Controversial magistrate's sweetest victory ever

After tough battle, Romanian Laura Kovesi has been finally chosen to become the first European Public Prosecutor

Laura Codruta Kovesi

The first woman to be Romania’s prosecutor general, Laura Codruta Kovesi, was only 33 when appointed in 2006. At that age she was also the youngest Prosecutor General in Romania's history. Seven years later, Kovesi marked another milestone when she was named the head of the Romanian Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) - an institution created to fight high-level corruption in the years when Romania was preparing to join the EU.

Ever since, she has presided over corruption cases of leading Romanian politicians from all parties. And even though Romanians have long suspected their politicians were corrupt, her investigations showed the stunning extent of it.

In 2014 alone the DNA successfully prosecuted 24 mayors, five MPs, two ex-ministers and a former prime minister, not to mention more than 1,000 other individuals with a conviction rate above 90%. In the first nine months of 2015, Kovesi’s DNA indicted 14 former or current legislators; four ministers; then-Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who resigned in November; and 10 city mayors.

“For the fight against corruption to succeed, our will, determination and skill are not sufficient,” Kovesi has also insisted. “It’s vital that prosecutors’ independence and the institutional stability of DNA remain unaltered.”

Thus numerous judges and prosecutors were also investigated.

Again in 2015 Kovesi was described by The Guardian as a "quiet, unassuming chief prosecutor who is bringing in the scalps", leading "an anti-corruption drive quite unlike any other in eastern Europe – or the world for that matter". Her tenure as head of the DNA has, as a result, substantially increased public confidence in the institution, both within Romania and across the EU, with a 2015 poll reporting that a high 60% of Romanians trust the DNA (compared to 61% for the Romanian Orthodox Church and only 11% for parliament). In February 2016, Kovesi was renominated for chief prosecutor by the Ministry of Justice, based on the positive results achieved under her leadership.

Since parliamentary elections in December 2016, however, the government has regularly attacked the agency - and Kovesi in particular. The same year the prosecutor received criticism from the National Union of Judges in 2016 for personally lobbying against the narrowing of the definition of corruption proposed by the Constitutional Court. The Union complained that she was exerting "a form of pressure on the Constitutional Court, which is not in accordance to the magistrate's statute and to the principle of separation of powers".

With more and more high-level functionaries being convicted including former Minister Elena Udrea, Bucharest Mayor Sorin Oprescu, former President Traian Basescu’s brother and then-Prime Minister Victor Ponta, DNA's focus and the methods used to obtain convictions under Kovesi's leadership also came under scrutiny. That led former supporters, including Traian Basescu, Romania's president from 2004 to 2014 to accuse the agency of acting unconstitutionally and abusing human rights to obtain convictions.

Kovesi's personal independence was also questioned after she was accused by Sebastian Ghita, a leading businessman and PSD politician, himself accused of corruption, of benefiting from a government cover-up to protect Kovesi from accusations that she plagiarised her doctoral thesis. It was claimed that a report exonerating her of wrong-doing was written by a government official rather than an independent committee. Ghita later went on to claim that former Prime Minister Victor Ponta was blackmailed to appoint Kovesi to the leadership of the DNA.

In July 2018, after a long battle, the government finally forced the president to fire her from the post at the DNA. The move came only a few months after Romania’s Justice Minister at the time, Tudorel Toader, instigated her removal from office, accusing her of abusing her powers and damaging Romania’s image abroad by publicly drawing attention to the country’s corruption problems. His desire matched with his proposed legislation that would allow politicians and others convicted of graft since 2014 to challenge the verdicts - something that was to amount to an amnesty - and that was harshly scrutinised not only by Kovesi but the Romanian citizens as well,with his call drawing thousands of anti-graft protesters onto the streets in opposition. Then, a fraud inquiry was launched against her, which she dismissed as part of a smear campaign.

Now, despite opposition at home and governmental efforts to be sabotaged, Laura Codruta Kovesi is set to become the first-ever chief EU public prosecutor, after the European Parliament and the Council of the EU have agreed to appoint her.

The European Public Prosecutors Office, is expected to be operational at the end of 2020, will be an independent office in charge of investigating, prosecuting and bringing to justice crimes against the EU budget such as fraud, corruption or cross-border VAT fraud above 10 million euros. The list of crimes could be extended in the future to include, for example, terrorism.

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