Romanian senators block investigation of former deputy PM Oprea in manslaughter case

Romanian senators block investigation of former deputy PM Oprea in manslaughter case
By bne IntelliNews September 20, 2016

Romania’s upper house of parliament, the senate, has rejected prosecutors’ request to start an investigation into allegations of manslaughter against former Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister Gabriel Oprea, by 73 votes to 45. The case is related to the death of a police officer in a car accident while he was escorting Oprea.

Romanian parliament has repeatedly failed to allow investigations into its MPs, with lawmakers frequently ignoring party political divisions to protect each other. The issue has been raised in successive Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) reports from the European Commission. 

The death of the police officer prompted mass protests that, combined with the Club Colectiv nightclub fire that killed dozens a few days later, forced the cabinet of Prime Minister Victor Ponta to resign in November 2015. Oprea was at that time the head of the National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR), the junior coalition partner of Ponta’s Social Democratic Party (PSD). 

The senate’s law expert committee had previously found the prosecutors’ request justified and recommended lawmakers to approve it, by eight votes to two.

Prosecutors found that Oprea had abused his power and assigned a disproportionate number of officers to his escort while they were needed for other duties. Furthermore, his position did not entitle him to a full-time escort. 

Oprea also ordered his motorcade to travel at an inappropriately high speed given the weather at the time of the incident, prosecutors argued. The use of the police escort was an unnecessary practice set up by Oprea, they concluded.

In 2015, the Romanian parliament has refused about one third of the requests from the DNA to lift immunity from lawmakers to allow investigations to be launched or the application of preventive detention measures, according to the European Commission's January 2016 CVM report on Romania. The same issue had been raised in previous years' CVM reports. 

"Whilst a majority of requests were admitted, it remains the case that parliament's response to DNA requests lacks objective criteria against which to give a clear and consistent motivation in each case, in particular for refusals," the latest CVM report said. 

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