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Cloaks and daggers: Bucharest tries to stop a Romanian from becoming EU prosecutor

By Dan Alexe

On the very day on which she was preparing to fly to Brussels, on Tuesday 12 February, Laura Codruţa Kövesi, the former chief prosecutor of Romania’s anti-corruption agency (DNA), was summoned out of the blue by the newly-formed Magistrates’ Investigation Section.

Her hearing is scheduled for for Friday, 15 February, ten days before the hearing in the European Parliament for the new office of European Prosecutor,  for which she had applied, scheduled for 26 February.

On Thursday 14 February, president Klaus Iohannis, a staunch adversary of the Socialist-led coalition government and the last rampart before a total meltdown of the functioning of the justice and the state institutions, asked the Magistrates’Investigation Section for a swift clarification of the strange dossier.

“This special section for investigating magistrates must in no way be a political tool for the intimidation of magistrates and prosecutors. I have already challenged the creation of this body, severely criticized by the Venice Commission, the European Commission and GRECO, because it does not provide sufficient guarantees of independence in relation to the political influence”, Iohannis said.

The PSD (Socialist) – ALDE majority ignored all the legal warnings, so that the aforesaid special investigative section is currently functioning and started its work with summoning Kövesi. The timing and the suddenness of Kövesi’s summon are awkward. PSD-ALDE, led from the shadow by the twice condemned leader of the party Liviu Dragnea, has systematically built an anti-justice discourse from the outset and has taken concrete steps to revoke Kövesi as chief prosecutor of the DNA last year.

Then, to everybody’s surprise and to the dismay of the Socialists, Kövesi appeared on a short list of three candidates for the new European Prosecutor’s office. All this to the dissatisfaction of the government in Bucharest, which claims that the anti-corruption agency DNA, under Kövesi’s leadership, committed a series of abuses, even illegalities, which would disqualify her for the function of European prosecutor.

Kövesi has actually been ranked first in the selection procedure for the position of chief prosecutor of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) despite frantic opposition from her own government in Bucharest.

As head of the DNA, she went after several politicians, becoming the nemesis of the corrupt. Prior to her dismissal on the orders of the justice minister, Tudorel Toader, in July 2018, she had sentenced nine ministers, 21 members of parliament, six senators and a corrupt MEP over a five-year period.

The Romanian government sent letters to the Commission, objecting that Kövesi repeatedly abused her power as head of DNA, but to no avail. Then suddenly this week she was summoned and asked to appear in front of the new Magistrates’ Investigation Section, which seems to have been created on purpose. Kövesi is now charged with bribery, lying testimony and abuse of office in connection with a ten years old case, that of businessman Nicolae Popa, already sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

The complaint against her is based on the testimony of a fugitive, Sebastian Ghiță, a Romanian media oligarch and the owner of an IT company with permanent contracts with the government, who fled to Belgrade, in Serbia, where he is protected and might even be granted political asylum, claiming he is persecuted.

He mysteriously retains a significant influence on the political class and in December 2018 he accused Kövesi, from Belgrade, of having asked him to pay for the plane sent for the repatriation of Nicolae Popa from Indonesia, in 2011, and that he handed the cash to her personally.

Romanian police refute Sebastian Ghiţă’s allegations

Romanian police reacted by denying the allegations: “As regards the acquisition of air transport services for the bringing of a Romanian citizen in the country in 2011 convicted in a criminal case and for which a mandate to execute the punishment with imprisonment, we inform you that the procedure was carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, through the specialized structure, and the purchased services concerned passenger transport on the Bucharest – Jakarta route and return. The signing of the service contract and its settlement were the responsibility of the Romanian Police. The contract, worth 234,207.30 lei, was signed by the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police on 14.04.2011”, commented the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police.

The European public prosecutor’s office was set up by 22 of the 28 EuropeanUnion member states in 2017, including Romania. 

The socialist leader, speaker of the lower chamber of the parliament, Liviu Dragnea, was twice convicted, for vote-rigging and corruption. The second conviction, three years and six months in prison, is on appeal. Dragnea would like to have his sentences annulled so that he be able to run for presidency. The nomination of Kövesi as EU prosecutor would be his worst nightmare.

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