February 27, 2018 / 5:43 PM / 3 months ago

Romanian judicial watchdog rejects bid to dismiss anti-graft chief

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s judicial watchdog rejected on Tuesday an application by the justice minister to sack the country’s main anti-corruption prosecutor, bolstering her case days after protesters massed in the streets to support her work.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader had called for Laura Codruta Kovesi’s dismissal on Thursday, accusing her of exceeding her authority and damaging the country’s image abroad.

The Superior Magistrates’ Council (CSM), which must discuss any such dismissal, voted against the application on Tuesday and said it would explain its decision later.

The final decision on Kovesi’s future now goes to centrist President Klaus Iohannis, who has said he supports her.

She has led anti-corruption prosecution agency DNA since 2013 and, under her management, conviction rates have risen sharply in one of the European Union’s most corrupt states, winning praise from Brussels, which has Romania’s justice system under special monitoring.

More than 1,000 magistrates have signed a petition saying Toader’s request threatened judicial independence and would put pressure on prosecutors, leaving them facing the constant threat of being removed from office.

The minister had drawn up a 20-point report calling for Kovesi’s dismissal and told reporters last week she was responsible for “acts and facts intolerable to the rule of law”.

On Tuesday, the minister told the council the debate over DNA’s management would continue, “regardless of what the CSM decides, of what the president decides, of what the Constitutional Court decides, if it is involved.”

Kovesi told the watchdog during the same hearing the minister’s accusations were groundless.

She defended her agency’s work. “Through its actions, DNA has proved that the fight against corruption is efficient in Romania, which has improved the country’s image.”

Prosecutors have investigated lawmakers, ministers, mayors, magistrates and businessmen in recent years, exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and the award of state contracts in exchange for bribes.

DNA, which will present its annual report on Wednesday, has sent more than 70 members of parliament to trial since 2006. The speakers of parliament’s lower house and senate are both currently on trial in separate cases.

The country’s ruling Social Democrats tried a year ago to decriminalize several corruption offences by emergency decree, triggering the largest street protests in decades.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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