Romanian government asks president to sack public prosecutor

Romania's Justice Minister Tudorel Toader requests the dismissal of the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (DNA), prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi (not pictured), during a press conference at the Justice Ministry in Bucharest, Romania, 22 February 2018. [Robert Ghement/EPA/EFE]

The Romanian Justice Minister on Wednesday (24 October) formally asked the president to sack public prosecutor Augustin Lazar, a strong critic of the left-wing ruling party’s judicial reforms, just months after the country’s top anti-graft prosecutor was also dismissed.

“I trigger the procedure for revoking Augustin Lazar from the function of public prosecutor,” Tudorel Toader told reporters.

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A 63-page report unveiled by Toader accused Lazar of attacking parliament and the government, defending the wrongdoings of anti-corruption prosecutors and failing to fulfil his managerial objectives.

“The facts listed in this report are intolerable in a state governed by the rule of law and prove that his activity doesn’t respect the legal and constitutional obligations,” Toader said during an hour-long press statement.

Reacting to the report, Lazar, however, told reporters “the independence of prosecutors is being violated”.

The move to oust Lazar follows the sacking in July of anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi — considered a symbol of the country’s fight against graft.

Romania's president removes chief anti-corruption prosecutor

Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis sacked chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi on Monday (9 July) to honour a constitutional court ruling which Kövesi said may leave prosecutors exposed to political interference.

With Kövesi at the helm, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (DNA) had led a crackdown on corruption among local and national elected officials, earning the enmity of many in Romania’s political class and prompting critics to accuse it of abuse of power.

In June, 12 western countries warned that some of Romania’s judicial reforms could “impede cooperation (with Romania) in international law enforcement.”

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Earlier this month, the country’s highest court ruled that a number of changes to the penal code recently pushed through by the Social Democrats were unconstitutional.

The constitutional court’s nine judges unanimously rejected about 60 amendments to the penal code that had already come under fire from the European Commission in Brussels and Romanian president Klaus Iohannis. Romania will take over the rotating EU presidency from 1 January 2019.

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Critics have argued that some of the changes will allow Social Democratic Party leader, Liviu Dragnea, to ask for a “review” of a two-year jail sentence he received in 2016 for electoral fraud.

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And they suggest that the amendments will help him escape prosecution in two other cases.

Prosecutors have had some success in clamping down on corruption in Romania, one of the EU’s most graft-ridden countries, but the government accuses them of overstepping their power.

After winning elections in late 2016, the Social Democrat-led government attempted to water down anti-corruption legislation, but abandoned the plans in face of the biggest wave of protests since the collapse of communism in 1989.

Before Kövesi’s sacking, thousands of protesters took to the streets in support of her.

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