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January 27, 2023

The New York Times praises Laura Codruta Kovesi: In a Soft-Spoken Romanian Prosecutor, Some See an ‘Earthquake’

The New York Times online and print editions of November 14  praise the head of Romania’s Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), Ms. Laura Codruta Kovesi for her commitment to shed light on the biggest corruption cases.

“Television crews are on permanent standby outside the offices of Laura Codruta Kovesi, ready to transmit live images of the next episode of Romania’s most talked about and, for the country’s corruption-addled business and political elite, most terrifying drama in 25 years,” begins Andrew Higgins his article on Ms. Kovesi’s profile.

“Unless they have jobs inside or another good excuse, nobody in Romania these days wants to be seen entering the wooden door on Stirbei Voda Street that leads to Ms. Kovesi, the soft-spoken 41-year-old who heads Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate, a once-sleepy agency now leading an unexpectedly vigorous drive against graft-fueled thievery.

Those caught in Ms. Kovesi’s sights and their allies take a rather different view. They denounce her as a Stalinist and accuse her agency, which is known by its Romanian initials as D.N.A. and relies heavily on wiretaps, of reviving methods used by Mr. Ceausescu’s feared and omnipresent security service, the Securitate.

Ms. Kovesi, in an interview in her office adorned with religious icons, dismissed the allegation as absurd. She said that she and her team of prosecutors “graduated after 1989, so we have no idea what Securitate methods are.” Wiretapping, she added, was “not invented by D.N.A., but is used all over the world” by democratic countries with no history of Communist repression,” also says the NYT article.

The article also quotes Ms. Kovesi saying she had grown accustomed to the slurs, noting that “the most negative attacks, the most defamatory statements, come from people who are being investigated by D.N.A.”

All the same, the author mentions she filed a defamation lawsuit against Antena 3 in June over the mobster payment report and allegations about her private life as a single, divorced woman.

“I have a very normal life,” she said, shrugging off the risk. “I go to the cinema. I go to the gym.”

While playing down the fears she has stirred in Romania’s political class, she has decorated her office wall with a picture painted by a niece that features a scarecrow in a field shadowed by black birds. “They say that is me in Bucharest,” she said.

Andrew Higgins quotes the DNA head saying that ordinary people she met never asked her to back off those prosecuted by her anticorruption directorate. “Every time I go to the market, to the store or the cinema, I meet friendly people who congratulate me and who encourage the work we do here,” she said. “Not everybody in Romania commits corruption.”

Yet she acknowledged being dismayed that the general public, whatever its stated distaste for corruption, keeps voting for politicians suspected or even convicted of larceny. “It is extremely difficult to explain this contrast,” she said as quoted by the NYT.

“SET up in 2003, D.N.A. for years targeted only low-ranking state employees while giving big shots a wide berth.

Now, all of the cases it investigates must involve bribes of more than 10,000 euros, around $12,500, and state employees above a certain level”.

The New York Times article points out that Romania’s Parliament has repeatedly tried to limit anticorruption efforts, with legislators complaining that they are being targeted for political reasons and proposing an amnesty law, a move Ms. Kovesi said she strongly opposed.

“The mingling of politics with both corruption and the fight against it has become a particularly heated issue in recent weeks amid a presidential election, the second round of which will be held on Sunday. The vote will decide who replaces the current center-right president, Traian Basescu, who appointed Ms. Kovesi in May 2013. Mr. Basescu’s opponents saw the appointment as a move to ratchet up pressure on the Social Democratic Party of Victor Ponta, the center-left prime minister and the front-runner in the presidential election,” writes the NYT.

“Of course, there are lots of statements that we conduct political cases,” Ms. Kovesi said. “My answer is that we don’t open political cases.” She noted that her agency had brought corruption charges against members of many parties, not just Mr. Ponta’s, and had also jailed Mr. Basescu’s brother for taking money from a crime boss.

“Since Ms. Kovesi took over D.N.A. last year, what was a trickle of high-profile arrests and prosecutions has become a flood. Nearly all have ended in convictions, with her prosecutors recording a success rate of over 90 percent.

The New York Times informs that  Kovesi’s institution biggest scalp so far has been the former prime minister, Adrian Nastase, sentenced in January to four years in prison for taking bribes. “He spent only six months behind bars, securing release for good behavior. But his conviction sent tremors through Romania’s political class, particularly the Social Democratic Party, to which he belonged”

The NYT also writes that Nastase’s trial was followed by a series of arrests in connection with the so-called Microsoft Case, a corruption saga involving the sale at inflated prices of Microsoft software licenses for use in Romanian schools. Nine former ministers are under investigation on accusations of taking bribes, though Ms. Kovesi said Microsoft “was not involved in any way” and was helping investigators get to the bottom of the affair.

“So far this year, 16 legislators — seven senators and nine members of the lower house of Parliament — have been indicted, along with an army general, four prosecutors and 18 judges. Among those already placed in pretrial detention is Viorel Hrebenciuc, a Social Democratic power broker who was once considered untouchable”.

MS. KOVESI declined to comment on predictions by Mr. Ponta’s opponents that if, as expected, he wins the presidential race, he will rein in her work or replace her with a more malleable figure.

Mr. Ponta, in an interview, voiced no complaints about Ms. Kovesi’s performance, saying it had been his idea to appoint her in the first place. “She has been appointed on my proposal,” he said. “I see no reason to change anything.”

Ms. Kovesi has no illusions about the future. “It is important that the new president support the anticorruption fight,” she said. As long as this happens, “we have no reason to worry,” she added. “But there are reasons to worry if the president does not support our fight.”



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