Romania’s law changes ‘weaken fight against corruption’, says EU advisory body

22 Oct 18

Romania’s reforms to criminal justice legislation will “seriously weaken” the fight against corruption, a European advisory body has warned.

The Romanian president Klaus Iohannis signed off some of the changes earlier this month, after he exhausted all options to challenge them.  Although, he has said these changes could have a negative impact on the justice system.

The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, an advisory body on constitutional matters, said the changes to the rule of law would “seriously weaken the effectiveness of its criminal justice system to fight corruption offences, violent crimes and organised criminality”.

The laws would “adversely affect the efficiency, quality and independence of the judiciary, with negative consequences for the fight against corruption”, it further warned.

On Friday, the body proposed that Romania should instead come up with a “solid and coherent legislative proposal” that will benefit the wider society.

In recent months, the Romanian government has launched numerous draft bills to overhaul criminal law and procedures to change how the judiciary works.

Some of these changes have already passed parliament and come into force, in a move which the Social Democrat-led government say will “correct” the justice laws.

Judges and prosecutors will now be able to ask for early retirement after 20 years of work, giving them higher pensions than current salaries. This could lead to the retirement of about a third of the prosecutors and judges in the country, it is feared.

Prosecutors will need to have at least 10 years of professional experience to work in the country’s anti-corruption agencies. Those leading the agencies will need 15 years of experience, up from eight years currently. 

General prosecutor Augustin Lazar, along with other prosecutors, have warned that the changes could disqualify dozens of prosecutors from working at the agencies, who don’t have more than 10 years’ experience, which could disrupt ongoing probes.

Prosecutors at the Superior Council of Magistrates agreed on Wednesday that prosecutors working at the agencies will keep their jobs.

Other proposed changes have still not been passed, including stopping the president’s role in appointing chief prosecutors.

The European Union has warned Romania’s proposed changes to the judiciary could mean a backslide in its progress in tackling corruption.

The country’s justice minister Tudorel Toader also said last week that he will decide the future of the prosecutor general Augustin Lazar, who is the last major figure in the anti-corruption drive, which has been praised by Brussels.  

Lazar oversees around 2,500 prosecutors, including the anti-organised crime and anti-corruption unit.

If he is dismissed, it will mark the end of an era for Romania’s prosecutors, as the head of the anti-corruption unit has already been fired and the anti-organised crime unit’s leader’s mandate has expired.

The government claims the unit has “ruined innocent lives”.

The prosecutors have secured almost 5,000 convictions over the past five years, including 27 lawmakers and 83 mayors across parties, as well as ministers, county council heads, state firm managers and magistrates.

One of the convicted is Liviu Dranea, leader of the ruling Social Democrats, who was banned from becoming prime minister by an order in the first of three investigations against him. He denies all wrongdoing.

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