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May 12, 2021
POLITICS

EC report: Fight against corruption should remain a top priority

President Basescu praises Cabinet, ANI, DNA and Prosecutor’s Office, slams media for ‘denigrating’ them.

Romania must take urgent measures to assure that final decisions are taken in important high-level corruption cases and to deliver better results in the confiscation of unjustified assets and sanctions for incompatibilities.

The European Com­mission approved yesterday the ninth set of reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Romania and Bulgaria on their progress with judicial reform and the fight against corruption.

The report reveals that since the Commission’s last assessment in July 2010, Romania took significant steps to improve judicial efficiency, re-established the legal basis of the National Integrity Agency, continued preparations for the implementation of four new codes, launched preparations for a functional review of the judicial system and carried out an impact analysis of its anti-corruption policy.

Yet, EC says that urgent action is needed to accelerate a number of important high-level corruption trials and to prevent their collapse because of reaching statute-barred period.

Among the most important recommendations, the Commission invites Romania to accelerate important high-level corruption cases, to adopt clear procedural rules for decisions of Parliament to lift the immunity of its members based on best practice in other EU Member States, and to adopt a new law on extended confiscation and strengthening judicial practice.

President Traian Basescu had a statement at Cotroceni, arguing that the report was an adequate one, which reiterated, however, aspects where problems still exist. The president took the opportunity to criticize, once again, a portion of the press and some political figures for their alleged attempts to discredit the activity of bodies such as the National Anti-Corruption Directorate.

The president of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Victor Ponta, stated that the opposition would back the implementation of measures requested by the European Commission, but voiced his pessimism as regards any concrete results of the anti-corruption battle.

The European Commission approved yesterday the ninth set of reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Romania and Bulgaria on their progress with judicial reform and the fight against corruption. The report reveals that since the Commission’s last assessment in July 2010, Romania took significant steps to improve judicial efficiency, re-established the legal basis of the National Integrity Agency, continued preparations for the implementation of four new codes, launched preparations for a functional review of the judicial system and carried out an impact analysis of its anti-corruption policy. Yet, EC says that urgent action is needed to accelerate a number of important high-level corruption trials and to prevent their collapse because of reaching statute-barred period.

“The fight against corruption should remain a top priority, with support from Parliament, and urgent measures should be taken to improve the recovery of proceeds of crime, the pursuit of money laundering and the protection against conflict of interest in the management of public funds. Better results should be demonstrated in the confiscation of unjustified assets and in delivering dissuasive sanctions for incompatibilities”, reads the report. EU officials point out that Romanian Government has shown determination and commitment in driving the reform process, but criticize the Parliament, and until recently, the judiciary, which ‘have not always showed the same determination’. “Since the Commission’s last assessment, Parliament voted against allowing an investigation on corruption charges against one former Minister and current Member of Parliament, vetoed a search in another ongoing investigation and refused the preventive arrest of another Member of Parliament. However, both cases went to trial”, EC the report mentions.

DNA, ANI –  praises and critics

The EC report praised DNA and ANI’s activity: “The National Integrity Agency (ANI) has been operational under this new legal framework and started to re-establish its track record of investigations (…) During the same period, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) showed a continuously convincing track record in the investigation of high-level corruption cases”. However, the report warns that although the majority of high-level corruption trials are decided within a period of three years, a significant number of important cases involving dignitaries are currently pending before courts for more than three years. “In order to meet its commitments regarding the fight against high-level corruption, Romania must take urgent measures to assure that final decisions are taken swiftly in important high-level corruption cases and prescriptions are avoided in all cases”.

As for the National Integrity Agency, the report reads that, although has improved its methodology and the efficiency of its investigations, the follow-up by competent judicial and administrative bodies should be significantly improved: “Few sanctions have been applied as a result of ANI’s findings and those applied are rarely dissuasive. For instance, out of a total of 82 decisions of incompatibility confirmed by courts, disciplinary commissions applied sanctions in only 14 cases of which 5 were dismissals and 5 merely warnings”, the European experts further explain.

Track record of confiscated criminal assets, very low

The European Commission also warns about the confiscated criminal assets. “The effectiveness of the fight against corruption is hindered by serious weaknesses in recovering the proceeds of crime. The track record of confiscated criminal assets in Romania is very low mainly due to limited confiscation possibilities provided by law, restrictive court practice and a lack of pro-active behaviour by the prosecution”. The report points out that a substantial amount of criminal assets escapes legal scrutiny which has been illustrated recently in the case of large-scale corruption investigations among border police and customs where only a relatively small sum of assets are expected to be confiscated although it can be assumed that these criminal activities have been carried out in a systematic way over a long period.

Since the Commission’s last assessment, Romania re-established the legal base for the Department for the Fight against Fraud (DLAF), the counterpart of OLAF to carry out investigative actions.  EC welcomes these improvements, but at the same time remarks that administrative capacity and the quality of administrative action remain weak, and are the main challenges in the field of public procurement.

Recommendations

Among the most important recom­mendations, the Commission invites Romania to accelerate important high-level corruption cases, to adopt clear procedural rules for decisions of Parliament to lift the immunity of its members based on best practice in other EU Member States, and to adopt a new law on extended confiscation and strengthening judicial practice.

“Romania should also demonstrate a proven track record in pursuing money laundering as a stand-alone offence”. EC also recommends ANI to improve cooperation with other administrative and judicial authorities, particularly in the area of public procurement. The report also suggests that Romania should take active steps to accompany the entry into force of the Civil Code and adopt an implementation plan for the remaining three new codes to be introduced in 2012, as well as create a framework of cooperation with the judiciary and civil society to facilitate the necessary structural adjustments to the judicial system. The newly constituted Superior Council of the Magistracy still needs to demonstrate its commitment to reform through concrete results.

The European Commission informed that it would make an overall assessment of Romania’s progress under the CVM since accession, in summer 2012.

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