Romanian MPs decriminalise political corruption
The Romanian parliament on Tuesday (10 December) exempted top politicians and lawyers from corruption crimes, in a move which flies in the face of agreements with the EU.
The snap amendments, voted without parliamentary debate, say that the country's President, senators, members of the lower chamber, as well as lawyers, are no longer to be considered "public officials."
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This in turn means they can no longer be held to account for abuse of office, bribery, conflicts of interest and other corruption crimes.
Those who have been convicted may walk free if the law comes into force.
With many ministers also being parliamentarians and lawyers, the new immunity extends to government members.
Meanwhile, mayors and other local officials would no longer be held liable for conflicts of interest.
Romanian President Traian Basescu, who still has to sign the law for it to be enacted, on Tuesday promised to send it back to the parliament.
But he can only do so once and the parliament is not obliged to take his objections into account.
"I thank them for thinking about me, but I don't need it," Basescu quipped in reference to the exemption, which also applies to his office.
"This change means 10 years of regress," he added in a press conference in Bucharest.
According to the Romanian anti-corruption prosecutor's office (DNA), 28 members of the Romanian parliament have been convicted or are currently on trial for corruption.
In addition, over 100 mayors and vice-mayors are on trial for awarding public contracts to family and friends or for similar abuses.
"This legislative change puts Romanian law in flagrant contradiction with the international agreements Romania has ratified in 2002 and 2004, respectively: the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption of the Council of Europe and the United Nations' Convention on Corruption," the anti-corruption office said in a press statement.
Both international conventions require states to give a comprehensive definition of public officials and to explicitly refer to corruption of lawmakers.
The new exemptions also mean that Romania will "no longer meet the criteria of international judicial cooperation and will be unable to execute requests for judicial assistance when it comes to these kind of persons," the DNA added.
The country's ethics body for judges and prosecutors (CSM) - which had not been consulted on the legislative changes - has also criticised the bill.
It said the proposed law would "basically exonerate" the President and lawmakers from any responsibility for crimes.
It is not the first time Romanian lawmakers have tweaked laws in a bid to protect themselves from investigation.
In summer last year, changes aimed at limiting the powers of the Constitutional Court were politically motivated as the state institutions got caught up in a political war between the centre-right President and the centre-left prime minister.
It ended with a failed referendum to impeach the President.
Romania, as well as its southern neighbour Bulgaria, is still under a special monitoring mechanism by the European Commission, which assesses its progress in terms of respect for the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organised crime.