Tensions rise as Romania's government coalition deals legal blow to fight against corruption
The governing coalition in Romania used its majority in the Parliament this week to push through a series of changes to the Criminal Procedure Code, which are seen as a major blow to the fight against corruption. On Tuesday, President Iohannis accused the governing Social Democrats (PSD) of voting laws for the benefit of their own leader, while the opposition have accused the coalition of turning Romania into a "criminals' paradise". All these, while a major representative of the US Government was visiting Romania and showed support for the fight against corruption.
President Iohannis said on Friday that the PSD were trying to "cut the powers of Justice" by voting laws for the benefit of their leader, House speaker Liviu Dragnea. Dragnea has already been given a suspended sentence for electoral graft two years ago and faces other sentences in separate cases. The recent wave of changes to criminal and criminal procedure laws in Romania have been seen as attempts to help Dragnea and other top politicians avoid further graft-related sentences.
Iohannis' statements came after a PSD-supported draft to change the criminal procedure code was voted late on Monday evening, after a blitz voting in a special commission tasked with rewriting the laws of justice. The bill now goes to the Presidency for final approval, while two important opposition parties, the Liberals (PNL) and the Save Romania Union (USR) have both announced they would challenge it at the Constitutional Court.
But the Court, as the President pointed out recently, makes decisions which overlap with the policies of the PSD. And the President may return bills for another vote in the Parliament, but has limited space of maneuver in this regard.
The opposition has said that the vote in the House of Deputies on Monday turned Romania into a paradise for ciminals.
This is because they eliminate many of the means prosecutors had in order to pursue criminals, while suspects benefit of exceedingly stronger legal support.
The vote took place as Wess Mitchell, assistant secretary of State in the US Government, was visiting Romania and said on Monday that the progress Romania has made in the fight against corruption was impressive and had the support of the US. He encouraged authorities to stick to this path because it helped Romania against hostile powers.
On Tuesday, the US Embassy confirmed for G4Media.ro that Wess Mitchell had talked to a series of Romanian officials including PSD leader, House speaker Liviu Dragnea. But it said it could not make public the content of diplomatic talks.