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Romanian MPs back controversial bill that could end corruption cases

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By Sandrine Amiel  & Reuters
Voting session on the changes to the criminal codes in Romania's parliament
Voting session on the changes to the criminal codes in Romania's parliament   -   Copyright  George Calin via REUTERS

Romanian MPs have today approved criminal law changes that could shut down several ongoing high-level graft cases in what experts consider is one of the EU's most corrupt countries.

The bills are the latest in a series of legal and personnel changes made by the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) since they came to power in 2017.

The moves are seen as threats to judicial independence and have drawn criticism from the European Union, the US State Department and thousands of Romanian magistrates.

One of the changes approved on Wednesday shortens the statute of limitations covering some offences, a move that would automatically shut down a number of ongoing cases.

Other amendments include lower sentences for some offences and decriminalising negligence in the workplace.

EU Commission studying 'next steps'

The European Commission told Euronews it would "carefully study the adopted measures before deciding on next steps".

"Let me remind you that the Commission has been very clear on its position on the rule of law situation in Romania," an EU Commission official said.

"Romania urgently needs to put the reform process back on track. If our concerns are not met, the Commission will have to act swiftly, and use the means at its disposal."

Opposition parties vow to challenge the bill

"The criminals are making their own laws, "opposition Save Romania Union leader Dan Barna told Euronews Tonight in an interview, accusing Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea of voting the bill to "solve his own personal problems with justice."

Barna's party and the main opposition Liberals both said they would challenge the changes at the Constitutional Court.

Social Democrat lawmakers initially overhauled Romania's criminal codes last year.

The Constitutional Court struck down many of the changes following challenges by opposition lawmakers.

On Wednesday, the ruling coalition approved the codes after removing the articles already struck down by the Court.

The Romanian branch of Transparency International, an anti-corruption NGO, told Euronews that the bill approved on Wednesday was "in line with the court` decision" and that for the most part, it was not about pardon laws nor decriminalisation. The only exception is related to office negligence, which is no longer a crime under the new law, it said.

It added it is "in the process of doing a deep assessment of the legislative changes paragraph by paragraph".

Romania's recent spate of high profile convictions

Prosecutors have secured a spate of convictions in recent years against lawmakers, ministers and mayors, including Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea (pictured, above). Their investigations have exposed conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes.

Dragnea, who has a suspended jail term in a vote-rigging case and an ongoing appeal against a second conviction for inciting others to commit abuse of office, could be among the politicians to benefit from the changes.

The Social Democrats have said their legal initiatives are aimed at aligning legislation with EU norms and address abuses allegedly committed by magistrates.

Transparency International ranks Romania, which currently holds the EU's rotating six-month presidency, among the bloc's most corrupt states.

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