Romanian Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has announced plans for an external audit at the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), the Directorate for Investigating Organised Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) and the prosecutor’s office attached to the High Court of Cassation and Justice.
Lately, there have been several attempts to try to weaken the DNA’s credibility or to intimidate the head of the institution, while the government has also tried to water down anti-corruption legislation, leading to huge protests that forced the withdrawal of the legislation. A weaker DNA would serve the interests of many Romanian politicians who are being investigated for corruption, including former prime minister Victor Ponta and the leader of the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Liviu Dragnea, who wants to be PM but cannot assume the post for as long as there is an ongoing investigation into him.
“In line with a legal procedure, I will ask, as minister, for an external audit at the three bodies of the public ministry, DNA, DIICOT and the prosecutor’s office attached to the High Court,” Toader said, according to News.ro.
The minister said the audit will determine the number of cases managed by each prosecutor, the settlement terms, the number of cases reported to the European Court of Human Rights and the number of innocent citizens who spent time in prison.
Previously, Toader carried out an assessment of the heads of the DNA and the prosecutor’s office. However, despite harshly criticising DNA head Laura Codruta Kovesi and Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar, the minister decided not to start procedures to remove them from their posts.
His decision attracted criticism from Dragnea and other members of the governing coalition. The announcement of the audit comes shortly after Dragnea, who has publicly criticised Toader’s decision not to remove Kovesi and Lazar from their posts, announced his own plans for an assessment of government members this week. This raised speculation that Toader, who was appointed earlier this year, could be removed from his position.
Toader, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu and other members of the government are due to attend a meeting with the PSD leadership on April 5. The meeting is expected to be tense considering there are voices within the party asking for Toader’s resignation. Dragnea has said that the prime minister will decide on the matter.
Justice in the spotlight
The justice sector has been at the centre of a political storm in Romania in recent months, after the government adopted an emergency ordinance partly decriminalising abuse of office. The decree was later repealed as the government faced mass protests, the biggest in the country since the fall of communism. The DNA enjoys a high level of support in the country and the removal of Kovesi from its helm would most likely result in another wave of protests.
The body has played an important role in Romania’s anti-graft fight in recent years and many high officials have been investigated and indicted, which would have been unlikely to happen years ago. Last year, the DNA indicted 1,271 people for corruption, including three ministers, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, 17 MPs, 47 mayors, 16 magistrates and 21 managers of state companies. More than a quarter of them were indicted for abuse of office. Prosecutors say abuse of office caused damages of €260mn last year.
The DNA was also praised in the European Commission’s latest Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report for establishing an impressive track record in solving high and medium level corruption cases.
Despite this, the intense activity of the DNA has also sparked criticism. Many politicians, especially those who have become targets of investigations or felt threatened by the DNA’s drive, have started to raise questions about the methods used by the prosecutors in their investigations and claimed that the institution was exceeding its area of competence.
Kovesi was spied on last year by former Mossad agents in an apparent attempt to find compromising material. She came under further pressure following a chain of public testimonies released by fugitive businessman Sebastian Ghita, who is being investigated in several cases.
Meanwhile, MPs seem to be pushing ahead with their plans to soften criminal legislation. On April 4, the legal committee of the Chamber of Deputies gave a favourable opinion on a draft bill amending the Criminal Code dating back to 2014, which would partly decriminalise conflict of interest, Hotnews.ro reported. One of the amendments adopted by the legal committee envisages that there must have been a “public interest damage” so that hiring a relative or a person with whom a public official has been in an employment relationship is considered an offence.