gica” Popescu, the former captain of Romania’s national soccer team, on Thursday acknowledged being an informer for the country’s secret police during the communist era.

Popescu’s admission comes just three days after he denied the allegations, calling a newspaper report that he had been a Securitate informant “a big lie.”

In an interview with the daily Evenimentul Zilei on Thursday, Popescu said he wrote four notes informing on teammates and other colleagues while he was playing at Universitatea Craiova.

The defender was part of a Romania team that qualified for three consecutive World Cups starting in 1990 and for two European Championships. He also helped Barcelona win the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1997.

When the allegations surfaced on Monday, the 41-year-old Popescu said he had only signed a document in 1985 promising to “defend the national interests” during the regime of late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

In Thursday’s telephone interview he defended his actions under communism.

“Even if I wrote notes, I wrote good things,” he said. “I praised [those] people.”

During Ceausescu’s rule, the Securitate relied on an army of 700,000 informants in a country of 22 million to keep tabs on the population. The regime’s security services kept tabs on Romania’s athletes and some players involved in international competitions were reportedly asked to share details of their conversations with foreigners.

Romania’s star soccer player Gheorghe Hagi, who is related to Popescu through marriage, came to his defense on Thursday, saying sports had brought glory to Romania in the communist era.

“We [sportsmen] were the ambassadors for Romania. They should look elsewhere” for Securitate agents, he said.

Hagi denied that he himself had been an informant, instead accusing Steaua Bucharest owner Gigi Becali of working for the Securitate.

Becali vigorously denied the accusations.

“If it is proved I was an informer, I will hang myself,” he said in a televised interview.

Daily newspaper Adevarul reported on Monday that Popescu had been an informant from 1986 until the regime was toppled three years later.

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