Evidence of collusion and politicised justice may lead Romania to amnesty for anti-corruption convictions

EPA

The removal of Laura Kovesi as head of the Anti-Corruption Directorate raises questions about the safety of the convictions achieved on her watch


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Romania’s government may consider amnesty for cases ending in conviction for corruption and graft during Laura Kovesi’s tenure as Chief Prosecutor at the Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA). This follows years of ever louder allegations of underhand and devious tactics used to achieve the organisation’s impressive conviction rate of 92%. Concerns of a highly politicised justice system, shirking the rule of law and riding roughshod over due process have led some in the government to consider such a dramatic action.

Writing for Conservative Home earlier this month, former UK Armed Forces Minister, Lord Robathan, said the dismissal of Kovesi leaves “Romania at a crossroads, now free to quell concerns of a politicised justice system and shift to one that prioritises the liberty of the individual and the rule of law above all else.”

Turning to the nature of the convictions achieved during her time in office, he went on to say “sadly, many of the anti-corruption convictions that have previously been praised could have been a consequence of corruption and collusion amongst the authorities, often at the expense of human rights, civil liberties and judicial independence.”

It is concerns such as these, from leading western politicians, that have seen the clamour for an amnesty grow. What has previously been a cause for alarm confined to Romania has now spread beyond its borders, with increasing numbers aware of the abuses that may have occurred in recent years, under the guise of anti-corruption. This has in turn spurred the government to finally take seriously calls for an amnesty, knowing that potentially hundreds of convictions cannot be considered safe.

Under Kovesi’s 6-year reign, the DNA gradually morphed into an all-powerful operation capable of bringing down a reputation in the stroke of a pen. Ever darker tactics were deployed including allegations of evidence fabrication, witness intimidation and directing prosecutors to target opponents regardless of any evidence of wrongdoing. Over time this developed into a modus operandi for the organisation, which ultimately led to Kovesi’s dismissal last month.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the DNA’s activities has been the close collusion with the security services, in the form of the SRI. It was revealed earlier this year that a staggering 65 secret protocols exist between the two organisations, prompting fears that the DNA and SRI are working hand in glove to bring down the plethora of politicians, business leaders and other prominent figures who have suddenly found themselves in the firing line. The most worrying side of this collusion has been the alleged manipulation of judges, leaning on them to reach certain decisions in a flagrant breach of Habeus Corpus.

In May of this year, the European Bar Association issued a statement expressing ‘deep concern’ about the SRI’s interference in Romania’s justice system. The organisation, with represents over 250 bar associations and 1 million lawyers across the continent, outlined their fears that the SRI’s involvement prevents citizen access to ‘free and independent’ courts. This level of interference has led some to make comparisons with the much-feared Securitate of the Ceausescu era. Writing in March of this year, former UK Foreign Office adviser David Clark wrote of “the close and secretive relationship between the DNA and the SRI, and the role they jointly play in manipulating the criminal justice system through covert and extra-constitutional means.”

The SRI has also ensured that Romania has become one of the most wiretapped nations on earth. It is widely understood that the DNA relies on the SRI to access a huge amount of personal data on their targets, including installing wiretaps, bypassing the need to obtain warrants or court orders. The Henry Jackson Society revealed in a report last year that the SRI uses 20,000 wiretaps for anti-corruption purposes, ten times the number used for counter-terrorism. This has raised questions of their motivations beyond a noble anti-corruption fight.

The concerning aspects of this anti-corruption fight don’t end there, with critics pointing to Romania’s appalling prison conditions, often endured by suspects for months on end despite not yet having been found guilty. This has been described as tantamount to a prison sentence before guilt has even been determined. Last year the European Court of Human Rights strongly criticised the country’s prison conditions, saying they could be ‘considered inhuman and degrading’.

All of these factors have combined to trigger Romania’s government to consider what action to take. Both the DNA and the SRI are institutions needed in the country, as long as they function in line with the law and principles of justice. With all of the DNA’s catalogue of alleged misdeeds under Kovesi’s reign, ministers now face a tough decision and may now have little choice but to issue an amnesty for convictions that can now no longer be considered safe.

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