The European Union is closely monitoring its presidency holder, Romania, where the former head of the national anti-corruption agency (DNA) has been placed under investigation just days after being tipped to become the bloc's chief prosecutor.
Romania's government opposes Laura Codruta Kovesi's bid to lead the new European Public Prosecutor's Office due to her alleged misdemeanours at the DNA, where she oversaw successful court cases against dozens of powerful officials and businessmen including the chairman of the ruling Social Democrats, Liviu Dragnea.
Romanian justice minister Tudorel Toader has written to EU colleagues claiming that Ms Codruta Kovesi's work involved "secret and anti-democratic pacts" with the security services, which "bring to mind the intermingling of politics, intelligence and law enforcement so notorious in our nation during Communist rule."
She is now also being investigated over alleged abuse of office, bribery and making false statements by a new department to investigate magistrates, which was formed by the government and is led by its loyalists despite widespread criticism.
"The [European] Commission is closely following the latest developments in the context of the selection procedure. It is crucial that all candidates proposed by an independent selection committee be treated fairly throughout the process," EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Thursday.
“As far as the justice system in Romania is concerned, I have repeatedly reiterated that an independent, professional judiciary is of great importance,” Romanian media quoted him as saying.
Ms Codruta Kovesi (45) told Romanian television the investigation against her was “a sort of revenge for the complaint I made at the European Court of Human Rights”, over dismissal from the DNA.
“The second reason is clearly an attempt to stop my candidacy for EU prosecutor,” she added.
“I will go to Brussels, I will explain that I am innocent and that the opening of proceedings against me is a ruse.”
Mr Toader sacked her for alleged abuse of power last year and Romanian president Klaus Iohannis reluctantly signed off on her dismissal after the constitutional court in Bucharest ruled that he could not block the decision.
Her five-year stint running the DNA won great international praise, however, as the agency prosecuted thousands of influential local and national figures, including about a dozen government ministers, some 50 senators and deputies, and two former premiers.
She has been a sharp thorn in the side of several Romanian governments and particularly the Social Democrats (PSD), whose leader Liviu Dragnea cannot serve as premier due to convictions for vote rigging and abuse of office.
Since taking power two years ago, the PSD has sought to increase political control of the judiciary and decriminalise some graft offences, to the benefit of Mr Dragnea and other members and powerful supporters of the party.
An EU selection panel this month named Ms Kovesi as its first choice to lead the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which by 2021 is due to start investigating the theft of EU funds and major cross-border tax fraud.
Senior German and Austrian politicians and the European People's Party, the biggest bloc in the European Parliament, have already backed her candidacy.