BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor, under fire from the justice minister who called for her dismissal for exceeding her authority, won support on Friday from President Klaus Iohannis who praised her work in fighting graft.
Laura Codruta Kovesi has led an anti-corruption prosecution agency called DNA since 2013 which has investigated lawmakers, ministers, and other top officials and exposed conflicts of interest, fraud and abuse of power in one of Europe’s most corrupt states.
It has led to scores of top officials being sent for trial.
Justice Minister Tudorel Toader’s call on Thursday for Kovesi to be sacked for “acts and facts intolerable to the rule of law” had the potential to destabilize a crackdown on graft and immediately triggered street protests.
Romania’s president however rallied to her support on Friday and criticized Toader for failing to provide sufficient reasons for Kovesi’s dismissal.
“There haven’t been solid reasons unveiled by him, in order to allow a decision to dismiss (her),” Iohannis told Romanian reporters in Brussels where he was attending an EU meeting of heads of state.
“Yes, I do support Kovesi. I do back her activity and I do back the DNA activity. They do a very good job,” he said.
“I can only say I did not like the minister’s performance,” Iohannis went on, adding that presidential experts would carry on an assessment of Toader’s report on Kovesi and that “it would take a bit,” until a final conclusion was reached.
During Kovesi’s five years as head of the DNA agency, conviction rates in Romania for corruption have risen sharply, winning praise from Brussels which keeps Romania’s justice system under special monitoring.
The DNA has sent over 70 members of parliament to trial since 2006 and the speakers of parliament’s lower house and senate are currently on trial in separate cases.
Toader, reading a summary of a 20-point report arguing for Kovesi’s dismissal, told a news conference on Thursday that she had acted against parliament’s authority and constitutional court rulings.
Several hundreds of protesters gathered in support of Kovesi outside government headquarters following Toader’s news conference. More protests are expected in the next days.
Kovesi herself said in a statement: “I will follow the legal proceedings and whenever is required I will be answering point-by-point the statements made by the justice minister.”
The controversy sparked by Toader’s report, highlighted the depth of people’s frustration at the pace of the fight against deep-rooted sleaze in Romania which shrugged off communist rule 29 years ago.
When the ruling Social Democrats tried a year ago to decriminalise several corruption offences by emergency decree, hundreds of thousands of people protested on the streets in the biggest such demonstrations in decades.
A judicial overhaul approved by the ruling coalition late last year - which was criticized by the president, thousands of magistrates, the European Commission and the U.S. State Department - is back in parliament after the Constitutional Court ruled some of its provisions were unconstitutional.
Kovesi’s DNA has in its investigations exposed conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and the award of state contracts in exchange for bribes.
Additional reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Richard Balmforth