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JusMin Toader announces move to axe anti-corruption head Laura Codruta Kovesi

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Minister of Justice Tudorel Toader announced on Thursday that he will start procedures for removing from office Chief Prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) Laura Codruta Kovesi.

Minister Tudorel said that the making of the report on the managerial activity of the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) was carried out based on the very broad debates in the public space in the last year, debates that have "deeply" divided the public opinion.

"The realization of this report is completed based on the debates that have gotten a special amplitude in the public space in the last year, (...) that have deeply divided the public opinion and have raised personal attacks at unprecedented odds in the recent history of Romania (...), that have polarised the attention of the European and international forums on Romania, have unleashed evaluation mechanisms that have never before been used against Romania (...), by even threatening the rule of law," said Toader.

He added that Chief Prosecutor of the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) Laura Codruta Kovesi had "an excessively authoritarian behaviour" when she "personally" supervised the investigation related to OUG 13/2017.

According to him, an unprecedented situation within the relations between public authorities in Romania have been recorded in 2017, in which the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) was sanctioned by the Constitutional Court for disloyal behaviour.

"First of all, we retained an unprecedented situation within relations between public authorities in Romania. I repeat, an unprecedented situation of the public authorities' relations. In only one year, 2017, three constitutional legal conflicts were recorded, conflicts that led to the National Anti-corruption Directorate, through its leadership, being summoned in front of the constitutional administrative court. Three legal conflicts of a constitutional nature, in which the Constitutional Court firmly detailed the competency of the National Anti-corruption Directorate, in two of these [conflicts - ed.n.] sanctioning the disloyal behaviour, the unconstitutional behaviour of the Chief Prosecutor of the National Anti-corruption Directorate," Toader told a press conference.

The Justice minister further said that in less than a year, the DNA was summoned by the Constitutional Court for two more conflicts of a constitutional nature.

"I have showed through the activity report of the DNA's Chief Prosecutor that, per se, the recording of a single legal conflict of a constitutional nature does not carry the ability to determine the removal from office of the head of the institution that triggered the conflict. I was saying this in March 2017. Conducts counter to the Constitution, isolated, can be corrected, this actually being the reason for constitutionally enshrining an adequate instrument and properly establishing the competency of the Constitutional court, of solving this conflict. The conclusions are obviously different, when the Constitution infringement exceeds the competency limits provided for by the Constitution and the law, when the breaches become systematic. In less than half a year from the publication of the decision no 68 from 2017, the National Anti-corruption Directorate, through its leadership, was again called in front of the Constitutional Court, for two more conflicts of a constitutional nature," Toader specified.

Romania’s General Prosecutor Augustin Lazar expressed his support for Kovesi, saying there were no legal grounds to dismiss her.

“The justice minister once again abandoned his responsibility as minister in order to serve political interests,” said Romania Platform 100, a non-governmental group headed by former Premier Dacian Ciolos.

The country’s ruling Social Democrats tried a year ago to decriminalize several corruption offences by emergency decree, leading to its largest street protests in decades.

A judicial overhaul approved by the ruling coalition late last year - which was criticized by the president, thousands of magistrates, the European Commission and the U.S. State Department - is back in parliament after the Constitutional Court ruled some of its provisions were unconstitutional.

DNA has 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.

It has sent over 70 members of parliament to trial since 2006. The speakers of parliament’s lower house and senate are both currently on trial in separate cases.

In a news conference last week, Kovesi defended DNA against attacks by some of those currently on trial, saying she would have no reason to resign if she was asked to.

“This attack isn’t about Kovesi, it is about the prosecutors who have done their job. It aims to make the Romanian state kneel, humiliate society and the Romanian people,” she said.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside government headquarters following Toader’s news conference, chanting “You’re not getting away with it”.

More were joining them and demonstrations also broke out in at least three other cities, according to social media postings by participants.

“In case there were people doubting the justice minister was not a political actor, this evening has clarified that,” said Sergiu Miscoiu, political science professor at Babes-Bolyai University.

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