Prosecutors Step Up Pressure in Romania Graft Fight, Kovesi Says

  • Anti-corruption prosecutors seized record assets in 2015
  • Kovesi says 2015 sets new record in anti-corruption fight

Romania’s anti-corruption prosecutors are adding manpower and targeting the fortunes of those they deem guilty of corruption to clamp down on crime and deter future violations,  Laura Codruta Kovesi, the chief anti-corruption prosecutor, said.

In 2015, the National Anti-Corruption Directorate surpassed 2014’s record of cases, by sending a sitting prime minister, five ministers and more than 20 lawmakers to trial, Kovesi said in an interview on Tuesday in Bucharest. They also seized an unprecedented amount of assets valued at more than 440 million euros ($480 million). Still, she is not satisfied with the below-10 percent rate of recovery of past damages to the state.

“When you have 300-400 million euros that need to be recovered by the state and nothing is being done about it, we should be more worried about it than the number of officials who are actually in prison,” Kovesi said.

Under the stewardship of Kovesi, Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors have embarked on an extensive anti-graft drive, similar to Italy’s Clean Hands campaign in the 1990s, that ensnared former Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

‘Perp Walk’

After dozens of suspects were paraded openly before cameras as they left the anti-corruption prosecutors’ office, more top officials are coming under the spotlight of investigators. On Wednesday, parliament lifted the immunity of ex-Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea, who was also a deputy premier and who’s being probed by the prosecutors for abuse of office related to the alleged illegal use of motorcades.

After his name was mentioned in Oprea’s case, General Prosecutor Tiberiu Nitu resigned on Tuesday, saying he didn’t want to harm the image of the general prosecutor’s office. Both Oprea and Nitu deny any wrongdoing.

Kovesi said Nitu doesn’t have any status in Oprea’s case “at this point.”

A former general prosecutor herself and a player for Gaz Metan, one of Romania’s top basketball teams, Kovesi is nearing the end of her first term at the helm of the anti-corruption directorate. The justice minister must nominate candidates for both top prosecutor jobs, whose terms expire in mid-May.

Kovesi said she will announce her intentions on whether to seek a new three-year term after presenting the directorate’s 2015 results later this month.

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