February 25, 2016 / 5:23 PM / 2 years ago

Romania justice minister seeks to reappoint chief anti-graft prosecutor

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s justice minister said on Thursday she will propose reappointing Laura Codruta Kovesi to the helm of anti-corruption prosecuting agency DNA after it pursued a record number of cases last year.

Romania is perceived as one of the European Union’s most corrupt states and Brussels, which keeps its justice system under special monitoring, has praised magistrates for their efforts to curb graft.

The country’s fight against corruption is about a decade old; DNA sent its first cases to trial in 2005-2006. But the crackdown intensified under Kovesi, who was appointed in 2013 after previously serving as prosecutor general.

Under her leadership, DNA investigations have revealed conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and the award of state contracts in exchange for bribes.

“I am noting DNA’s sustained performance and will ... propose reappointing the chief anti-corruption prosecutor,” Justice Minister Raluca Pruna told reporters.

Under Romanian law, the president appoints chief prosecutors nominated by the justice minister. Kovesi’s term expires this year.

The agency sent 1,250 people to trial on corruption charges last year, its highest number yet, Kovesi told a conference on Thursday.

They included five ministers, 21 parliamentarians and former prime minister Victor Ponta. Almost 500 people in management positions were indicted and many cases are still ongoing.

DNA prosecutors won 970 final verdicts last year, raising DNA’s conviction rate to roughly 92 percent.

“This has been a year when we were constantly attacked because of your investigations,” Kovesi told her colleagues.

“There have been and there are attempts to change procedures and investigation possibilities. Our work has unsettled many who thought they were untouchable.”

But DNA is vastly overworked. In 2015, 97 prosecutors had 11,000 cases to investigate.

Kovesi said one solution would be hiring more prosecutors and police, but that nothing would change without institutional reforms designed to prevent corruption.

“In the absence of clear prevention and control measures, the types of acts we investigate and the mechanisms that allowed them will repeat themselves,” she said. “We have not caught all of the corrupt.”

DNA will continue focusing on investigating corruption in local administration, the judiciary, public acquisitions and EU development funds, she said, but she also urged better coordination in recovering stolen assets following court convictions.

In 2015, courts ordered the recovery of nearly 200 million euros. But the tax authority has been slow to recover the cash.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by Katharine Houreld

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