Romanian politicians urged to support anti-graft fight

Top prosecutor says her anti-corruption agency backed by huge street protests

Laura Codruta Kovesi with Romanian president Klaus Iohannis: Romania’s chief prosecutor says her agency faces “legislative challenges and unprecedented attacks”. Photograph: EPA/Robert Ghement

Laura Codruta Kovesi with Romanian president Klaus Iohannis: Romania’s chief prosecutor says her agency faces “legislative challenges and unprecedented attacks”. Photograph: EPA/Robert Ghement

 

Romania’s top anti-corruption prosecutor has called on the government and parliament to support her agency’s battle against graft, after outrage over the issue sparked the country’s biggest protests since its 1989 anti-communist revolution.

Hundreds of thousands of people rallied across Romania this month after the government issued a decree to downgrade graft offences and blunt the investigative powers of the National Anticorruption Directorate, or DNA.

The government ultimately withdrew the decree and sacked its justice minister, but deep suspicion lingers over how much commitment to fighting corruption exists among the ruling – and scandal-ridden – Social Democrats.

Laura Codruta Kovesi, who leads the DNA, said her agency had indicted more than 1,270 people “for high- and mid-level corruption offences” in 2016. Among them were “three ministers, six senators, 11 deputies, 47 mayors, 16 magistrates and 21 directors of national companies”.

Judges last year convicted more than 870 defendants in DNA cases, Ms Codruta Kovesi added, including “one member of the European Parliament, seven deputies, one senator, one minister, five presidents of county councils and 28 mayors”.

Courts also demanded “the confiscation and recovery of the proceeds of crime amounting to over €226 million. This money must effectively go to the state budget. It is the obligation of the fiscal authorities to execute these decisions as soon as possible,” she said.

The DNA has delivered such striking results for several years, outshining similar agencies elsewhere in Europe and earning praise from the European Union.

Political bias

Many Romanians strongly support the DNA, as evinced by the protesters’ chants and banners during recent rallies. But the Social Democratic Party has long accused its prosecutors of showing political bias and overstepping their authority.

“We have wanted and continue to want to combat corruption,” Ms Codruta Kovesi said. “But it is not enough. The efforts of the judicial system must be supported by the stability of the legislative and institutional framework for the fight against corruption to be efficient.

“We have all seen how much legislative stability matters,” she said. “How quickly the efforts and work of the entire justice system, not only of the DNA’s prosecutors, can be annulled.”

Last year the DNA faced “legislative challenges and unprecedented attacks”, Ms Codruta Kovesi said, but the agency still had the support of “the most important ally: the Romanian citizens”.

“Without them, our work wouldn’t have been possible . . . there are thousands and thousands of people who want a society built on fairness and respect.”

On Thursday, Tudorel Toader was confirmed as Romania’s new justice minster. The former judge is not member of the PSD. His appointment was approved by president Klaus Iohannis, who plans to hold a national referendum to gauge Romanians’ commitment to anti-corruption reforms.