April 3, 2019 / 12:34 PM / 3 months ago

Romanian court allows former anti-graft chief to leave country

BRUSSELS/BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s top court on Wednesday lifted a ban preventing its former anti-corruption chief from leaving the country, in a move sure to be welcomed by the European Parliament which wants Laura Codruta Kovesi to become the EU’s first chief prosecutor.

FILE PHOTO: Laura Codruta Kovesi, Romania's former chief anti-corruption prosecutor, arrives to attend a hearing at the Section for the Investigation of Criminal Offences in the judiciary in Bucharest, Romania, February 15, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS

During Kovesi’s five-year tenure at the helm of Romania’s DNA anti-corruption office, conviction rates for high-level graft across the political spectrum jumped, drawing praise from the European Union, civil society groups and private investors.

But Kovesi ran foul of Romania’s ruling Social Democrats who forced her out of office last year. They oppose her candidacy for the newly created EU post of chief prosecutor.

An agency set up by the Social Democrats and tasked with investigating magistrates filed criminal charges on March 29 against Kovesi that meant she lost her right to leave Romania or to speak to the media about her case.

Kovesi said she was innocent and appealed the ruling.

“I can now leave the country, the judicial control was revoked, my appeal was upheld,” she told reporters on Wednesday after leaving the Supreme Court.

Earlier on Wednesday the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, expressed concern over Romania pressing charges against Kovesi and said he would write to the government in Bucharest on the matter.

“Ms Kovesi remains our candidate (to be the EU’s new chief prosecutor) and continues to enjoy our respect and support,” Tarjani told a plenary session of the European Parliament.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive, warned Romania on Wednesday against reversing anti-corruption reforms and said it would take swift action if it decided Bucharest was undermining the rule of law.

Transparency International ranks Romania as one of the EU’s most corrupt states and Brussels has kept its judicial system under special monitoring since it joined the bloc in 2007.

Additional reporting by Clare Roth; Editing by Gareth Jones

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