They first made their mark during the era of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Older brother Ion finished the eighth grade, while Vasile left school after the fourth grade, according to OCCRP’s archive research. They got their real education on the streets.During the mid to late 1980s the brothers and their gang focused on large-scale burglary. They stole everything that could be sold on the Romanian black market: carpets, lamps, clocks, coffee, soap, cassette players, clothes, gold jewellery and fur hats.During the final turbulent years of Communism, the Balint brothers not only knew how to earn money by selling stolen goods, they were also able to zigzag their way through the country’s defective legal system. One of Ceausescu’s eccentricities was to show his “mercy” by granting prison amnesties – something that the brothers were able to exploit.
When the dictator celebrated his 70th birthday on 26 January 1988, the prison gates were opened for Balint’s gang, who had previously been convicted for some of their burglaries.
The tradition of prison amnesties continued after Ceausescu. On 16 January 1990 the brothers were able to walk out of prison after yet another conviction for burglary. Romania’s first post-Communist leader, Ion Iliescu, wanted to celebrate the collapse of the former regime by releasing the prisoners out onto the streets.During the first stumbling steps into capitalism in the 1990s, the Balint brothers created one of Bucharest’s most powerful criminal networks. The money they had earned allowed them to live up to the name of Camataru – ‘loan sharks’. Those who didn’t manage to pay up in time or scrape together the interest could expect a visit from the clan.
In autumn 1994 accusations of violence were directed at the brothers after they personally attacked their victims. This included attacking two families, taking their cars, money and jewellery. Another family was attacked with a sword in the street.They were convicted in the first court instance, but there was no new trial. The case documents had been stolen from the court building and disappeared. The brothers had escaped a prison sentence – once again.A late summer’s evening, far away from Bucharest. We’re sitting at a corner table, right at the back of a restaurant. We can’t say where we are, and the man we’ve arranged to meet doesn’t want to go out onto the street to have his photo taken – someone might see him talking to us.