Wednesday, 13 December, 2017

Romanians take to streets to protest decriminalisation of official misconduct

People hold posters depicting the leader of the ruling Social Democratic party Liviu Dragnea the other reading Romanian Magistrates To Appeal Govt Decree in Court
Cecilia Poole | 04 February, 2017, 00:34

One of the largest anti-government protests in Romania's history took place in its capital city Bucharest to oppose a new government decree which could free dozens of officials jailed for corruption.

He called on the Social Democrat-led government to repeal the decree, adopted late on Tuesday and which will enter into force in a little over one week unless the Constitutional Court rules against it. The chief anti-corruption prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi, said it "will render the anti-corruption fight irrelevant".

It is the "ethical thing to do", he said, "not for my professional honesty, my conscience is clean on that front, but for my child".

"How am I going to look [my child] in the eye and what am I going to tell him over the years?"

Dragnea, who has a two-year suspended prison sentence for vote rigging, says he wants a retrial. Concretely, there are several legal measures to be taken to abrogate it and to avoid its negative effects: 1) people's mobilisation in the street can constrain the government to modify and even revoke it; 2) the Ombudsman can contest and invoke its unconstitutionality; 3) the Constitutional Court can declare the exception of unconstitutionality in any trial where the ordinance may apply.

Officials including Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the governing Social Democratic Party, stand to benefit from the measure. The government denies this. "We are hoping that the Romanian government will reconsider its recent decision that weakens the legislation to prosecute abuse of office", the Swedish Embassy in Bucharest adds.

They only returned to power in December after protests forced the previous leadership from power in October 2015.

"I am outraged. The PSD won the elections but that doesn't mean they can sneakily change the penal code in the middle of the night", said protester Gabriela State, 46.

When he was asked if the cabinet, which has been in power for less than a month, planned to withdraw the decree, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu said: "No, we don't".

But this week's latest move set off alarm bells in Brussels, with European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and his deputy Frans Timmermans issuing a joint statement expressing "deep concern" on Wednesday.

"To sustain Romania's credibility in the worldwide community, and to remain attractive to investment and ensure continued economic growth, the United States calls on the Romanian government to reverse these actions", said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. Critics call it a way of pardoning officials, like the leader of the ruling Social Democratic party, who have been accused or convicted of abuse-of-power crimes.


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