Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on January 6 he would oppose a bill on amnesty and pardon, and that such a law “would be a catastrophe for Romanian democracy.”
Romania has taken important steps in its fight against high level corruption in recent years and a bill on amnesty, if confirmed, could signal a backsliding in the anti-corruption fight. Such a bill is very likely to pass in parliament due to the majority held by the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE).
The ruling PSD’s manifesto before the December 11 election did not include an amnesty bill, but Romania’s new justice minister, Florin Iordache, has said he would not exclude such a law. Both this comment and the decision to nominate Iordache for the post have raised concerns about policy on corruption under the new government.
The interim president of the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL), Raluca Turca, recently accused the PSD of preparing such a bill. In the past, the PSD has supported the pardon of prisoners with short sentences.
“There is consistent information that [the PSD] is likely to present in parliament a bill on amnesty. The information comes from the parliamentary groups of the PSD,” Turcan said, according to digi24.ro.
“The PNL has asked the PSD to clearly state if it is going to propose the bill on amnesty to the parliament, to clearly tell Romanians if the law on amnesty was part of its governing programme during the electoral campaign, if PSD received votes for the amnesty bill and how PSD will act in parliament regarding this bill,” Turcan added.
On January 4, Iordache indicated he would not oppose the introduction of an amnesty bill. “A bill on amnesty and pardon was not promoted in the electoral campaign, but such a bill would be welcome to be discussed in parliament,” Iordache told parliamentary commissions prior to the vote in parliament on his appointment, according to press reports.
Iordache’s nomination to head the justice ministry has been criticised by opposition politicians, as well as by some of the media, for his involvement in the so-called Black Tuesday in December 2013, when MPs voted to give top politicians including the president and MPs, as well as lawyers, immunity from prosecution in corruption cases. Since his nomination for the justice minister post there has been media speculation about his next steps, considering the investigations around the leaders and other prominent figures in the ruling coalition.
“I cannot pretend I do not see it, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies has been convicted and is being investigated. The Senate speaker has been indicted for lies. This is what I call worrying circumstances,” Iohannis said.
The leader of the PSD and speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Liviu Dragnea, has been given a two-year suspended sentence for voter manipulation. This prevented him from becoming Romania’s prime minister. Dragnea is also being investigated for alleged instigation to abuse of power and instigation to forgery in a separate case.
Calin Popescu Tariceanu, Senate speaker and ALDE leader, is being investigated by the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) for influence peddling and false testimony. Tariceanu made his attitude to the DNA clear in 2016, when he asked MPS not to respond to any request from the body to start an investigation into any politician.
Other PSD members are also being investigated for corruption. For example, former Prime Minister Victor Ponta is on trial on 17 counts of forgery, as well as money-laundering and complicity in tax evasion. He is also reportedly part of an investigation related to the settlement of a $600mn debt of KazMunaiGaz International (KMGI), the owner of Rompetrol Rafinare, which operates the country’s largest refinery Petromidia. New Labour Minister Lia Olguta Vasilescu has been accused of money laundering and bribe taking.
Iohannis warned that a bill on amnesty and pardon would lead Romania on a path away from European values.
This is not the first time the issue of amnesty has been discussed in Romania. In July last year, PSD senator Serban Nicolae talked about the possibility of drafting such a bill, while the issue was broadly debated on television, including on channels whose owners were being investigated or had been convicted.
Nicolae said that he was considering drafting a bill envisaging collective pardon for “short sentences, for offences which do not endanger the security of a person,” as “the capacity of the our prisons has been exceeded by more than 200%,” according to a previous report from Hotnews.ro.
Nicolae’ statement came shortly after former Justice Minister Raluca Pruna warned Romania might be sanctioned €80mn per year due to the improper conditions in its prisons if it does not manage to convince the European Court of Human Rights that will adopt measures to improve the situation. In summer 2016, prisoners in some of Romania’s prisons protested against their conditions.