BUCHAREST (Reuters) – A power struggle between Romania’s government and judiciary is reaching a tipping point that risks driving a new wedge between the European Union and its eastern members over democratic standards.
Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has said he will soon decide the future of the prosecutor general, the last major figure in an anti-corruption drive which has won praise from Brussels for exposing high-level graft, including the theft of EU funds.
Augustin Lazar oversees around 2,500 prosecutors, including anti-organised crime unit DIICOT and anti-corruption unit DNA.
If Toader decides to trigger Lazar’s dismissal, it will mark the end of an era for Romania’s prosecutors. The head of the DNA has already been fired and DIICOT leader’s mandate has expired.
The government says the units have ruined innocent lives.
Anti-corruption prosecutors have secured almost 5,000 convictions over the past five years, including 27 lawmakers and 83 mayors across parties, as well as ministers, county council heads, state firm managers and magistrates.
Among them is Liviu Dragnea, leader of the ruling Social Democrats, who was barred from becoming prime minister by a conviction in the first of three investigations against him. He denies all wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a political witch-hunt by the judiciary.
In recent months, his party has launched a slew of bills to overhaul criminal law and procedures to raise the burden of proof. It has also set up a unit to investigate judges and prosecutors for possible crimes and aims to reorganise judges panels.
European diplomats, who are seeking sanctions against fellow east European states Poland and Hungary for flouting democratic values, are concerned Romania is following suit.