The former head of Romania’s anti-corruption agency has been tipped for a prestigious role as European chief prosecutor, despite opposition from a scandal-plagued government in her homeland that forced her out of office last year.
A selection panel of experts named Laura Codruta Kovesi as its first choice to lead the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO), which by 2021 is due to start investigating crimes that involve EU funds and major cross-border tax fraud.
The European Parliament and European Council intend to vote on the appointment in the coming weeks, after interviewing Ms Codruta Kovesi and second- and third-placed candidates from France and Germany respectively.
If Ms Codruta Kovesi (45) were successful it would mark a remarkable turnaround in her fortunes, following her dismissal last July after five years in charge of Romania’s national anti-corruption directorate (DNA).
The country's justice minister Tudorel Toader sacked her for alleged abuse of power, and President Klaus Iohannis reluctantly signed off on her dismissal after the constitutional court in Bucharest ruled that he could not block the decision.
“I think the members of the selection commission do not know the abuses committed by Laura Codruta Kovesi to the detriment of citizens and the rule of law,” Mr Toader said of her prospects of securing the high-profile EU job.
“In France or in Germany, a prosecutor could not commit so many abuses because they would be removed from the judicial system,” he added.
Mr Toader, who has accused Ms Codruta Kovesi of breaking many rules in pursuit of her targets, said he would send EU justice ministers the report issued by the Romanian constitutional court when it cleared the way for her dismissal.
Under Ms Codruta Kovesi’s leadership, the DNA earned great praise from the EU for prosecuting dozens of powerful politicians and businessmen. Her removal inflamed public anger and fuelled major protests against government efforts to increase political control over Romania’s courts and decriminalise some graft offences.
The reforms would benefit members and allies of the ruling Social Democrats (PSD), including its leader Liviu Dragnea, who has been convicted of vote rigging and abuse of office.
He is appealing the latter verdict but his criminal record bars him from senior office, so he effectively runs government from the wings and is widely seen as the most powerful politician in Romania, which now holds the presidency of the EU.
The bloc still keeps the anti-corruption efforts of Romania and Bulgaria under special monitoring 12 years after they became members, and the EPPO could be expected to pay close attention to how they spend EU money.
Ireland is one of six member states that have not signed up to the EPPO, which will combat the suspected theft of hundreds of millions of euro in EU funds each year.