Romania’s chief prosecutor resigns in row over police motorcades

Romania’s chief prosecutor resigns in row over police motorcades
By Iulian Ernst February 3, 2016

Romania’s prosecutor general Tiberiu Nitu resigned on February 2 amid accusations of excessive use of public security guard services, according to a statement from the prosecutor's office.

The issue of public security guard services, in particular the use of police motorcades, is highly sensitive after a police officer died in an accident while escorting former interior minister and deputy prime minister Gabriel Oprea last autumn – one of the events that triggered the public demonstrations that ended with the resignation of prime minister Victor Ponta.

Nitu has been accompanied by police officers on more than 750 occasions since April 2014, when the interior ministry and the prosecution office signed an agreement on the permanent assignment of a police officer for the protection of the head prosecutor. However, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) argued that there is no legal ground for police to provide escort services on public roads to the head prosecutor.

Oprea, who signed off the agreement, used a motorcade 1,607 times between January 2 and October 21, 2015, which is three times more than President Klaus Iohannis.

The parliament is due to vote on February 3 on whether to lift Oprea’s parliamentary immunity to allow an investigation by the DNA into alleged abuse of office to go ahead.

Many Romanians claim that top officials use motorcades excessively. While the country’s president and prime minister and the speakers of the two houses of parliament are entitled to a motor escort, other officials are only supposed to use them in special circumstances.

A member of Oprea’s escort was killed on October 20 when his motorbike hit a pothole on a Bucharest street. Oprea said after the accident that although his motorcade stopped he had not been aware at the time that the police officer had been killed.

The accident caused public anger in Romania, and came shortly before the deaths of dozens of people in a fire at the Club Collectiv nightclub in Bucharest. Mass protests followed with around 25,000 people demanding the resignation of Ponta and Oprea.

Nitu’s resignation averts expected public pressure against minister of justice Raluca Pruna, who had been asked to dismiss the prosecutor. It also avoids the delicate issue of extending Nitu’s term, which was due to expire in May but could have been extended by another three years.

However, his decision to step down was criticised by Romania’s former president Traian Basescu who implied that Nitu had been the victim of a media campaign intended to force him out of office, Mediafax reported.

In his resignation note, Nitu highlighted the performance of the prosecutor’s office, which was commended in the report issued by the European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) on January 27.

“Although the CVM report validates the results of my work ... given that my name and the office that I represent are associated artificially with a situation likely to have consequences for the image of the institution I lead, I decided - as a gesture of responsibility and honor - to submit my resignation,” Nita wrote.