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Domestic case a hot story in Romania

That country's media start calling when a minor political figure is arrested in Los Angeles.

October 29, 2006|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

The first sign that Raj Tunaru's domestic violence case would not be typical was when he claimed diplomatic immunity during his arrest last month at a residence in mid-Wilshire.

His immunity claim turned out to be false, and he was packed off to Los Angeles County Jail.

Then the Romanian media started calling.

Tunaru, it turned out, was a lesser Romanian politician, a former member of parliament and an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2004.

His arrest on domestic violence charges has received rabid coverage in Romania, where analysts say such prosecutions are rare.

"Domestic violence is not really taken seriously," said Ana Demsorean, a lawyer in Bucharest who is working on a book about the rule of law in Romanian society.

Los Angeles authorities declined to say much about Tunaru's case.

He is due in court Monday for a preliminary hearing in which the district attorney will lay out the details of the charges against him.

Officials said he faces four counts, including felony assault, assault with a deadly weapon, making criminal threats and trying to prevent a witness from reporting a crime.

The alleged assault and Tunaru's arrest occurred Sept 30. Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department's Wilshire Division responded to a 911 call about 20 minutes after midnight. They found a distraught victim and a knife.

Authorities declined to identify the victim, but Romanian media have reported that she was not Tunaru's wife.

After Tunaru, 46, claimed he had diplomatic immunity, police called the State Department, but officials there said they saw no reason Tunaru should not be arrested.

He was booked and is being held in County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail. His lawyer declined to comment, as did a woman who answered the phone at his home in Romania.

Catalin Ghenea, the Romanian consul general in Los Angeles, said Romanian officials were monitoring the case and had also been fielding calls from their country's media.

"He is a Romanian citizen who came here on a personal trip and he allegedly has infringed on the U.S. law, and for that he will stand trial and he will be judged if he is or is not innocent or guilty," Ghenea said.

"We have seen that his rights are respected."

Romanian journalists and analysts say the case has received some sensationalistic coverage, including several accounts that the LAPD says are false.

But Mirela Iamandi Stimus, a television correspondent for Realitat TV, the CNN partner in Romania, said the real issue on most Romanians' minds right now is their country's preparations to join the European Union in January.

The Tunaru case, she said, "is like a fun thing, because he is such a character."

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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