BUCHAREST, Romania - A former captain of Romania’s national soccer team said he was an informer for the country’s secret police during the regime of the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
The admission by Gheorghe “Gica” Popescu came three days after he denied the allegations, calling a newspaper report that he was an informant a “big lie.”
In an interview with the newspaper Evenimentul Zilei on Thursday, the 41-year-old Popescu said he wrote four notes informing on teammates and other colleagues while playing at Universitatea Craiova.
The defender was part of a Romanian 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 Monday, Popescu said he signed a document in 1985 promising only to “defend the national interests.” In Thursday’s telephone interview he defended his actions.
“Even if I wrote notes, I wrote good things,” he said. “I praised people.”
During Ceausescu’s rule, the Securitate relied on an army of 700,000 informants in a country of 22 million. The security services kept tabs on Romania’s athletes, and some players in international competitions reportedly were asked to share details of conversations with foreigners.
Romanian soccer star Gheorghe Hagi, who is related to Popescu through marriage, came to his defense Thursday, saying sports had brought glory to Romania during the communist era.
“We were the ambassadors for Romania. They should look elsewhere” for Securitate agents, he said.
Hagi denied being an informant, instead accusing Steaua soccer club owner Gigi Becali of working for the Securitate.
“If it is proved I was an informer, I will hang myself,” Becali said in a televised interview. Becali is a member of the European Parliament for the far right Greater Romania Party.
The newspaper Adevarul reported Monday that Popescu had been an informant from 1986 until the regime was toppled three years later.
Popescu’s 18-year playing career also included stints with Tottenham, Galatasaray and PSV Eindhoven. He played for Romania 115 times, scoring 16 goals.