Having ousted the country’s anti-corruption chief for what some saw as politically motivated reasons, Romania’s government is now trying to prevent Laura Codruța Kövesi from being named the European Union’s top prosecutor with allegations of misconduct and bribery at home.
With Romania now holding the EU Presidency, Justice Minister Tudorel Toader accused Kövesiof signing “secret and antidemocratic pacts” with Romania’s intelligence agencies so she could work with them in investigations linked to national security or corruption.
In a letter published in the Romanian media, he wrote that, “The protocols, since ruled unconstitutional, bring to mind the intermingling of politics, intelligence, and law enforcement so notorious in our nation during Communist rule.”
Kövesi, 45, led Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) from 2013 to 2018 before being controversially removed by Toader at his government’s behest. She has since emerged as the leading candidate to become head of the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which is scheduled to become operational by the end of 2020.
During Kövesi’s time as head of the DNA, hundreds of dignitaries, elected officials, and business people were convicted of corruption offences and sent to prison. The DNA has faced suggestions inside Romania – including from some of hose who went to prison for corruption – that the organisation colluded with parts of the justice system and the intelligence services, acting as a shadowy “deep state.”
However, Kövesi remains popular among a majority of Romanians, who see her as a symbol of anti-corruption resistance. Huge anti-corruption protests took place across the country in 2017 and 2018, many of adopting the slogan “DNA will take you away,” directed at the political elite.
The DNA’s success has been regularly praised by EU institutions, while the government has come under steady criticism from Brussels over proposed judicial reforms that could weaken the independence of the justice system.
Liviu Dragnea, the head of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and speaker of the lower house of parliament, is one of those who has been convicted of abuse of power with the help of the DNA. A second sentence, or a corruption offence, is pending.
The government, which took over the EU’s rotating presidency for the first time last month, has made clear its opposition to Koevesi taking the job in Brussels.
The EU is expected to approve a candidate for the new post at the beginning of next month.