Romania: anti-graft chief says corruption fight threatened

AP News
Posted: Jun 07, 2016 3:27 PM
Romania: anti-graft chief says corruption fight threatened

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Moves to decriminalize corruption could lead to public officials defrauding the state without retribution, Romania's chief anti-corruption prosecutor warned Tuesday.

The Constitutional Court will rule on June 15 whether to decriminalize abuse of office, currently a criminal offense.

Last year, the agency investigated or charged high-ranking officials in 661 cases on suspicion of abuse of office, worth millions of dollars, about one third of all the cases they pursued in 2015.

"If this ... is decriminalized we will no longer be able to investigate," chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi told The Associated Press. "Every public servant will be sanctioned according to whim and will be able to do what they want to the detriment of the state and citizens."

Kovesi, who has been praised by EU countries and the U.S. for her anti-corruption fight received one of France's highest honors, the Legion of Honor, on Tuesday from French Ambassador Francois Saint-Paul, in recognition of her work. She has held the post as anti-corruption chief prosecutor since 2013.

While the agency remains popular with many Romanians for tackling widespread graft, it is less popular with politicians who face investigation, and they are pushing to limit the agency's powers.

However, Kovesi vowed to continue to the fight despite obstructions saying "we do not guide our activity according to political campaigns or events that appear in the public arena."

She addressed corruption in the health system, which has become a priority for the agency.

"(Health) budgets are big and we have noticed that the value of bribes is high, 20 percent of a contract," she said in an interview, hours before receiving her award. "This does not intimidate us and doesn't change the way we approach cases."

In 2015, the agency prosecuted 1,250 cases, including a former prime minister and five former ministers. It had a conviction rate of 92 percent.

"We deal with very powerful people who have important positions and impressive wealth ... but colleagues have the necessary courage and maturity to deal with these cases," Kovesi said.