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Romanian candidate for EU prosecutor subpoenaed by local agency targeting magistrates

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BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Laura Codruta Kovesi, Romania's former chief anti-corruption prosecutor, could see her bid to win the role of European Union public prosecutor damaged by a widely-criticised agency tasked with investigating magistrates, she said late on Wednesday.

Just days after it was revealed she was the leading contender for the EU post, the agency has subpoenaed Kovesi for hearings as a suspect in an unspecified case.

"This subpoena is the strongest evidence to date that the special unit to investigate judges and prosecutors is a political weapon," Ionel Danca, spokesman of the opposition Liberal Party said in a Facebook post.

The European Commission, U.S. State Department and thousands of magistrates have said the newly created agency - along a raft of other legislative and personnel changes made by the ruling Social Democrats in the last two years - threaten the Eastern European country's judicial independence and the rule of law.

Under Kovesi’s five-year tenure at the helm of Romania's anti-corruption agency, known as DNA, conviction rates for high-level graft have risen sharply

DNA’s success won praise from Brussels, civil society and private investors, but Kovesi was reviled by the ruling Social Democrats until she was forced out last year on the order of Justice Minister Tudorel Toader. She has challenged her dismissal at the European Court of Human Rights.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have convicted thousands of public officials across parties, including lawmakers and ministers. Among them is Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea, who has a conviction in a vote-rigging case and a separate conviction for abuse of office pending appeal.

"I think it (the summons) is a sort of revenge for the complaint I made at the European Court of Human Rights," she told television station Digi24. "The second reason is clearly an attempt to stop my candidacy for EU prosecutor".

The agency did not provide details of the accusations, she said.

Kovesi has an interview with the selection panel for the new role of EU public prosecutor on Feb. 26. The new EU agency will tackle funds fraud within the bloc.

Romanian Justice Minister Tudorel Toader sent European Parliament a letter saying the appointment of Kovesi would be a mistake. Despite the letter, she has received widespread support across Europe.

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 Luiza Ilie, editing by G Crosse)

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