February 19, 2019 / 9:12 PM / 2 months ago

Romanian government alters justice legislation via decree

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s government altered judicial legislation via emergency decree on Tuesday, prompting criticism from the president that the move would weaken prosecutors while tightening political control over the judiciary.

FILE PHOTO: Romanian President Klaus Iohannis speaks during an event in Aachen, Germany, January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo

The decree was the latest in a slew of legislative and personnel changes the governing Social Democrats have made in the last two years that the European Commission, the U.S. State Department and thousands of Romanian magistrates say threaten the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.

Transparency International ranks Romania as one of the European Union’s most corrupt countries and the European Commission keeps its justice system under special monitoring.

“Both Romanians and European leaders know there is no other justification for this obsession to weaken the Romanian justice system to the point of inefficiency, safe for personal interests,” centrist President Klaus Iohannis said on Facebook.

“Romania cannot be handed over to those who want to impose political control on the judiciary.”

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader defended the decree on Tuesday, saying most of the changes had been proposed by Romania’s judicial watchdog.

The changes include a provision that top prosecuting units cannot be managed by interim appointees for longer than 45 days.

The provision directly concerns the country’s anti-corruption prosecuting agency DNA, which has secured thousands of convictions against high level politicians across party lines. The DNA has been led by interim appointees since Justice Minister Tudorel Toader forced the removal of its former chief Laura Codruta Kovesi last year.

The decree also removes the prosecutor general’s oversight of a prosecuting unit tasked with investigating magistrates.

Earlier this month, the unit said it was investigating former DNA chief Kovesi, just days after it was revealed she was the leading contender for the new EU prosecutor’s post. Kovesi said the move was meant to scuttle her bid for the Brussels job.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie

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