Romania’s Justice Minister Tudorel Toader said he would have talks in the coming days with the country’s general prosecutor and the head of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) on the investigation DNA initiated on the Government’s decision to adopt the emergency ordinance 13 (OUG13). He also said the ministry wanted to start an evaluation of the activity of the Public Ministry and of the DNA.
The now revoked OUG13 aimed to change the Criminal Code, by decriminalizing or and reducing the criminal punishments for corruption offences such as abuse of office, conflict of interest, and negligence at work. Its adoption at the end of January triggered the largest street protests Romania has seen in 25 years, still ongoing.
In early-February, DNA started looking into how the Government drafted and adopted the controversial emergency ordinance. After several hearings, DNA decided to pass the case to the General Prosecutor’s Office, which was to continue the investigation on charges of favoring the offender, intellectual fraud, submitting inaccurate data to the Parliament or the Romanian President on the work of the Government or a Ministry, and hiding or destroying documents or evidence.
However, Romania’s Constitutional Court decided at the end of February that there was a legal conflict between the Government and the DNA on the investigation started on the OUG13. The Constitutional Court argued that by investigating how the bill was adopted, the DNA disrupted the normal functioning of the Government and the relationships that must exist between the judicial, executive and legislative.
The Justice Minister, who made the statements in a TV show at Antena 3, also implied that he did not exclude the possibility that the general prosecutor Augustin Lazar and the DNA head Codruta Kovesi would resign.
“Of course, I do not exclude the possibility that, in the absence of a procedure I trigger, they start an inner, individual initiative concerning the way they positioned themselves, I repeat, to legal and constitutional stipulations, and even to debates in the public sphere, in a period so sensitive, when people have these particular feelings, because they have particular expectations, in 2017,” minister Toader said on Sunday, quoted by Hotnews.ro.
However, the minister said on Monday that he did not suggest that the two should resign. “I did not suggest that they should [resign]. I said and I asked that no speculations are made on the issue, and I invoked an institution in the Labor Code. Anyone can resign, nobody is compelled to work against their will. I didn’t say that they have to, I invoked an institution in the Labor Law,” Toader said, quoted by Agerpres.
The minister said he would have talks in at most two weeks with the two prosecutors on how they positioned themselves on the constitutional standards and the standards of the Venice Commission. Regarding the evaluation to be carried out, the minister said on Sunday that it would have two parts, a professional and a managerial one. Following this evaluation, a procedure to follow will be established.
The Justice Minister also said that there were no political pressures to start such an evaluation, and that the ministry he runs is completely independent.
In his turn, Romania’s general prosecutor Augustin Lazar said on Monday that he would not resign. “I will only say this: No. And I don’t want to go into any public discussions,” Lazar said, quoted by News.ro.
The Public Ministry, run by the general prosecutor, said the investigation regarding the OUG13 is ongoing and is looking into the theft or destruction of documents and evidence, and intellectual forgery, News.ro reported.
The DNA also reacted on Monday, saying that the investigation it started regarding the OUG13 was carried out in accordance with legal provisions and the rules of the High Court of Cassation and Justice, which stipulate that the prosecutor is compelled to undertake an investigation to learn the truth, including in cases where a complaint concerns the adoption of bills published in the Official Gazette, according to News.ro.
Regarding the Constitutional Court’s decision, establishing a legal conflict in the investigation on the OUG 13, the DNA said that decisions where the Court interprets constitutional dispositions in a manner other than that adopted by other institutions are a normal event in the process of interpreting laws.
The governing coalition of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) did not include the fight against corruption in their governing program. In the electoral campaign the two parties said they wanted to put a stop to what they call the “abuses” by some of the state’s judiciary institutions. The main target is the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), led by chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi.
The DNA investigated and sent to court many politicians in the last three years, including former PSD leader and Prime Minister Victor Ponta. Current PSD president Liviu Dragnea got a two-year suspended sentence, in April 2016, for electoral fraud at the 2012 referendum to suspend former President Traian Basescu. ALDE co-president and former Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu was also sent to court last year by the DNA for lying under oath in a corruption case.
Last year, Romania’s anticorruption prosecutors sent 1,270 to court on corruption charges in 2016, including 3 ministers, 6 senators, 11 deputies, 47 mayors, 16 magistrates, and 21 state-company managers.
Up until the passing of the controversial OUG 13, Romania had been praised internationally for its fight against corruption. At the same time, Codruta Kovesi has come to represent the local anti-corruption drive and has received many international distinctions for her activity. She received the title of Commander of the Order of the Polar Star by the King of Sweden, the Legion of Honor National Order’s Knight distinction from France’s Ambassador to Romania, the French Republic’s Order of Merit, and the International Women of Courage award by the US Embassy to Bucharest. In 2015 she was included in Politico.eu's list of The 28 people from 28 countries who are shaping, shaking and stirring Europe.