Romania’s under-fire anti-corruption boss gets presidential support

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Romania’s under-fire anti-corruption boss gets presidential support

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Romania’s anti-corruption chief won support from the country’s president and the prosecutor general on Friday — a day after the government’s justice minister called for her to quit in an ever-increasing political crisis that has gripped Romania for more than a year.

Laura Kovesi, who heads up anti-graft agency DNA, told Euronews last November politicians were launching “unbelievable attacks” to try and derail her efforts to clean up what is one of the EU’s most corrupt states.

Her agency has investigated MPs, ministers, and other top officials and exposed years-long conflicts of interest, fraud and abuse of power in Romania.

It has led to scores of top officials being sent for trial, including Liviu Dragnea, leader of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD).

Romania’s justice minister, Tudorel Toader, yesterday presented his analysis of DNA's activity, calling for Kovesi to be sacked because of "acts and facts intolerable to the rule of law".

His reasons for her sacking also included “excessively authoritative behaviour” and “denigrating the judiciary by giving interviews to international media (including Euronews)”, according to Bianca Toma, programme director at the Romanian Centre for European Policies.

She told Euronews: “The minister of justice put out what I would say were politically-motivated accusations with extremely-limited judicial grounds.”

Toader’s demand re-ignited the year-long protests in Bucharest and other major Romanian cities on Thursday evening. More are planned over the weekend.

Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, came out in support of Kovesi on Friday (February 23) and praised her work in fighting graft.

"There haven't been solid reasons unveiled by him, in order to allow a decision to dismiss (her)," Iohannis told Romanian reporters in Brussels where he was attending an EU meeting of heads of state.

"Yes, I do support Kovesi. I do back her activity and I do back the DNA activity. They do a very good job," he said.

"I can only say I did not like the minister's performance," Iohannis went on, adding that presidential experts would carry on an assessment of Toader's report on Kovesi and that "it would take a bit," until a final conclusion was reached.

The calls on Kovesi to be sacked come after the pro-government media ran claims of corruption within the DNA which its head quickly called a “festival of disinformation”.

They were based on wiretaps that purported to reveal two prosecutors telling witnesses to falsify statements, adding to the ongoing accusations from the government party and its supporters that the DNA acts on political orders.

One prosecutor has been fired, Toma told Euronews.

The controversy sparked by Toader on Thursday highlights the depth of people's frustration at the pace of the fight against deep-rooted sleaze in Romania which shrugged off communist rule 29 years ago.

When the ruling Social Democrats tried a year ago to decriminalise several corruption offences by emergency decree, hundreds of thousands of people protested on the streets in the biggest such demonstrations in decades.

A judicial overhaul approved by the ruling coalition late last year - which was criticised by the president, thousands of magistrates, the European Commission and the U.S. State Department - is back in parliament after the Constitutional Court ruled some of its provisions were unconstitutional.