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Government issued a controversial emergency decree reducing the penalties for corruption


Romania's government adopted an emergency ordinance (GEO) late Tuesday to decriminalize official misconduct, dealing a blow to a yearslong drive to curb corruption in the eastern European country.

Justice Minister Florin Iordache said the measure will decriminalize cases of official misconduct in which the financial damage is valued at less than 200,000 lei ($47,500).He also said that the GEO comes into force once it is published in the Official Journal.

Moreover, asked why this GEO was adopted in a Government meeting in the evening, without having announced the draft on the meeting agenda, Iordache said: "Because this was the time when the Government meeting was held. (...) There are several drafts on the agenda (...). The agenda was added (...) the Government can add items to the agenda."

According to the Justice Minister, the Government is the one establishing the opportuneness of approving a normative act.

"Laws in this country are made either by the Government or by Parliament. I invite Parliament on this Ordinance that we have initiated to modify it as they see fit," Iordache also said.

The Government also adopted in the meeting on Tuesday a draft law regarding pardon for certain offenses and some liberty depriving education measures, Justice Minister Florin Iordache announced.

"We have adopted a series of measures which aim to avoid a pilot decision at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and in this regard we have adopted the draft law regarding the pardon of some offenses and several liberty depriving education measures. The second draft law targets the Law for additions to the Law No. 254/2013 regarding the sentence serving," Florin Iordache stated at the Victoria Palace.

According to Iordache, the Law regarding the pardon of some offenses isn't targeting "rapists, acts of corruption, acts of violence, recidivists, suspended sentences," the main concern is recovering the damage.

"The second measure, the one targeting the Law No. 254 regarding the sentences is an initiative of the former Government, which we arranged and put it in accordance with the National Administration of the Penitentiaries (ANP), so it can be easily enforced. (...) It's about the compensation appeal, to every ten days, the ones who are in prison and who benefit from special conditions are basically gaining a day. Practically in a month they gain 3 days," Iordache stated.

According to the Justice Minister, the two draft laws "will go in Parliament in emergency procedure."

Tens of thousands of Romanians protested against the ordinance in recent weeks, saying it would weaken anti-graft efforts.

- Changes benefit party leader -

The legal changes decriminalise several offences and makes abuse of power punishable by incarceration only if it results in a monetary loss of more than 44,000 euros ($47,500).

The changes will notably allow social democrat leader Liviu Dragnea, who went on trial Tuesday for abuse of power, to avoid prosecution.

Prosecutors have put the amount of money involved in his case at 24,000 euros, well below the new threshold.

The government did, however, send for parliament's approval another pardon law which would free inmates serving sentences of up to five years for non-violent crimes to help ease pressure on Romania's overcrowded prisons.

The government had earlier announced that this too would be the subject of an emergency decree.

Dragnea's leftist PSD party romped to victory in December elections but President Iohannis refused to appoint him prime minister because of his previous voter fraud conviction in 2012, for which he was handed a suspended jail sentence.

Both texts have also been denounced by several Romanian officials and institutions, including the attorney general Augustin Lazar, anti-corruption chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi, and High Court president Cristina Tarcea.

On Tuesday the government's Department for the Fight against Fraud (DLAF) joined the critics, arguing that the easing of the rules limits its capacity "to efficiently protect the interests of the EU in Romania".

In its annual report released last week, the European Commission, which is closely monitoring justice reforms in Romania, warned against any proposals that seek to slacken the fight against corruption in one of Europe's poorest countries.

"This measure will render the anti-corruption fight irrelevant," anti-corruption chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi told The Associated Press

She said the National Anticorruption Directorate had prosecuted 1,170 cases of abuse in office during the past three years with damages worth 1 billion euros ($1.07 billion). Kovesi has led a tough anti-corruption fight against senior politicians and other officials, earning praise from the U.S., Canada and the European Union.

The anti-corruption agency said the decriminalization measure would "encourage the abusive behavior of public workers, dishonesty, (and) immorality." About one-third of the agency's prosecutions are related to abuse of office.

The agency said such a development would benefit both future offenders and those currently being investigated.

President Klaus Iohannis, who has limited powers and doesn't oversee the government, called the measure's adoption "a day of mourning for the rule of law ... which has received a grave blow from the enemies of justice."

"From today onward, my mission is to re-establish the rule of law. I will do everything I can to make Romania a country free of corruption, until the last day of my mandate," the president said.

In Bucharest protestors gathered spontaneously in front of the seat of government, chanting "thieves" and calling for the resignation of the social democrat government, which has been in power for less than a month, reporters saw.

Protests also took place in several other cities, including Cluj, Sibiu, Timisoara and Iasi, according to Romanian media reports.

By midnight, some 4,500 people gathered in front of the Victoriei Palace, asking for the Government’s resignation. Hundreds also went to the streets in Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu, Timisoara, Brasov, and Iasi. The people shouted “Thieves!”, “PSD, the red plague”, “Traitors”, and “You won’t get away with this”, and seemed determined to continue the protests until late in the night, according to local Digi 24 news station.


The protests were peaceful, the same as the ones in the previous days.

Update 0:15 – Some 10,000 people are protesting in the Victoriei Square, according to News.ro. All the streets leading to the square were blocked.

Update 0:50 – The number of protesters in Bucharest reached some 12,000. There were also 5,000 people gathered in Cluj-Napoca, 3,000 in Sibiu, 2,000 in Timisoara, and 1,500 in Brasov, according to Digi 24 news station.

Update – The protest in Bucharest ended after 2:00 AM.