5 April 2019

Romania’s ruling Social Democrats (PSD) want introduce emergency legislation to reduce the statute of limitations covering several corruption offences, which would automatically put an end to several ongoing corruption cases. The emergency ordinance will allow people convicted of graft since 2014 to retroactively challenge the Supreme Court’s verdict. A joint declaration was signed by the ambassadors to Romania of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the US urged Romania to scrap emergency legislation they say will weaken judicial independence and the fight against corruption.

The emergency measures will benefit Liviu Dragnea, PSD leader and the de facto head of state who was convicted in 2015 of vote rigging and was given a two-year suspended sentence in April 2016. He cannot become prime minister due to his suspended jail sentence. He is now appealing a second conviction for inciting others to commit abuse of office. He currently serves as President of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies since December 2016. A number of frustrated PSD members are worried that Dragnea is taking the country on an anti-EU path meant to serve his own interests. Euro News reported.

Romania, which holds the rotating EU presidency, has faced growing criticism from the European Commission and the European Parliament in recent months. The EU is of the view that the country is backsliding in the fight against corruption and heading down the same illiberal path as Poland and Hungary.

Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the European Commission, told reporters: “I want to warn against any governmental action that would disrupt the Romanian judicial system by creating a systemic de facto impunity for high office holders who were sentenced for corruption.”

“Such a move would compel the Commission to act swiftly,” he added. There were reports of Romanian authorities launching an investigation into European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans — who is the centre-left lead candidate in the EU election. Euro News reported.

The PSD government has embarked on an international lobbying campaign against former anti-corruption chief Laura Codruța Kövesi, to prevent her from getting the job of top EU prosecutor. A new panel last week indicted her on counts of bribery, abuse of office and false testimony and placed Kovesi under judicial control, prevented her from leaving the country and issuing statements to the press.
Romania’s High Court on Wednesday revoked controls introduced against her. “My appeal was admitted. I can now leave Romania”, Kovesi told reporters after the court’s decision overturning special judicial controls. MSN reported.

The intense anti Kövesi campaign by Romanian authorities will facilitate Kövesi getting the new position of EU prosecutor.