New evidence purporting to show Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors planning to falsify charges and fake evidence is a blow to very notion of Romanian justice

Last year Romania’s Parliamentary Commission heard testimony detailing the abuses of power and violation of judicial independence seemingly prevalent in the Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA). They highlighted concerns about a government organisation out of control, with the potential to bring misery to anyone who came within their extensive reach. Now however, with the release of tapes that suggest prosecutors would openly discuss who to target and what crimes to fabricate, we have astonishing new insights into how rotten this anti-corruption clampdown has seemingly become.

The investigation, led by Romanian MP Andreea Cosma in conjunction with investigative journalists from RomaniaTV and Antena3, is in effect a smoking gun on an issue that has precipitated widespread protests across the country. The explosive tapes, filmed undercover, reportedly show DNA prosecutors, two of which had been previously singled out by Kovesi for their commitment and success, faking evidence and documents; planting evidence in people’s cars and homes; changing witness declarations; faking official recordings and blackmailing witnesses.

At the collapse of communism, the days of proscribed lists, false convictions and trail by kangaroo court were supposed to be banished to memory. A new Romania, founded on the fundamental principles of the rule of law, due process and public accountability, beckoned. A Prosecutor-General, in Laura Codruta Kovesi, directing her subordinates to manufacture cases and falsify evidence was something that many Romanians hoped had been left in the country’s dark past. However, the truth seemingly couldn’t be more different. Audio recordings of previously undisclosed conversations among DNA prosecutors suggest these orders came directly from the very top of the DNA’s leadership.

The even more disturbing aspect of this is the DNA’s apparent growing collusion with the intelligence services. Romania’s SRI, an institution whose role it is to protect its citizens and keep them secure, has spread its tentacles into the DNA and beyond. Through the DNA, they have allegedly orchestrated the neutering and elimination of anyone perceived to be working against their interests. Wielding undue influence over the judiciary, as demonstrated in the case of SRI Secretary-General Dumbrava, exemplifies a dismaying flashback to the worst excess of Ceausescu and his Securitate cronies.

These tapes, allegedly demonstrating how unelected DNA officials sought to fake evidence against former Prime Minister Victor Ponta and former Romanian MP Sebastien Ghita, raise hard questions about the country’s much-heralded fight against corruption. The doubts and concerns surround the ongoing anti-corruption clampdown have now been placed firmly under the microscope. An acceptance of ‘the way things are’, without any move to reform, would be nothing short of a dereliction of duty.

To date, the EU Commission, the body charged with monitoring Romania’s judicial system, has praised the record numbers of arrests, charges and convictions. Its inert approach has led to little scrutiny of the DNA, doing nothing to hold this out-of-control organisation to account. A lack of concerted effort to address these obvious abuses of power within an EU member state, would be an unwelcome stain on the Commission’s reputation.

The need to reform the country’s anti-corruption efforts is more urgent now than ever before. If these videos are confirmed as genuine and their content true – such damning proof of how rotten these efforts have become, and how corrupted the officials executing it now are, demands action. Change must come from without, as well as within. Pressure is building in Romania, as the evidence continues to mount against the security services and DNA. Public approval of the DNA and its Chief Prosecutor have fallen to only 12% in the past year, after previously enjoying a 76% approval rating. Romanians are now finally making it clear in what regard they hold their politicians and public institutions.

The actions portrayed in the tapes are the polar opposite of what citizens expect from a modern, EU democratic country, which truly adheres to the rule of law. They must be urgently investigated, and if proven true, become the catalyst for decisive and immediate action to drive change. With Romania’s Presidency of the EU Council edging ever closer in January 2019, the EU can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines and turn a blind eye.

These tapes should be the necessary wake-up call that shakes the European Commission from its slumber and apply effective scrutiny to Romania’s judicial practices. They must be the spur for action for Europe to take the necessary action against the carefully constructed propaganda machine that, for too long it has taken at face-value. Romanians deserve better and they deserve a chance.