The battle to clean up Romanian politics has a long way to run

Anti-corruption protesters in February
Anti-corruption protesters in February

It’s been more than a year since mass street protests forced the Romanian government to withdraw two emergency decrees limiting the scope of corruption investigations, but the underlying conflict over how to clean up the country’s politics remains unresolved. Last month, the Justice Minister initiated proceedings to dismiss Laura Kovesi, the head of Romania’s powerful Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), accusing her of repeatedly abusing her authority. Although a decision by President Iohannis is pending, he is widely expected to veto her removal.

The issue is divisive because many Romanians continue to see the DNA as the only way to hold a predatory political elite to account. Efforts to challenge or reform it are therefore quickly dismissed as self-serving. Even so, the muted public response to the latest row reflects the fact that the DNA’s record has recently come under closer scrutiny. The terms of debate have changed thanks to a series of scandals that have called its methods and motives into question.

The first of these broke last summer when an audio recording emerged in which Kovesi could be heard instructing her subordinates to pursue investigations against the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues in order to “put pressure” on the government in retaliation for their efforts to limit her authority. Although Kovesi insists that the recordings were doctored, she has so far failed to produce any independent or verifiable evidence to back up her claims.

A further set of recordings surfaced in the media last month, revealing attempts by two senior DNA prosecutors in 2015 to force a witness to fabricate evidence in the case against Sebastian Ghita, a media owner and former MP who fled Romania the following year. According to the witness – another former MP – prosecutors threatened to target his family unless he co-operated and claimed that they were acting with the approval of their superiors, including Kovesi.

More evidence has emerged as part of a parliamentary inquiry into the activities of the intelligence services launched last year. Among other things, this has revealed the existence of 65 secret protocols linking the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) with the DNA and a wide range of other law enforcement, judicial and administrative agencies. Serious questions about human rights and constitutional propriety have arisen in the process.

There is, for example, a very obvious conflict of interests in the fact that one of these protocols is with the Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM), the body responsible for regulating the activities of judges and prosecutors. A covert relationship might lead the CSM and the judges…

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