September 6, 2018 / 1:54 PM / 13 days ago

Romania government picks little-known Florea for chief anti-corruption role

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s justice minister nominated a little-known regional official, Adina Florea, for the post of national anti-corruption prosecutor on Thursday, following the controversial removal of Laura Codruta Kovesi from the post in July.

Critics say the removal of Kovesi, praised by the European Union for her efforts to convict high-level politicians, is part of efforts by ruling leftists to undermine anti-graft policies and could leave prosecutors exposed to political interference.

She was sacked by President Klaus Iohannis following a Constitutional Court ruling validating a request by the government.

“I don’t know of any big corruption-related cases solved by (Florea),” said independent political commentator Mircea Marian. “There is no link between proposing her and the fight against high-level corruption.”

In a document outlining her views on the anti-corruption office (DNA), Florea, a prosecutor in the port town of Constanta, wrote the institution has operated at times in a “dysfunctional” way. She accused some prosecutors of illegal activities in pursuing cases.

In comments that sparked widespread protests in Romania earlier this year, justice minister Tudorel Toader had accused Kovesi of exceeding her authority and damaging the country’s image abroad.

Considered by government critics as a symbol of the fight against corruption, Kovesi has blamed politicians for attempting to block the functioning of justice by softening legislation to seek protection against prosecution for “past, present and future” deeds.

Under Kovesi, the DNA had investigated lawmakers, ministers and mayors, exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes.

Concerns over the rule of law in Romania follow similar issues in Poland and Hungary, where governments are under pressure for the EU over democratic standards.

To become official, Florea’s appointment will have to be approved by Iohannis, a centrist politician often at odds with the ruling leftists over corruption policy.

Editing by Catherine Evans

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