A few hundred members of the Romanian #Rezist anti-Govt. movement gathered on Monday evening, January 21, in Bucharest’s Victoriei Square to protest against the Government’s intention to adopt an emergency ordinance that would allow some people with final convictions to challenge their sentences.
Justice minister Tudorel Toader announced over the weekend that he has drafted an emergency ordinance that would allow all people convicted by illegally composed five-judge panels at the High Court of Cassation and Justice, starting 2014, to challenge their final sentences. This would lead to the annulment of the sentences and retrials, also giving back to the defendants the presumption of innocence until the court rules new final sentences, according to G4Media.ro. Most high-profile corruption cases in Romania end up being settled by the High Court's five-judge panels, which is why this ordinance would help top politicians convicted by this court. The ordinance would not impact final sentences ruled by lower courts.
The ordinance would help the leader of Romania’s ruling party – the Social Democratic party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea (opening photo, patting justice minister Tudorel Toader on his back), have his final sentence in the case of the 2012 referendum annulled. Dragnea was sentenced in April 2016 to two years of probation for electoral fraud at the 2012 referendum for dismissing former president Traian Basescu. The PSD leader has so far failed to get rid of this conviction, which blocked him from taking over as prime minister after the December 2016 elections, which his party won by a wide margin.
Dragnea, who is also on trial for abuse of office, last year convinced the Government to file a complaint to the Constitutional Court about the High Court’s failure to comply with a law voted by the Parliament which said that all five judges in a five-judge panel must be drawn by lots. The High Court used this procedure for only four of the judges while one was directly appointed. The Government said that, by doing so, the High Court went into conflict with the Parliament.
The Constitutional Court admitted the complaint in November 2018 and ruled that five-judge panels were illegally composed. However, the Court said its decision would only produce effects starting that moment. As a result, all ongoing trials handled by five-judge panels at the High Court were stopped and new panels were drawn. At the same time, people who had received final convictions from such panels and still had the possibility to challenge them could do so and ask for retrials. Former energy minister Constantin Nita and the former president of the Romanian Boxing Federation, Rudel Obreja, were two of the beneficiaries.
However, justice minister Tudorel Toader now wants all those who were convicted by five-judge panels after 2014, who had no more options to challenge their convictions, to also benefit from the Constitutional Court’s decision and have their sentences annulled. Toader argued that this would also apply to final sentences in which the defendants were acquitted, for which the prosecutors would also have the possibility to ask for retrials.
The ordinance is to be analyzed by prime minister Viorica Dancila, who will decide when it would be adopted, after passing the legal filters within the Government, Tudorel Toader said.
Besides Dragnea, several other top politicians would benefit from this ordinance, including former MEP Adrian Severin, former transport minister Miron Mitrea, former communications minister Gabriel Sandu, and others, according to G4Media.ro.
Toader added that a similar emergency ordinance could be adopted to allow people who have been convicted based on evidence obtained following the protocols between the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), recently deemed illegal by the Constitutional Court, to ask for retrials and have the illegally obtained evidence removed.
Some members of the ruling coalition have been speaking in recent months about the need for an emergency ordinance to correct the so-called “abuses” in the local justice system. However, both justice minister Tudorel Toader and prime minister Viorica Dancila avoided to take on the responsibility of issuing an ordinance for amnesty and pardoning, which is highly-opposed by the European Commission and members of the European Parliament.
(Photo source: Inquam Photos/George Calin)