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Romanian President Dismisses Anti-Corruption Prosecutor

President Iohannis caves in, but he and others say they are convinced that the fight against graft will nonetheless continue.

9 July 2018

After staunchly refusing to dismiss the high-profile director of Romania’s anti-corruption agency, it seems that Romanian President Klaus Iohannis finally ran out of options.

 

The spokesperson of the presidential administration announced this morning that Iohannis had signed a decree dismissing Laura Codruta Kovesi, the head of the Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), which has made a name for itself for successfully prosecuting politicians, local officials, and others across the country.

 

The press release, cited by Romanian news site Digi24.ro, said that decisions of the Constitutional Court must be respected, a reference to a constitutional court ruling of one month ago that the president is constitutionally obliged to sack Kovesi.

 

As Deutsche Welle reported, the case concerned an “institutional conflict” that arose when Iohannis refused to comply with Justice Minister Tudorer’s request to sack the DNA chief, based on a list of her deficiencies that he had released in February.

 

In the words of Business Review, the list included “excessively authoritarian behavior,” “the prioritization of corruption cases with high media impact,” “pushing for sentences in corruption cases at all costs,” and an increase in the number of acquittals. But critics of Toader’s move interpreted his actions as the result of the pressure of corrupt elites fed up with DNA’s aggressive tactics.

 

Kovesi during today's press conference. Image via Europa FM/Youtube.

 

In a press conference today held after her dismissal was announced, cited by Mediafax, Kovesi said that "the decree issued by the president leaves a big question: will chief prosecutors be subordinated on a discretionary basis to the minister of justice?”

 

Speaking about her activity, she said “DNA showed that the law is equal for everybody, and nobody can avoid its scope. We contributed through our investigations to raising the awareness of society about the phenomenon of corruption. Today’s episode is not a defeat.”

 

The presidential administration’s press release said that Iohannis also believed that “Romania cannot backtrack from its status of a country where the rule of law prevails. In Romania, the fight against corruption shouldn’t be diminished or blocked in any way.”

 

One of the former heads of the Romanian Constitutional Court, Augustin Zegrean, told Digi24 today that Iohannis didn’t have a choice but to dismiss Kovesi, and also reiterated the president’s belief that the anti-corruption fight would continue.

 

“The president did what he had to do. The decision is final, mandatory, he could not avoid respecting it. The anti-corruption fight does not end here. I’m sorry about Kovesi, she is somebody who did more than her duty, and she deserved to finish her mandate. But if the politicians wanted that, they got it. (…) Those who rejoice at her removal do so too soon, and for nothing. The anti-corruption fight has too much support from society and from international partners to end here.”

 

Liviu Avram, deputy editor in chief of Romanian daily Adevarul, begged to differ in an interview with Digi24. Avram labeled Iohannis’ gesture one of “ultimate cowardice” and one showing that the president is an “accomplice to what the others are doing.” If Iohannis couldn’t find other solutions for a month, while that was possible, he just made believe that he refused the dismissal, which was a “mere PR game to show that he opposed the ruling party,” Avram added.

 

  • Iohannis might have also feared for his own political survival. Last week, the powerful Social Democrat Party (PSD) leader Liviu Dragnea said that the leaders of the PSD-led ruling coalition would hold a vote today on whether to dismiss Iohannis, Romania-Insider writes.

 

  • Kovesi was a general prosecutor between 2006 and 2012, and she had led the DNA since 2013. Before the dismissal, her mandate was meant to end in 2019.  During today’s press conference, she said that she would return to her job as a prosecutor.

 

  • At the end of June, the U.S. Embassy in Romania published a statement on behalf of several countries, including the U.S., Canada, France, and Germany, urging “all parties involved in amending Romania’s criminal and criminal procedure codes to avoid changes that would weaken the rule of law or Romania’s ability to fight crime or corruption.”

 

  • Last Friday, however, the Romanian parliament approved a criminal code revision, according to The New York Times. Critics say the changes would restrict the scope of future corruption prosecutions and protect crooked public servants. The bill would limit criminal investigations to a year before indictment and ban appeal courts from overturning acquittals by lower courts without new evidence. Iohannis still needs to sign these changes into law.
Compiled by Ioana Caloianu
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