Romania’s General Prosecutor takes firm stand against changes in criminal law
The Romanian Government’s initiative to change the criminal law would bring benefits to some 30 MPs and many other elected local officials, according to Romania’s General Prosecutor Augustin Lazar.
The General Prosecutor has been the most vocal critic of the Government’s initiative to grant pardoning to a series of convicts and modify the criminal law through emergency ordinances. He thinks the rush to adopt these two ordinances has no justification and that the proposed measures have been generated by “occult interests” and not by real needs.
According to Augustin Lazar, the conflict of interest charge has remained without object according to the proposed changes to the Penal Code. “Who is interested in this law change? We have some 25-30 MPs who have been sent to court for conflict of interest by the General Prosecutor’s Office alone. Then there are other people. Local council members, mayors, who have been sent to court. All of them will be acquitted if the draft bill is approved in this form,” the General prosecutor said in an interview with RFI Romania.
The changes on how the abuse of power crime is defined and in the rules for denouncements will also affect ongoing criminal investigations and will make it harder to discover new ones, according to Lazar. The National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), which is the main institution that investigates corruption crimes in Romania, had a similar position. According to DNA, 30% of its cases are about abuse of power.
The General Prosecutor is also firmly against the pardoning ordinance. He doesn’t share the Justice Ministry’s view that Romania should pardon convicts just to reduce the number of prisoners incarcerated in the country’s overcrowded penitentiaries.
The Justice Ministry motivated the need for pardoning some convicts saying that eight prisons in Romania have an occupancy rate of over 200% and the average occupancy rate in the system is 157%. Romania thus risks a pilot decision against it from the European Court of Human Rights and may be forced to pay EUR 80 million compensations to prisoners each year, according to a note to the pardoning ordinance.
“We must also look at what other countries in the EU are doing. In countries such as France, the occupancy rate is 200%, but they haven’t taken such hasty measures as pardoning not only some of the incarcerated people, but also some of those who have suspended sentences. Why should they be pardoned?” Lazar said in an interview with local Ziare.com.
“In terms of public interest, there is no rational explanation. We can identify a hidden explanation behind the drafts with polite, official substantiation notes. We see an occult interest behind, which nobody explains, but which the press has started to identify,” he added.
Augustin Lazar, 58, was appointed Romania’s General Prosecutor last summer.
The president of the High Court of Cassation and Justice, the chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), and the Superior Magistracy Council have also criticized the Government’s non-transparent initiative of changing the criminal law.
“Our colleagues clearly don’t agree with these ordinances. They know very well that, in order to modernize the public ministry, the priority is not to come out with acts of clemency when we have to combat criminality in general and corruption in particular, but to strengthen the Romanian state’s institution for the fight against corruption. This is the priority. Well, it seems that the priority has changed overnight. With the new year, a new Government was installed and the priorities changed: it’s no longer a priority to pursue corruption crimes, but to change the law so as to empty it of any content,” General prosecutor Lazar said.
Some of the main beneficiaries of the two ordinances would be top local politicians who have been convicted or sent to court in recent years for corruption offenses. The list includes the Social Democratic Party (PSD) leader Liviu Dragnea, former interior minister Gabriel Oprea, the former president of the Constanta County Council Nicusor Constantinescu, former Piatra Neamt mayor Gheorghe Stefan, former development minister Elena Udrea, former anti-organized crime chief prosecutor Alina Bica, as well as people who have been deemed responsible for the Colectiv club tragedy in October 2015, according to local News.ro.
However, in addition to the political clientele, the pardoning emergency ordinance would also allow criminals, rapists, pedophiles, drug traffickers, human traffickers get out of jail earlier if they meet several conditions, according to Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania-the Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH). The association also claims that the ordinances would also help former President Ion Iliescu, PSD’s founder, and former Prime Minister Petre Roman, who stand trial for crimes against humanity in the “Miners’ Riot” case related to the violent crackdown of the demonstrations in Bucharest in June 1990.
Several other civic organizations have expressed similar concerns and have asked the Government to withdraw the two projects.
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(Photo source: jandarmeriaromana.ro)