Romania’s justice minister launches procedures to replace anti-corruption chief

Romania’s justice minister launches procedures to replace anti-corruption chief
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest February 23, 2018

Romania’s Justice Minister Tudorel Toader initiated procedures to dismiss the head of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) Laura Codruta Kovesi on February 22. 

The radical and risky move — given the reactions it will inevitably generate in Romania — by Toader indicates that the ruling coalition leaders have decided to go ahead at a fast pace with plans to deeply restructure anti-corruption legislation and institutions.

The planned restructuring of the DNA is most likely intended to weaken the anti-corruption fight in Romania, given the radical rhetoric of ruling coalition leaders Liviu Dragnea and Calin Popescu Tariceanu against the DNA’s management and what they say are the excessive powers of prosecutors. The radical move might be explained by Dragnea’s imminent trial, but also by the imminent deterioration of the economic situation (and, consequently, the weakening of the broad support currently enjoyed by the ruling majority).

Toader launched the procedures upon a review of the DNA’s activity, which has been briefed to media but not published yet. The procedures involve a consultative report from the magistrates’ body CSM and the final decision belongs to the president.

The presidency, in a note issued in response to Toader initiating the dismissal procedures, stressed that President Klaus Iohannis has repeatedly confirmed the good performance of the DNA and its management and he stands by his positive reviews. The evaluations of the presidency and the ministry of justice diverge so much a deeper analysis is required, according to the note. The ruling coalition has probably considered suspending Iohannis from his post should the presidency refuse to dismiss Kovesi. 

The less risky alternative for the ruling coalition would have been to continue its steady pressure from the ruling coalition against Kovesi, including from the media it controls and the use of the parliamentary majority to gradually amend anti-corruption legislation. 

While a raft of controversial amendments initiated by the ruling coalition have not become law yet, recent rulings by the Constitutional Court have mostly gone in their favour. In the most recent decision on February 20, the Constitutional Court rejected objections expressed by the opposition party Save Romania Union  (USR) against some amendments to the justice laws on procedural grounds. Indeed, the court has so far rejected on procedural grounds so far most of the objections against the controversial justice laws endorsed by the parliament in December. The objections admitted by the court have been rather minor.

Toader’s dismissal request will probably generate vocal reactions against the government from civic organisations (street protests are expected for the weekend) and from Romania’s foreign partners, strengthening the support enjoyed by Kovesi at a moment when real (yet manageable) issues related to the DNA’s activity have started leaking in the media. Such issues become of secondary importance for the moment, given the radicalisation of the public debate generated by the extreme step taken by the ruling coalition.

In his publicly broadcast speech, Toader repeatedly cited breaches of constitutional provisions by the DNA and inadequate management by Kovesi, particularly in the case of the DNA Ploiesti office, which is at the centre of a scandal concerning accusations of fabricated evidence. 

Specifically, Toader accused Kovesi of breaching the constitution when she investigated the procedures followed by the government for the endorsement of emergency decree 13/2017 which partially decriminalised abuse of office — the decree that sparked mass protests in early 2017 and was later abrogated by ordinance 14. She also breached the constitution by investigating other government decisions (specifically related to the case against Dragnea), the minister claimed. 

He further accused the DNA chief of behaving in an “authoritarian and discretionary” style and to have prioritised cases with a high impact in the media. Kovesi (or other DNA prosecutors) aimed to condemn indicted people “at whatever price”, according to Toader, who also said that while the number of cases in which the indicted persons were found not guilty has increased, the DNA’s expenses have increased. 

He claimed that Kovesi (or DNA officers) forged transcripts of phone recordings. Other accusations pertain to the scandal at the DNA’s Ploiesti office, where Toader says Kovesi was insufficiently involved in checking the activity of prosecutors. More generally, she failed to get involved in identifying and eliminating the allegedly abusive actions of prosecutors.