Romania's president says sacking of anti-corruption chief 'far away'

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Wednesday a dismissal of the chief of the anti-corruption prosecutors was “increasingly farther away”, as the agency’s annual report showed more than 700 officials had been convicted of graft.

Romania's President Klaus Werner Iohannis arrives at a European Union leaders informal summit in Brussels, Belgium, February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The DNA agency report comes a week after Justice Minister Tudorel Toader called for Laura Codruta Kovesi’s dismissal, saying she had exceeded her authority and damaged the country’s image abroad.

Toader’s request drew thousands of anti-corruption protesters onto the streets. The country’s judicial watchdog, which must discuss any such dismissal, rejected his request.

The president has the final say and has backed Kovesi.

DNA sent roughly 1,000 people to trial last year, Kovesi said, including three ministers, six lawmakers and two deputy ministers. A third of defendants were accused of European Union funds fraud.

At the same time, DNA prosecutors won 713 convictions, including for four lawmakers, 28 mayors and 30 managers of state institutions and companies. Some trials were years old.

The numbers were slightly lower than the year before.

“Under the given conditions, it is obvious we are far away from a dismissal. Increasingly farther away,” Iohannis told reporters. “The figures don’t lie, they are cold and objective.”

“We’re witnessing an attempt ... to manipulate with an aim of discrediting DNA and to subordinate the justice system to politics. That is inadmissible.”

Transparency International ranks Romania among the European Union’s most corrupt states and Brussels, which keeps its justice system under special monitoring, has praised magistrates for their efforts to curb graft.

Investigations have shown some public works contracts are overpriced, and some payments are made for fictitious works.

“Although we uncover and send to trial more defendants for corruption deeds, public budgets fraud continues,” Kovesi said.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Alison Williams