Leading candidate for EU’s new #AntiCorruptionAgency faces major investigation

| February 15, 2019
Romania’s under-fire former anti-corruption chief has been indicted on charges of bribery, abuse of office and false testimony. 

The charges against Laura Codruta Kovesi (pictured) come on the eve of hearings in Brussels about her candidacy as EU chief prosecutor, the new EU agency that will tackle financial fraud across the European Union.

Kovesi said her bid for the top post could be damaged by the Romanian agency charged with investigating magistrates which has subpoenaed her for hearings as a suspect in an unspecified case.

The investigative agency, the Section for the Investigation of Criminal Offences in the judiciary, was created among a raft of legislative and personnel changes made by the ruling Social Democrats in the past two years.The  agency had not given exact details of the accusations.

Reaction to the news was swift with Romania’s former Labour Minister Olguta Vasilescu saying: “Laura Codruta Kovesi complains she’s being abused by the ‘rule of law’! When? Just when she was campaigning to become a European chief prosecutor. Really?”

In a comment on her Facebook page, she added bitterly,”Tell that to those who have been accused in an election campaign! Well, trust justice, I say.”

Vasilescu was arrested by the DNA just before starting her campaign to become mayor of Craiova City, on charges which were subsequently dismissed and led to her acquittal. In June 2012 she was elected the mayor of Craiova, becoming the first female acting as the mayor of a county capital in Romanian history.

The PSD party (Social Democrats) refrained from substantive comment but in a statement, said, “Trust the justice system and let the evidence, not politicians, speak.”

Romania’s justice minister, meanwhile, has written to his EU colleagues to paint a damning picture of Kovesi, supposedly in a bid to stop her leading a new EU prosecutors’ office.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has also argued that the panel that shortlisted her ahead of candidates from France and Germany was misinformed.

In the letter, Toader accuses Kovesi of signing “secret and anti-democratic pacts” with Romania’s intelligence agencies in order to cooperate with them on investigations linked to national security or corruption.

Further comment came from a Commission spokesman who said that it was important the chief prosecutor was appointed “swiftly.”

Margaritis Schinas was quoted as saying that “The [European] Commission is closely following the latest developments in the context of the selection procedure. It is crucial that all candidates proposed by an independent selection committee be treated fairly throughout the process.As far as the justice system in Romania is concerned, I have repeatedly reiterated that an independent, professional judiciary is of great importance.”

Kovesi is former head of the country’s anti corruption agency but says that, after five years at the helm, she was forced out last summer. She  has challenged her dismissal at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and OLAF. She announced last month that she was suing the Romanian government because she was dismissed from her position without the right to appeal.

During her time as head of the DNA, hundreds of elected officials were convicted of corruption offences.

Kovesi, 45, led the directorate from 2013 to 2018. Her supporters say she is a crusader against corruption, finally holding people once seen as untouchable to account. Critics, however, argue that the agency she leads has infringed on the civil liberties of citizens in a way not seen since communist times.

While Kovesi may be supported by Brussels here politicized approach in her term as DNA head raised some concerns.

The DNA launched some 1,170 prosecutions in the last three years, in cases which cost the state more than €1bn but her critics say that the anti-corruption fervour became a witch-hunt.They argue the agency, under her stewardship, unfairly targeted certain people and parties, teaming up with secret services and working hand in hand with judges.

Recent tapes that became public in Romania reportedly show prosecutors from the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, one of the agencies that had secret protocol arrangements with the intelligence services, “openly inventing and creating files against judges that were expected to rule against the wishes of the DNA or intelligence services”. While in some cases the involvement of the intelligence services was formal in the majority of cases the protocols led to a discreet coordination with other agencies, making it difficult to trace.

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