Planned changes to criminal code in Romania seen as weakening anti-graft fight

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 14, 2017 11:06 AM

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - A fresh row over judicial changes in Romania broke out on Thursday with prosecutors and the political opposition warning that proposed amendments to the criminal code would weaken the fight against corruption and other crimes.

A parliamentary commission will start next Monday to debate the changes which have been introduced by the ruling Social Democrats. Under the proposals, prosecutors will have to tell potential suspects they are about to be investigated and restrict the types of evidence prosecutors can use to prove cases.

Temporary 30-day arrest warrants, much used by police and prosecutors in corruption cases, might be scrapped.

Prosecutors may also be restricted from drawing on wiretaps, street camera footage and digital evidence. They could also be forbidden from publicly disclosing the names of suspects until their cases effectively go to trial.

Another proposed change would have witnesses give testimony in the presence of the accused - something which could prove to be an ordeal for a victim of human trafficking, for example.

Romania's anti-corruption prosecution unit (DNA) has sent 72 deputies and senators to trial since 2006 alongside cabinet ministers, a sitting Prime Minister and hundreds of mayors and other public officials.

Transparency International ranks Romania among the European Union's most corrupt states though Brussels, which has Romania's justice system under special monitoring, has praised magistrates for their efforts to curb graft.

Prosecutors said the changes, if they went through, would seriously hinder the fight for law and order.

"Approving these changes will limit prosecutors' ability to carry out their activities as well as exercising their constitutional role of representing society's general interest and defending the rule of law and citizens' rights," the prosecutor general's office said in a statement.

"These changes could have a devastating impact on criminal investigations because they eliminate the indispensable legal instruments needed to investigate," the DNA said in a statement.

While the Social Democrats have said the changes are needed to bring legislation in line with an EU directive, the Commission has criticized the proposed overhaul.

The Social Democrats have already used their solid majority to approve a judicial overhaul in the lower house that threatens to put the justice system under political control. The senate, which has the final say, is expected to approve the bills next week.

The proposed reforms have been criticized by the European Commission, the U.S. State Department, thousands of magistrates and centrist President Klaus Iohannis.

Thousands of Romanians staged protests against them in recent weeks but the coalition has so far shrugged them off.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Richard Balmforth)