EU voices concern as Romania moves to block prosecutor

FILE - In this file photo dated Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, Romania's chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi, who heads the country's anti-graft agency (DNA), sits after presenting the unit's annual report, at the Military Circle, in Bucharest, Romania. Kovesi has been shortlisted to lead the European Public Prosecutor's Office in 2020, but The European Commission said Thursday Feb. 14, 2019, that Romania’s Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has moved to block Kovesi's appointment. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Prosecutors applying for the post of European chief prosecutor must be treated fairly, the European Commission said Thursday, after Romania moved to block one of its own nationals.

Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Brussels is following the case closely adding it is crucial that candidates put forward by an independent selection panel are "treated fairly."

He spoke after Romanian Justice Minister Tudorel Toader wrote to EU justice ministers accusing Laura Codruta Kovesi, the former chief anti-corruption prosecutor, of signing "secret and anti-democratic pacts" with the intelligence agency in corruption and national security probes. Kovesi has been shortlisted to lead the European Public Prosecutor's Office, due to become operational at the end of 2020.

Toader removed Kovesi from her post last year, citing mismanagement and asserting she overstepped her authority. Some viewed the dismissal as politically motivated. During her five-year tenure at the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, Kovesi successfully prosecuted hundreds of officials including ministers, mayors and state company directors.

Separately, Kovesi is suing Romania's government in the European Court of Human Rights over her firing. She says she was dismissed unfairly and had her rights violated when she was denied the right to appeal a Constitutional Court decision that ordered her firing based on the minister's recommendation.

On Wednesday, Kovesi said prosecutors are probing her for official misconduct and bribery. She denies wrongdoing. She says she will fly to Brussels Friday for a European Parliament hearing about the post.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, an opponent of the government, voiced concern about the development Thursday, saying probes of prosecutors and magistrates shouldn't be used as "a political instrument" or to intimidate prosecutors. He called for "the law to be strictly respected," in Kovesi's case, and the situation "rapidly clarified."

Kovesi herself said: "It's clear that ... somebody is trying to stop this procedure," in a radio interview Wednesday. "They're trying to stop me getting this post as ... I am the favorite for the job."

Romania's ruling Social Democracy Party embarked on a contentious judicial overhaul two years ago, sparking protests. Critics, including the EU and the U.S., claimed the changes would undermine the independence of the judiciary and efforts to combat high-level corruption.

Iohannis reiterated those concerns Thursday, telling the government to "stop taking even more steps backward and taking Romania off its European path, as a democratic state."

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