Romanian judicial watchdog rejects bid to dismiss anti-graft chief

A Romanian masked man holds a banner during a protest in front of the government headquarters, in Bucharest, Romania, 25 February 2018, after the Romanian Justice Minister on 22 February had requested the dismissal of a DNA prosecutor. Justice Minister Tudorel Toader requested the dismissal of the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (DNA) prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi (not pictured), although Romania in the last years struggled heavily to combat corruption, and the DNA is one of the main institutions in the fight against it. [Robert Ghement/EPA/EFE]

Romania’s judicial watchdog rejected yesterday (27 February) an application by the justice minister to sack the country’s main anti-corruption prosecutor, bolstering her case days after protesters massed in the streets to support her work.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader had called for Laura Codruța Kövesi’s dismissal on Thursday, accusing her of exceeding her authority and damaging the country’s image abroad.

Romanian minister calls for prosecutor's sacking, graft crackdown under threat

Romania’s Justice Minister called on Thursday for the country’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor to be dismissed for “excess of authority”, triggering street protests and potentially destabilising a crackdown on graft.

The Superior Magistrates’ Council (CSM), which must discuss any such dismissal, voted against the application on Tuesday and said it would explain its decision later.

The final decision on Kövesi’s future now goes to centrist President Klaus Iohannis, who has said he supports her.

She has led anti-corruption prosecution agency DNA since 2013 and, under her management, conviction rates have risen sharply in one of the European Union’s most corrupt states, winning praise from Brussels, which has Romania’s justice system under special monitoring.

More than 1,000 magistrates have signed a petition saying Toader’s request threatened judicial independence and would put pressure on prosecutors, leaving them facing the constant threat of being removed from office.

The minister had drawn up a 20-point report calling for Kövesi’s dismissal and told reporters last week she was responsible for “acts and facts intolerable to the rule of law”.

On Tuesday, the minister told the council the debate over DNA’s management would continue, “regardless of what the CSM decides, of what the president decides, of what the Constitutional Court decides, if it is involved.”

Kövesi told the watchdog during the same hearing the minister’s accusations were groundless.

Romania's have-a-go heroes fight corruption

Romanian architect Serban Marinescu never thought he’d come up against such brazen corruption. And when a city mayor demanded a backhander, he plucked up his courage and reported him.

She defended her agency’s work. “Through its actions, DNA has proved that the fight against corruption is efficient in Romania, which has improved the country’s image.”

Prosecutors have investigated lawmakers, ministers, mayors, magistrates and businessmen in recent years, exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and the award of state contracts in exchange for bribes.

DNA, which will present its annual report on Wednesday, has sent more than 70 members of parliament to trial since 2006. The speakers of parliament’s lower house and senate are both currently on trial in separate cases.

The country’s ruling Social Democrats tried a year ago to decriminalise several corruption offences by emergency decree, triggering the largest street protests in decades.

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