1. Romanian anti-corruption summer
BSSB.BE intellinews.com 16.07.2018
* The remarkable gains made by several East European states in the crusade against corruption in the name of the rule of law can no longer be considered secure.
The news from Bucharest is particularly dire. National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) head Laura Codruta Kovesi is an icon of the struggle against official corruption, not only for Romanians but for all countries in the region. Since she took over at the DNA in 2013, Kovesi’s achievements have been repeatedly praised in European Commission reports on the Southeast European country, and she also enjoys widespread public support for the DNA’s uncompromising pursuit of corrupt officials. She was sacked by decree by President Klaus Iohannis on July 9.
Romania’s ruling coalition has been gunning for Kovesi, as they are all targets for her investigations. And given Romania’s history as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, everyone has a skeleton or two in the closet. Iohannis says he had no choice after a constitutional court ruling ordered him to dismiss Kovesi.
The coalition headed by the Social Democratic Party (PSD), whose leader Liviu Dragnea was recently sentenced in a corruption case, has been working for months to remove Kovesi. It appealed to the Constitutional Court after Iohannis refused to endorse the government’s request to dismiss her. The court ruled on May 30 that Iohannis must dismiss the head of the DNA, and after more than a month of inaction that sparked threats from the ruling coalition of an impeachment attempt, Iohannis caved and complied with the court’s ruling.
“President Iohannis believes that Romania cannot take steps backwards from the status of country where the law rules and the supremacy of the Constitution is respected,” said Iohannis’ spokesperson, explaining the decision.
The future of the DNA is now in limbo while it remains to be seen who will replace Kovesi and to what extent the agency will remain independent.
Iohannis announced he was going to dismiss Kovesi just days after Montenegro’s parliament voted to remove Vanja Calovic-Markovic, executive director of the anti-corruption NGO MANS, from the council of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption (APC), citing allegations of conflict of interest. Calovic-Markovic was accused of securing a contract worth €149,000 for her NGO with the APC.
However, MPs were criticised by observers including Transparency International, for dismissing Calovic-Markovic without waiting for a court verdict. Nor was she given any opportunity to respond to the accusations in the politically charged case.
The DNA, and to a lesser extent the APC, have been beacons in emerging Europe but nascent copies are being undermined across the region.
Poland has gutted its Supreme court of independent judges, who are shortly to be replaced with hacks hired by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan just took over as the all-powerful executive president and amongst his first acts took control of the appointment of the governor of the central bank ending its independence. While Ukraine recently passed laws to establish an anti-corruption court (ACC), but included a “get out jail free” clause that allows any politician convicted by the court to appeal the decision in regular (aka corrupt) courts. Go further east, and most countries don’t even bother with the veneer of any sort of anti-corruption organ, using the police and secret services instead – if they crack down on graft at all.
Both Kovesi and Calovic-Markovic had fallen foul of powerful politicians in their countries in their campaigns to root out graft amongst the elite.
The DNA’s annual summary of its probes and prosecutions invariably includes an impressive tally of government ministers, MPs and dozens of lower level and regional officials. Last year alone, the DNA sent to trial 997 defendants, including three ministers, a former parliament speaker and six MPs. The number of cases completed by DNA prosecutors increased by 16.5% y/y to more than 3,800 in 2017.
The government, led by the PSD, has long sought to remove Kovesi, as it is often the subject of her probes, although opposition politicians are not ignored by the agency.
In a dramatic case concerning fake jobs for PSD workers, ruling party leader Dragnea was sentenced to three years and six month in prison only last month. Indeed, the party’s desire to protect Dragnea and other top politicians from prosecution is seen as the main motivating force, not only behind Kovesi’s removal, but also the wider overhaul of the justice system and criminal legislation.
This started in early 2017, when the government attempted to force through legislation partly decriminalising abuse of office, though later had to backtrack when more than half a million Romanians took to the streets in February 2017 in protest – the largest protests since the fall of communism.
Since then, however, the ruling coalition has relentlessly pushed its agenda, while numbers at the protests have dwindled as demonstrators lose hope. Many of the young, urban Romanians who were out on the streets in early 2017 are now talking about emigrating, as they no longer have any confidence that the situation in their country will improve.
The DNA itself has not been above reproof. The agency has been dogged by its links to the Romanian intelligence services. There are legitimate concerns over the involvement of the intelligence services in investigations with an impact on domestic politics, these revelations were naturally seized upon by Kovesi’s opponents who made much of a purported return to the bad old days when the communist era Securitate terrorised Romanian citizens. Another scandal concerned the alleged fabrication of evidence at the Ploiesti local office in a high profile case, which was poorly handled by Kovesi.
The DNA’s effectiveness was further called into question when it failed to secure convictions of high-profile officials in several recent cases. The agency’s reputation was badly damaged by the collapse of one of Romania’s biggest ever corruption probes (dubbed the Microsoft case) on a technicality. Dragnea’s predecessor as head of the PSD, former prime minister Victor Ponta, was also acquitted of corruption charges in May, allowing him to return to the political fray.
Overall, however, the DNA has been instrumental in cleaning up corruption in Romania. Its ability to secure convictions and send ministers and party heads to jail has had a profound impact on corruption by making it a dangerous occupation.
Romania’s international porters including fellow EU member states and the US have strongly criticised Bucharest’s judicial reform efforts, urging in late June for “ all parties involved in amending Romania’s criminal and criminal procedure codes to avoid changes that would weaken the rule of law or Romania’s ability to fight crime or corruption”.
“Romania has shown considerable progress in combatting corruption and building effective rule of law. We encourage Romanians to continue on this path,” the statement adds.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: intellinews.com