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BBC Hardtalk clash highlights concerns over EU’s Romanian Prosecutor Laura Kovesi

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BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sackur is known for his robust interview style and his command of any subject he chooses to tackle. Observers in Bucharest, Brussels and across Europe watched with interest as he questioned Laura Kovesi, the European Union’s Chief Prosecutor, one year into her tenure in this new role. It seems widely acknowledged that she did not stand up well to his sharp interrogation when he quizzed her on her controversial track record in Romania.

The interview, which took place over video-conference with Kovesi on screen from her Luxembourg base, questioned whether Ms Kovesi had been successful in her previous role at the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) in Romania, but the biggest sting was delivered when Sackur accused Kovesi of having “pushed the envelope” in terms of the legality of her Romanian investigations.

Sackur said to Kovesi: “People across Europe are going to be interested in how you're going to do the job and it is indeed notable that you had a certain reputation in Romania for let's say pushing the envelope in terms of investigative practice. You, it seems, were prepared to use the intelligence services in a covert fashion, to dig dirt on some of the suspects that you were going after and in the Romanian constitutional court some of your methods were called into question. Do you regret some of the methods you used?”

In fairness to Ms Kovesi it should be noted that she was not alone at the DNA. Other DNA prosecutors such as Nicolae Marin have also faced such allegations that would amount to “pushing the envelope”, to use Sackur’s phrase.  The difference, perhaps, is that Marin did not lose his job at the DNA, but rather remained and gained more power, remaining a part of the structure that the international community has referred to as Romania’s “parallel state” or “Securitate 2.0”.

Kovesi responded: “No it’s not about the methods, it's about working arrangements that we had but at that moment, based on the legislation, we received information from the secret services and we used that information to open the cases. But it's important to say and to clarify that our investigations were made by the prosecutors and by police officers and no one from the officials of the Secret Service worked on our cases - only the prosecutors, police officers.”

Sackur was characteristically determined to press  Kovesi further, responding: “I'll be honest with you - I was very struck by a former Romanian Prime Minister Mr Tariceanu saying that under your watch the anti-corruption agency had not respected legal frameworks, had become corrupt themselves and had become a part of the political fight in Romania. Some critics called you a part of Securitate 2.0 because of your cooperation with the security services. Again I put it to you that if you bring those methods to your Europe-wide prosecutor role, you're going to make many people very unhappy?”

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Kovesi answered: “All our cases that we worked on in Romania were checked and verified in the courts. So at the European level we will work according to the legislation as I did in Romania all the time and everything that the prosecutors did in the cases were checked in the court by judges.”

As ever, Sackur was unrelenting on his point, firing back: “But with respect, the constitutional court in January 2019 concluded that you had created a parallel justice system existing outside the rules imposed by Romania's constitution!”

Kovesi answered: “There is not any decision of the constitutional court saying that I created a parallel state in Romania.” One has to assume that all of the Brussels elite took a collective sharp intake of breath that an EU Prosecutor even needed to utter such a statement.

Sackur did not back down, going on to say: “Well I am reading from one of their rulings of January 2019. Now I know that ultimately charges against you were dropped but nonetheless it's a very serious allegation that you created a parallel justice system. The question really is do you believe that in prosecuting corruption and fraud the ends justify the means?”

Kovesi answered: “If you read that decision based on which the constitutional court absolved me I should say that I made a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights and in this year in May the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights said that in that case my rights were broken so I don't know which kind of decision you call it but I can say that in my entire activity I respected all the time the constitution I respected the procedural Criminal Code and all the national law.”

Sackur continued: “But when it comes to winning… I'm just asking you a simple question now… when it comes to rooting out corruption, do you believe as an aggressive prosecutor that the ends do justify the means?”

Kovesi then responded: “No, all the time in my activity I respected the law and this is the only principle that I will take into consideration and we should take into consideration all the time, to respect the law.”

This episode of Hardtalk was one of the most fascinating discussions on the show in recent times. One European Parliament insider commented: “It is somewhat bizarre that we are in this situation. There are those who feel that Romania joined the EU far too soon, that the country is sadly a long way off reaching any kind of European standard in terms of rule of law. Yet here we are with a European Prosecutor from Romania sitting in Luxembourg, who as Stephen Sackur said, some critics called part of Securitate 2.0 because of her alleged cooperation with the security services.”

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