April 5, 2019 / 5:46 PM / 2 months ago

Families of killed reporters back Romania's Kovesi for EU fraud prosecutor

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - The families of murdered Slovak and Maltese journalists on Friday backed Romania’s former chief anti-graft prosecutor’s bid to become the EU’s first fraud prosecutor - against the wishes of her country’s government.

FILE PHOTO: Laura Codruta Kovesi, Romania's former chief anti-corruption prosecutor, arrives to attend a hearing at the Section for the Investigation of Criminal Offences in the judiciary in Bucharest, Romania, February 15, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS

The EU wants to set up the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) next year to tackle graft, VAT fraud and other crimes involving the bloc’s multi-billion-euro joint budget, and Laura Codruta Kovesi is a frontrunner for the job.

During Kovesi’s five-year tenure as head of Romania’s DNA anti-corruption office, conviction rates for political graft jumped, drawing praise from the European Union, civil society groups and investors. But her EPPO bid is opposed by Romania’s ruling Social Democrats, who forced her out of the DNA last year.

Kovesi is backed by the European Parliament, while France’s candidate Jean-Francois Bohnert has already been named the preferred candidate of the Council of EU member states.

In an open letter to the EU Council on Friday, the families of murdered journalists Jan Kuciak, from Slovakia, and Malta’s Daphne Caruana Galizia urged member states to choose the Romanian.

They called her “the bravest and most distinguished candidate ... who has shown herself willing to bring charges forward when all other institutions within a member state have failed to act.

“...A collapse in the rule of law in our countries (...) led to the murders of our family members (...). De facto immunity from prosecution emboldened their murderers, who operated complex cross-border rackets that should fall under the EPPO’s mandate.”

Caruana Galizia, who penned an anti-corruption blog, was killed by a car bomb near the Maltese capital Valletta in October 2017 - a murder that raised questions about the rule of law on the Mediterranean island.

Three men suspected of having been commissioned to carry out the killing have been arrested. They have pleaded not guilty.

Kuciak reported on fraud cases involving politically connected businessmen before he was found shot dead at home with his fiancée in February 2018. The murders, for which five people have been charged, stoked public anger over perceived corruption in Slovakia.

Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; editing by John Stonestreet

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