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Watchdog opposes Romanian minister's push to sack prosecutor general

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Watchdog opposes Romanian minister's push to sack prosecutor general
Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar during the annual report of the anti-corruption unit DNA, in Bucharest, Romania, February 28, 2018. Picture taken February 28, 2018. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS   -   Copyright  INQUAM PHOTOS(Reuters)
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BUCHAREST (Reuters) – An independent Romanian watchdog objected on Monday to a government attempt to sack prosecutor general Augustin Lazar, the last major figure in an anti-corruption drive still in office.

Members of the CSM judicial watchdog’s prosecutors’ section voted 5-1 to reject an application by Justice Minister Tudorel Toader to dismiss Lazar, the body said on its website.

CSM did not immediately give reasons for its opinion but while influential, it is only advisory and the final decision rests with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

Toader demanded Lazar’s dismissal last month, accusing him of exceeding his authority in a move seen as heightening concerns in Brussels about democratic values in some of the European Union’s eastern member states.

The anti-corruption drive won the European Commission’s praise for exposing high-level crime in one of the bloc’s most graft-prone members.

However, another prominent member, chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi, was sacked in August in a similar procedure. In its annual monitoring report on Romania last week, the Commision asked the Social Democrat government to freeze all attempts to sack or replace chief prosecutors.

Lazar, who has condemned the Social Democrats’ attempt to oust him, oversees thousands of prosecutors, including the anti-organised crime unit DIICOT and anti-corruption unit DNA.

Prosecutors have investigated lawmakers, ministers, mayors, magistrates and businessmen in recent years, exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and the award of state contracts in exchange for bribes.

Iohannis, a centrist, has said he supports Lazar but the president is able to assess only the legality of the procedure when making a ruling in the case.

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

(Reporting by Radu Marinas; editing by David Stamp)

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