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Romanian candidate for EU prosecutor faces investigative hearing at home

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Laura Codruta Kovesi, Romania’s former chief anti-corruption prosecutor, said her bid to be named the European Union’s public prosecutor could be damaged by a widely-criticised Romanian agency tasked with investigating magistrates.

During Kovesi’s five-year tenure at the helm of Romania’s DNA anti-corruption office, conviction rates for high-level graft jumped across the political spectrum, drawing EU praise.

“The (European) Commission is following the latest developments very closely. It is crucial that all candidates put forward by an independent selection panel are treated fairly,” a spokesman told reporters in Brussels.

The spokesman said that it was important the chief prosecutor was appointed “swiftly.”

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.

It now threatens the independence of the judiciary and rule of law in Romania, according to the European Commission, U.S. State Department and many Romanian magistrates.

Just days after it was revealed that Kovesi was the leading contender for the new EU prosecutor’s post, the investigation agency subpoenaed her for hearings as a suspect in an unspecified case.

“I think (the summons) is a sort of revenge for the complaint I made at the European Court of Human Rights,” Kovesi told television station Digi24 late on Wednesday. “The second reason is clearly an attempt to stop my candidacy for EU prosecutor”.

The investigative agency had not given details of the accusations, she said.

“This subpoena is the strongest evidence to date that the special unit to investigate judges and prosecutors is a political weapon,” Ionel Danca, spokesman of the opposition Liberal Party, said in a Facebook post.

The Social Democrats said on Thursday Kovesi’s investigation must not be politicised. “Trust the justice system and let the evidence, not politicians, speak,” they said in a statement.

DNA’s success in prosecuting high-echelon corruption was applauded by Brussels, civil society groups and private investors. But Kovesi was reviled by the Social Democrats before being forced out last year on the order of Justice Minister Tudorel Toader. She has challenged her dismissal at the European Court of Human Rights.

Kovesi has an interview with the selection panel for the new role of EU public prosecutor on Feb. 26. The new EU agency will tackle financial fraud across the European Union.

Toader wrote to European officials urging them to stifle her appointment, but she has received widespread support across Europe.

Transparency International ranks Romania as one of the EU’s most corrupt states and Brussels has kept its justice system under special monitoring since the former communist country was admitted to the bloc in 2007.

Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascioin Brussels, Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean