Romania’s anti-corruption chief Laura Kovesi spoke to Euronews about her efforts to stamp out graft in the country.
Here is the full interview:
MPs are debating a draft law that could see the government have more control over appointing prosecutors. Can I have your opinion on this?
Currently a draft law is [being] debated within the Romanian parliament regarding the status of magistrates. If voted, it will have a serious negative impact on the independence of justice and it will result in a political control over the prosecutors’ activity. Let’s think of an example: if the prosecutors were subordinated to the executive power, how could they ever open investigations against a member of the government, or against someone else who is a high official and also a member of [a] political party. Would there be any guarantees that there would be no repercussions against the magistrate who opened or finalised the investigation? In my view, the independence of justice is not a privilege for the magistrate, it is a fundamental principle in a democratic society. Only an independent justice as a system can ensure a fair trial. Only an independent justice can enforce the law equally for everybody.
Does it undermine your efforts to stamp out corruption in Romania?
Yes, our efforts to combat corruption will be stopped. Very briefly, I will give you some statistics regarding our work. Since 2013 until now, DNA [Romania’s anti-corruption directorate] has sent to trial 68 high officials, one prime minister, two deputy prime ministers, 11 ministers and former ministers, 39 deputies and 14 senators. In the same period, the courts have ruled final conviction decisions against 27 of these high officials, one prime minister, five ministers, 17 deputies and four senators. The most important condition in order to obtain these results was the independence of the judiciary. For sure, these results I presented to you would no longer be possible if the Romanian prosecutors lost their independence.
Are you surprised that in a country in the European Union, the government can potentially have control over the justice system?
We are not only surprised, we are also worried that such a project could lead to the political subordination of the prosecutors and thus could seriously obstruct the anti-corruption fight.
How is your fight against corruption going? Is this government making your job harder?
You might know that once Romania joined the European Union, we as a state adopted a set of European values and principles. The investigations carried out by DNA have been received with a lot of hope and trust by our society. It is also true that they have mobilised an entire system formed of politicians and businessmen who feel threatened and who are interested in maintaining their control on the public resources. This is the reason why the entire justice system has faced unbelievable attacks from fake news, to hiring companies specialised in intimidation and harassment. There have been repeated attempts to limit the efficiency of our investigations, such as initiatives amending the legislation, reducing the tools used by the prosecutors, or denials of listing the immunity of the politicians charged with corruption offences. I couldn’t say that currently all the politicians of the Romanian government or parliament are completely committed to the fight against corruption.
Do you feel personally in danger as a result of your job?
My entire activity as chief prosecutor of DNA has been governed by the law, and I have always been honest and fair. So this is why I’m not afraid of doing my job.
Do you think your job has become politicised?
Absolutely not. We are independent in our activity. According to our jurisdiction, we investigate high-level corruption crimes and as a result we sometimes investigate politicians. It must be said that we do not investigate them because they are politicians, but because they hold public positions. The fact that the courts have ruled final conviction decisions in our cases is proof that our investigations are conducted according to the law, and that they are based on solid evidence. I hope to be able to tell you in future that we are still independent, and I also hope for this draft law - which is an attempt to reduce the magistrates’ independence - to be rejected in the parliament.