Romania’s justice minister has asked for the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi to be sacked. But analysts say the ruling coalition is not aiming at Kovesi’s post. It is, apparently, going for the big picture – capturing all the state institutions and suspending the country’s president.
The social democrats of PSD and their junior allies from ALDE control the legislative and the government, but in the past year the ruling coalition has shown an unusual interest in changing the judiciary system.
Moreover, many see the last movement as a step towards the suspension of President Klaus Iohannis, who is a firm supporter of Kovesi and may refuse to sign her dismissal.
Justice Minister Tudorel Toader said he would ask the president to remove Laura Codruta Kovesi from the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), citing recent public scandals involving some of the prosecutors at one of DNA’s branches, which investigated, among others, a former prime minister and several prominent members of the Social-Democrat Party (PSD), the main ruling party in Romania.
Already, some PSD leaders are asking for the dismissal of the country’s chief prosecutor, who has already said there are no legal grounds to end Kovesi’s term at the DNA. Kovesi herself complained last week the anti-corruption directorate is the subject of coordinated attacks from the persons currently on trial or already convicted.
Several members of the two ruling parties, including the presidents of both PSD and ALDE, are currently on trial in files compiled by DNA.
While Toader’s request was expected ever since he took up the post, exactly one year ago, the motivation is thin and comes amidst a wave of unprecedented attacks against anti-graft operations.
And all of that is happening after the EU warned the government not to endanger the rule of law and undo all the progress made under the CVM, [Cooperation and verification mechanism the EU uses to monitor Romania’s performance] which was imposed on Romania and Bulgaria when they joined the bloc.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, a former MEP, went to Brussels for high-level talks with EU officials. According to the official government statements, judiciary issues did not feature in the talks.
But the presidents of the European Parliament and the Commission both said they had told Dancila to continue consolidating the rule of law and anti-corruption fight in Romania.
Frans Timmermans, Juncker’s right-hand man for rule of law issues, is expected in Bucharest next week.
Romania is seen as one of the most corrupt states in the EU but under Kovesi’s helm, which started in 2013, the rate of conviction for anti-graft offences has risen sharply.
But Toader presented a report, which has not been made public yet, listing 20 alleged wrongdoings of the DNA chief prosecutor. He told reporters she was responsible for ”acts and facts intolerable to the rule of law”.
But some of the allegations are hardly grounded in facts – like that her interviews with foreign media have negatively affected Romania’s external image.
President Iohannis, who has the final say on the naming and removal of chief prosecutors, said the report was unclear and needed a thorough analysis.
PSD and ALDE leaders have in the past sent repeated signals they could start a procedure to suspend the president if he is against their amendments.
If the parliament approves the president’s suspension, the chief of Senate, Calin Popescu Tariceanu, the leader of ALDE and himself the subject of a DNA investigation for false deposition, will become the interim head of state and could sign into law some of the judiciary reforms proposed by the ruling coalition.
The head of the other parliament chamber, PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, received a suspended two-year conviction for election rigging in the referendum for the dismissal of former President Traian Basescu.
After the announcement, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the government building in Bucharest on Thursday to show support for Kovesi and the rule of law.
Just one year ago, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators turned out for the biggest protest Romania has seen since the 1989 anti-communist revolution to support the fight against corruption, after the social democratic-led government tried to decriminalise corruption offences, such as the abuse of power.
More protests are called for Sunday.
by Alexandra Brzozowski
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Views are the author’s