February 23, 2017 / 11:51 AM / 3 years ago

Romania's corruption crackdown needs stable support - anti-graft chief

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania needs clear prevention measures and consistent parliamentary support to tackle corruption, the chief anti-corruption prosecutor said on Thursday, after the government was forced to abandon plans to decriminalise several graft offences.

A protestor sits on the ground following scuffles between protestors and Romanian police at a demonstration in Bucharest. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS

Presenting her department’s annual figures, Laura Codruta Kovesi said more than 1,000 people were sent to trial in Romania last year on corruption charges, including ministers, lawmakers and mayors.

An emergency decree which would have shielded dozens of public officials from prosecution was abandoned in early February by the government of Social Democrat Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu after huge public protests.

“We have all seen how much legislative stability matters, how quickly the efforts and work of the judicial system, not just of anti-corruption prosecutors can be cancelled,” Kovesi told a conference.

She said the judiciary faced “unprecedented attacks” last year, including disinformation and intimidation attempts, and sounded an alarm bell against “the phenomenon of false information that could change how reality is perceived and ... can gravely affect the credibility of the justice system.”

Transparency International ranks Romania among the European Union’s most corrupt states and Brussels, which keeps its justice system under special monitoring, has praised magistrates for their efforts to curb graft.

Centre-right President Klaus Iohannis, a sharp critic of the government’s order, said it has shown progress made fighting graft was not irreversible.

“The unfortunate decree ... has been rescinded and the sword of Damocles appears to have been removed, for the moment,” Iohannis said.

Anti-corruption prosecutors sent a record high 1,270 people to trial on corruption charges last year, Kovesi said, including three ministers, 17 lawmakers and 47 mayors. Their conviction rate was steady at roughly 90 percent.

Investigations have revealed conflict of interest, abuse of power, fraud and a pattern to award state contracts at inflated prices and in exchange for bribes.

“Our results prove that in the absence of clear prevention measures, corruption in state institutions occurred through the same repetitive actions,” Kovesi said.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie

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