Romania leader rejects government's anti-graft prosecutor nominee

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s president on Wednesday rejected the government’s nominee for chief anti-corruption prosecutor amid concerns among magistrates and diplomats that she might be soft on high-level graft in one of the European Union’s most corrupt states.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis during a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

The proposal of Adina Florea, a little-known prosecutor in the port town of Constanta, is part of a series of legal and personnel changes made by the ruling Social Democrats that are seen as threats to judicial independence and could further heighten European Union concerns about democratic values in some of its eastern member states.

Florea was not immediately available for comment on the decision by President Klaus Iohannis.

Earlier this month, the European Commission said that proposed changes to the judicial system and criminal code signaled a reversal of a decade of democratic and market reforms.

The European Parliament also passed a non-binding resolution urging a greater fight against corruption, condemning police brutality during anti-graft protests and demanding an end to what it called the erosion of the rule of law.

The government’s decision in February to remove Florea’s predecessor, Laura Codruta Kovesi, brought thousands of protesters onto the streets. Kovesi had drawn praise at home and abroad for her efforts to convict high-level politicians, but the justice minister accused her of exceeding her authority.

In October, the minister requested the dismissal of Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar on similar grounds.

Speaking before a judicial advisory panel in October, part of her nomination process, Florea said anti-corruption prosecutors should not investigate abuse of office cases, raising concerns among government critics. About a third of all cases handled by the elite unit deal with abuse of office.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have convicted thousands of public officials, including lawmakers and ministers.

Among them is Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea who was sentenced to a two-year suspended jail sentence in a vote-rigging case. He was also sentenced to three and a half years in jail in a separate abuse of office case. He denies all charges and has appealed.

Transparency International ranks Romania as one of the EU’s most corrupt states and Brussels has kept its justice system under special monitoring since it joined the bloc in 2007.

Under Romanian law, the president must sign off on petitions to dismiss chief prosecutors, which are requested by the justice minister and also need approval from a judicial watchdog. A Constitutional Court decision limits Iohannis’ powers to assess the legality of the procedure.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie, Editing by William Maclean