2016 DNA activity report: 1,270 defendants were sent to court including three minister, six senators, 11 Mps
The efforts of the justice system should be supported by stable regulatory and organisational frameworks in order for them to be efficient in the fight against corruption, chief prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) Laura Codruta Kovesi told a 2016 DNA activity report meeting on Thursday.
"We wanted and continue to want to fight against corruption. But that is not enough. The efforts of the justice system have to be backed by stability of the legislative and organisational frameworks in order for them to be efficient in the fight against corruption. Many people in Romania say they support the fight against corruption, but what we have all seen how much legislative stability matters and how quickly the efforts and work of the entire justice system, not just of DNA prosecutors, can be nullified," said Kovesi.
She added that this is an activity report she was unveiling to the invitees and citizens alike.
The DNA chief prosecutor added that things said at the last year's activity report meeting, namely that "it is important for the dangers of corruption to be realised" and that prosecutors had besides them the most important ally, the Romanian citizen, still hold true.
"I want to remind you of what I said precisely one year ago at the activity report meeting about our work: 'We have had besides us in this fight of ours the most important ally, the Romanian citizens. Without them, our work would have not been possible. There are thousands upon thousands of people who want a society built on fairness and respect.' I was also telling you that the danger of corruption needs to be realised and for Romania to be less corrupt all of you in this room now should continue to wish for the same. The same still holds true today," said Kovesi.
According to her, statistics indicate a rise in DNA efficiency, given that more than 1,270 defendants in cases built by DNA were sent to court, 870 of whom were handed final sentences.
Kovesi said that the over 1,270 defendants were sent to court over high-level and medium-level corruption, including three minister, six senators, 11 MPs, more than 40 mayors, 16 magistrates and over 20 national corporation managers.
She added that identifying fraud and corruption in public procurement was a priority action area in 2016, with DNA prosecutorial investigations aimed mainly at infrastructure, IT, and healthcare procurement as well as property returning and public services.
Kovesi said courts handed final sentences to over 879 of the defendants in cases built by DNA, including among them one MEP, seven MPs, one senator, one minister, five county council chairs and 28 mayors.
"The sentences issued by the courts confirmed the efficiency efforts deployed by the DNA prosecutors. The acquittal rate was 10 percent, the same as in the previous years, and the rate is below the European Union average, which proves that justice in Romania is functioning and the reason for criminal trials always is to find the truth," added Kovesi
"The time it takes to solve a criminal case has considerably increased, given the caseload of more than 100 files per DNA prosecutor, on the average. That is the reason why sometimes we try to solve older cases," said Kovesi.
The DNA chief prosecutor also said that 2016 was the time of unprecedented attacks against the judiciary and even DNA, insisting that she respects the freedom of expression, but people should not forget about fake news that changes perception of reality and seriously damages credibility and confidence including in the justice system.
Kovesi mentioned that she has to have a reaction when legislative amendments are considered in important legislations, such as the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure,"particularly when such modifications are made overnight with no prior talks or impact study."
She also said that DNA in 2016 set liens worth 667 million euros, a surge by 72-percent from the year before.
"Recovering the proceeds of crime was an important component of our activity on 2016. Liens were set worth 667 million euros, which is a notable surge by 72 percent y-o-y. Oftentimes, DNA cases regard people deriving huge profits, acquiring goods in other countries or opening bank accounts in other jurisdictions. No criminal offender should feel safe, no matter where he or she may hide their proceeds of crime," Kovesi told a DNA 2016 activity report meeting on Thursday.
She added that DNA sent 80 international letters rogatory for evidence administration and identification of assets.
"This way, we managed to impound two properties in France worth in excess of 3.5 million euros, while in Spain we set a lien on two buildings worth more than 500,000 euros. We asked for the freezing of bank accounts in Cyprus, Switzerland and Germany," said Kovesi.
She added that in 2016, judges ordered under final and binding rulings in DNA cases the confiscation and recovery of proceeds of crime worth more than 226 million euro, which have to be paid into the national budget.
According to Prosecutor General of Romania Augustin Lazar , one of the Public Ministry's priorities for 2017 is to reduce the stockpile of unsolved cases, stressing that the number of unsolved cases at the end of 2016 is higher compared to the same period of 2015.
"One of the major priorities of the Public Ministry leadership in respect to the results of the prosecutor's offices activities throughout 2016, including the DNA's activity, consists in identifying efficient solutions in order to reduce the stockpile of unsolved cases which remained at the end of the year. (...) Therefore, the number of unsolved cases at the end of 2016 compared to 2015 has increased and a number of 7,500 cases remain to be solved, which is an important stockpile. This significant problem occurred mainly because of a genuine avalanche of new-entry cases during 2016, almost 5,000 new-entry cases. This is an unprecedented situation and the DNA will have to find the necessary resources to solve these cases, to close a better part of this stockpile during 2017. Moreover, I want to note the fact that, although the stockpile of cases has increased, the promptness which they were solved with was very good. Almost a third of cases were solved by our colleagues, who managed to find a solution within a year from the date they were notified," Lazar stated.
In this context, he pointed out that the fight against corruption still represents an "absolute" priority of the state and the Public Ministry, and assessed the DNA's activity throughout 2016 as being "a considerable one, superior in volume and quality, compared to the activity conducted during 2015, despite all difficulties encountered by the Directorate."
Present at the National Anti-corruption Directorate activity report for 2016., President Klaus Iohannis declared on Thursday that legislation is often deficient in the justice area, stressing that it should be amended, but through debate and decisional transparency.
"We have a legislation that is often deficient. Undeniably, it has to be rectified, but the amendment measures to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code and the Pardon law need debate and transparency in the decision making. There are aspects that cannot be ignored in 2017 Romania," said the Head of the State.
He stressed that in such cases, consultations in Parliament and with justice experts are needed.
The Head of the State also expressed his confidence that DNA and the institutions in this area will play an active role in changing legislation.
He added that he will provide unconditional support for the consolidation of the rule of law, pointing out that the part of DNA is essential in the fight against corruption and law observance.
"Romania finds itself at a time when it can confidently walk on the path of consolidated democracies, where the mechanisms of the rule of law are independent of political will. It takes very much poise and wisdom on the part of all the parties involved so that the progress so far will not be wasted. What has to prevail is Romania's desideratum to become a strong country defending the interests of its citizens. In the new paradigm, DNA remains a key institution playing an essential part in the fight against corruption and in law observance. Through our actions in 2016, you proved that the objectives undertaken by you can be turned into palpable realities," said Iohannis.
He also said that he will be an unconditional supporter in the consolidation of the rule of law.
"You have in me a partner and unconditional supported in the consolidation of the rule of law, because I firmly believe that Romania's real development does depend on that," said Iohannis.