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23rd Mar 2019

Romanian prosecutor fights back critics for EU top job

  • Budget control committee backs ex Romania's anti-graft chief as European Public Prosecutor's Office (Photo: European Parliament)

Romania's former anti-corruption chief fought back against critics during a hearing on Tuesday (26 February) with MEPs for the EU's new top prosecutor job.

Romania's current government has lobbied hard against her, after the anti-corruption office she led for five years helped convict high-level politicians, while her supporters regard Laura Codruta Kovesi as a heroine for fighting corruption in a country marred by graft.

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  • Laura Codruta Kovesi is the former chief prosecutor of Romania’s anti-corruption agency (Photo: Helga Stevens)

"I am aware that you have been exposed to a lot of negative info about me, I have absolutely nothing to hide," Kovesi told MEPs on Tuesday.

Kovesi told European lawmakers that a prosecutor must be the "servant of the rule of law" and have a strong "moral compass".

"I was independent. My results are speaking for me. We investigated members of different parties. We investigated people that have important positions, wealth. Independence was provided by law. Now, there are attempts to limit our independence," she told MEPs.

Kovesi added that under her leadership Romania's anti-corruption department (DNA) investigated 2,000 cases annually involving fraud of EU funds, and more than 1,000 people have been sent in front of a judge, with 900 sentenced. "More than 60 of them were high-level officials," she added.

The Romanian candidate for the new position of EU chief prosecutor was backed by the budget control committee after the hearing. Their decision is only advisory, MEPs from the civil liberties committee will vote on their preferred candidate on Wednesday.

The EU parliament and member states will have to decide together on the post eventually, which may result in lengthy negotiations if the two institutions put forward different names.

After heavy campaigning by the Romanian government against Kovesi, member states voted to put the French candidate Jean-Francois Bohnert in pole position, Kovesi and the third candidate, Andres Ritter from Germany, received an equal number of votes each.

Ahead of the member states' vote, a separate expert panel put Kovesi first.

At Tuesday's hearing Bohnert, who also has extensive experience as a prosecutor and participating in the setting up of Eurojust (an EU agency dealing with judicial cooperation), told lawmakers that efficiently fighting criminality and corruption, the new chief prosecutor's office could be a new tool for democratic trust in the EU.

Asked how would he deal with member states where EU funds' fraud is systemic, he said the prosecutor is not there to "name and shame" member states, and that corruption is present in every member states, and it needs to be investigated.

Some MEPs praised Kovesi, who was removed as the chief anti-corruption prosecutor in Bucharest last year after political pressure, for her resilience.

Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola from the centre-right European People's Party thanked Kovesi for her "dignified courage that inspired people across our continent".

Green MEP Eva Joly from France said: "I am proud of seeing her here despite the terrible campaign that her government started against her. We don't believe what is said. I know what is happening."

The new EU chief prosecutor position is to be set up by the end of 2020, with the participation of 22 of the 28 member states. Its job will be to fight crimes related to the EU budget, including fraud and money laundering.

It would give a boost to the EU in prosecuting misuse of funds, the task of the EU's anti-fraud agency, OLAF which cannot prosecute wrong-doings.

The Romanian government, which holds the EU presidency, has been criticised by the EU commission for backtracking on the fight against corruption. The Socialist-led government had accused Kovesi of abusing her office, which she denies.

Over the weekend, thousands of Romanians demonstrated to protest the government's efforts to weaken the rule of law.

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