Andrew Tate Thought He Was Above the Law. Romania Proved Him Wrong.


Andrew Tate, a pugilistic online influencer and self-crowned “king of toxic masculinity,” never made any secret of why he had chosen Romania as his home and business base.

“I like living in a society where my money, my influence and my power mean that I’m not below or beholden” to any laws, Mr. Tate told his fans.

But, like much of what the former kickboxer has told his millions of mostly young male followers on social media — including claims that he is a trillionaire and has 19 passports — Mr. Tate’s proclamation of faith in Romania as a risk-free haven for antisocial behavior reflected more fantasy than reality.

The Romanian authorities arrested Mr. Tate, a citizen of both the United States and Britain, and his younger brother, Tristan, in December on charges of human trafficking, rape and forming an organized criminal group. Held for three months in a jail in Bucharest, the capital, both men, who deny any wrongdoing, are now under house arrest, awaiting trial.

Their home is a sprawling compound down a dingy dead-end street in Voluntari, a town next to Bucharest that is dotted with shiny new office towers and derelict empty lots. It looks more like an industrial warehouse than the lair of a man who boasted of immense wealth and posted videos of himself hanging out in private jets with beautiful women and driving fast cars.

The high-end cars that once crowded the courtyard, including a Rolls-Royce, a Porsche, an Aston Martin and a BMW, are all gone, confiscated by the Romanian authorities. The only vehicle left is a clunky Russian Lada. It was not worth impounding.

Romania still ranks far below most fellow members of the European Union in clean-government rankings. In last year’s Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International, only Bulgaria and Hungary were lower. And Romania, according to the State Department’s 2022 report on human trafficking, remains “a primary source country for sex trafficking” in Europe.

But Romania has in recent years made a serious effort to tackle the endemic graft and general lawlessness that long blighted the country — and that apparently attracted Mr. Tate. Before his arrest, he said he liked “living in countries where corruption is accessible to everybody,” and where anybody can pay a $50 bribe to get out of a speeding ticket.

Eugen Vidineac, the Romanian lawyer defending Mr. Tate, said that his client had “said many stupid things,” but that after his arrest, “he stopped thinking about Romania being so corrupt.”

Since Mr. Tate established Romania as his base around 2016, the country’s anti-trafficking agency has expanded its staff and launched a messaging blitz on billboards, television and online, warning women against “lover boys,” traffickers who use seduction as a recruiting technique. Mr. Tate is accused of using this tactic to lure vulnerable women to his compound to perform in sex videos online.

The State Department report said that while Romania did “not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” it was “making significant efforts to do so.”

It cited legal changes, a sharp increase in the number of prosecutions for trafficking, stepped up cooperation with other European countries and the establishment in 2021 of a dedicated unit to combat sex trafficking by Romania’s Organized Crime and Terrorism Investigation Directorate, the agency leading the investigation into Mr. Tate.

The directorate last year opened 1,246 new trafficking investigations, double the number in 2021.

Monica Boseff, the president of the Open Door Foundation, a private group that runs a shelter for women fleeing the sex trade, said that Mr. Tate was “not the only misogynist making creepy statements on social media related to women.” But she said he had “miscalculated” in his belief that anything goes in Romania.

“We still have big problems that we need to solve, but there has been real improvement and we finally have hope” that the abuse and exploitation of women are slowly being seen by society and officials as crimes, Ms. Boseff said.

For Silvia Tabusca, a law lecturer at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest who has worked with prosecutors on trafficking cases, Mr. Tate’s big mistake was not so much that he misjudged Romania’s changing legal and social climate, but that he included a young American woman among his alleged victims.

Without pressure from the United States to investigate Mr. Tate, Ms. Tabusca said, “I’m not sure Romanian prosecutors would ever have touched him.”

- Author: Andrew Higgins, The New York Times


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