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Romanian president attends cabinet meeting to help safeguard anti-graft drive

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s president attended a cabinet meeting on Wednesday to urge ministers not to amend the criminal code via decree, seeking to ease EU concerns about backsliding on Bucharest’s commitment to tackle corruption.

Local media said the leftist government was leaning towards passing emergency decrees that grant prison pardons and decriminalise some offences, like abuse of power, that account for a third of anti-corruption investigations.

The government, which took office after a Dec. 11 parliamentary election, has cited a need to get the criminal code in line with recent constitutional court rulings.

The European Commission keeps Romania’s legal system under special monitoring. It has praised magistrates’ efforts to fight widespread graft, but noted Romanian politicians have a history of trying to pass legislation to weaken investigative powers.

“There are two elephants in the room and no one is talking about them: the emergency pardoning decree and the decree that changes criminal codes,” Iohannis, a centre-right leader, said at the start of the cabinet meeting.

“I stress that... the prime minister is committed not to introduce such issues overnight at any government meeting.”

Critics have raised concerns about legislating via decree rather than going through parliament, where the government has a solid majority but would face a challenging debate.

Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu told reporters the two decrees were not on the agenda this week, but that they could be once the judiciary is consulted.

“It is just as constitutional as the president attending a government meeting for us to issue emergency decrees in all areas that the law allows us to,” he said.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by Mark Heinrich