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February 22, 2019

Feud escalates between Romania govt and former anti-graft chief

Feud escalates between Romania govt and former anti-graft chief
'Laura Codruta Kovesi led Romania's National Anti-Corruption Directorate from 2013-2018 before being controversially removed by the leftwing government ' - By: AFP/File Daniel MIHAILESCU

A stand-off between Romania's government and judiciary escalated as the former chief anti-graft prosecutor said she had been summoned by investigators over allegations of corruption, abuse of office and giving false testimony.

It comes as Bucharest seeks to dissuade other EU countries from appointing the ex-official, Laura Codruta Kovesi, to lead a new European prosecutor's office.

"It is obvious that these proceedings are aimed at blocking my candidacy and not at getting to the truth," Kovesi told the Europa FM radio station on Wednesday.

"I will go to Brussels, I will explain that I am innocent and that the opening of proceedings against me is a ruse," she said.

Earlier on Wednesday Romanian media published a letter from Justice Minister Tudorel Toader to his EU colleagues which painted a damning picture of Kovesi's actions while in office.

He accused Kovesi of having signed "secret and anti-democratic pacts" with Romania's intelligence agencies in order to cooperate with them on investigations linked to national security or corruption.

"The protocols, since ruled unconstitutional, bring to mind the intermingling of politics, intelligence and law enforcement so notorious in our nation during Communist rule," Toader wrote.

The centre-right opposition denounced what it called an "attempt to intimidate" Kovesi after she said she had been asked to appear before a new body set up by the government to probe alleged abuses by prosecutors.

There has been no comment from the government on the new investigation.

- 'Parallel state' -

Kovesi, 45, led Romania's National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) from 2013 to 2018 before being controversially removed at the leftwing government's behest.

Since then she has emerged as a front-runner to lead the new European Public Prosecutor's Office, which is meant to be in place by the end of 2020.

During her time as head of the DNA, hundreds of elected officials were convicted of corruption offences, earning her the enmity of many in Romania's political class and criticism that she had overstepped her mandate.

The government says Kovesi, along with the parts of the justice system and the intelligence services, acted as a shadowy "parallel state".

However, many Romanians retain a positive view of her, seeing her as a symbol of the fight to rid the country of its endemic corruption.

The DNA's work has been regularly praised by EU institutions, while the government has come under steady criticism from Brussels over proposed judicial reforms which could weaken the independence of the justice system.

The rows have overshadowed Romania's first-ever term as head of the rotating EU presidency, with Bucharest making clear its opposition to Kovesi taking the job in Brussels.

Governments from member states and the European Parliament are expected to approve a candidate for the new post at the beginning of March.

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